Personality Traits that Promote Success Can Contribute to Overeating and Weight Concerns
Have you ever wondered why so many accomplished, successful people struggle with overeating, higher-than-comfortable weights and chronic dieting? Despite their success in other areas, many have tried "every diet out there" and found that nothing has worked, at least not long term. Some have successfully lost -- and then re-gained -- hundreds of pounds. Others have been losing and re-gaining the same 5 pounds for years, or decades, thanks to chronic dieting and reactive overeating. Their weight or body shape may not have changed much over time, but their psyches sure have.
For many, the struggle with food and the scale is the single most frustrating adventure they have ever encountered. Despite making huge, positive, daily contributions to their communities -- running successful businesses, keeping our neighborhoods safe, teaching our children, caring for the sick, raising well-adjusted children (many as single parents), donating time and energy to noble humanitarian causes-- these highly competent people feel they cannot win the eating game. Worse, the pervasive assumption in the health care industry is that higher-weight people are lazy, unmotivated and lack the willpower to change. This stigmatizing view is often internalized by patients as shame, and that shame is magnified because, no matter how intelligent, accomplished, or competent they are, their "failure" to attain a fit and comfortable body is on display for everyone. Since body size and shape cannot be hidden, there is no privacy and little appreciation for either their effort or their suffering.
As health professionals, we know that blame and shame helps no one. We increase our chances of helping our patients heal overeating by withholding judgment, providing perspective (genetics matter, healthy bodies come in a variety of shapes and sizes, positive lifestyle behaviors can promote health even without weight change), and by promoting consistent self-kindness and self-care. Self-care, which we often think of in terms of diet and exercise, actually includes important self-regulation and life skills, such as setting boundaries (saying yes and no in the right proportion), balancing work and play, identifying and managing emotions, speaking kindly to yourself, and carving out time for pleasure, inspiration, and solitude. Good self-care is important because it contributes to consistency, persistence, and resiliency. These attributes support the successful accomplishment of any goal, including having a constructive relationship with food, body image and eating.
So why would otherwise effective and successful people neglect their own self-care, you ask? Consider the following four personality traits common to both high-achievers and people who overeat.
The above table addresses only four personality traits common to both high-achievers and overeaters. The list goes on, but the point is that achievement and struggle may in some cases represent opposite sides of the same coin. Appreciating that certain positive personality traits may predispose high-achievers to inadequate self-care can be a real game-changer in helping them become aware of their behavior patterns without shame. This non-judgmental awareness is the first step toward understanding, self-compassion and healing.
Interested in learning more about powerful psychological strategies for healing overeating? Click here to learn about training opportunities, coaching and resources for health professionals and laypersons here.
Helping Patients Outsmart Overeating: Psychological Strategies for Doctors and Health Care Providers, co-authored with internationally respected eating disorders therapist Karen R. Koenig, M.Ed., LCSW is available now. Our book, along with Karen's six others on the subject of healing overeating may be found at Amazon.com or your favorite online bookstore. Karen's website is here.
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Here’s to your deliberate life!