This is the last week of OAC’s “Challenging Perceptions” blog series, where we’ve been looking closely at common beliefs about obesity and people who have it. Last week, we showed you why obesity is not just the result of a poor lifestyle. Today we’re looking at the perception that obesity is tied to a person’s character and willpower.

Obesity Has Nothing to Do with Character

Stereotypes about people with obesity are endless, often describing them as:

  • Lazy
  • Less intelligent
  • Unmotivated
  • Irresponsible
  • Obsessed with food

These beliefs are constantly reinforced by the world around us — especially the media. Most of them are based in the belief that someone only develops obesity if they have no self-control or the desire to change their behaviors.

This is weight bias and weight stigma. We can’t judge someone’s character just because they have obesity, which we know to be a complex and chronic disease. We also don’t know what factors have contributed to their obesity. Just look at the powerful stories on You’ll hear people share about their struggles with health conditions, mental health, genetics and other factors that have complicated their weight.

So, what’s really the harm in thinking this way? Listen to this story from OAC’s Vice-Chairwoman, Patty Nece, JD. She challenges obesity perceptions in this moving video describing a traumatic visit with her doctor.

The Actual Power That Willpower Holds

There is also the similar perception that willpower is all one needs to lose weight and overcome obesity. Willpower is a helpful tool, and we all want more of it – but it’s just like a muscle. We can flex it and train it, but it has its limitations.

In this OAC webinar about willpower, an expert clinical psychologist dives into the science. Sean Connolly, PhD, explains how willpower is influenced by the chatter that goes on between our emotions, thoughts, temptations and impulses. It’s also influenced by:

  • Sleep
  • Blood sugar levels
  • Religion and beliefs
  • Mood and stress

Willpower alone is not enough to “cure” obesity or lose weight “easily.” It is a limited resource that we already exert every day in one form or another. Constant use of willpower is unsustainable – and once it’s exhausted, it needs to be replenished.

Putting It All Together

We enforce false perceptions of obesity when we only look at body size and weight, but nothing beyond what we can’t visibly see. However, obesity is more complex than that. We can’t simplify it to behavior choices and character flaws. To understand obesity, we have to dig deeper by looking at the science and research. More importantly, we have to listen to people affected by obesity and the stories of their experiences.

More Resources:

Tell Us How Obesity Perceptions Have Affected You

Have you faced guilt and shame for struggling with obesity? Have perceptions like the ones above made it difficult to find help or support? Share your experiences using OAC’s story-sharing video platform at