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Weight loss key is habits, not willpower, says Weight Watchers chief
October 28th, 2011
01:01 PM ET

Weight loss key is habits, not willpower, says Weight Watchers chief

What helped David Kirchhoff, president and CEO of Weight Watchers International, shed 38 pounds, start exercising and eat healthy breakfasts?

Of course, you’d expect a CEO to toot the horn of his company.

He did at TEDMED, a conference about medical innovations and ideas. But he also stressed that the essential factor that shaped his metamorphosis - from an overweight 33-year-old needing Lipitor to a fit man who exercises - was the habits he formed. 

Kirchhoff eats a good breakfast every day.

“Is it because I’m disciplined? No, it’s because I do it so many times in a row I can’t remember how to do anything else.”

He exercises six days a week. “It’s not because I’m disciplined. I have such a routine that I can’t imagine not exercising. These are habits - behavior changes that takes a long time for it to take place.”

And the truth is if you’ve been obese and lost the weight, you can’t go back to old eating and sedentary habits after weight loss.

“If you have a weight problem, you will have to watch what you eat. It never goes away. You never can turn it off. Obesity is a chronic condition. That’s OK - as long as we work on it,” he said.

Kirchhoff's weight gain started in college - surrounded by pizza, beer and all-you-can-eat cafeterias. When he entered the workforce, the weight mounted with all the dining out, traveling and eating room service.

“I ate like an idiot. I knew nothing. I thought Kung Pao chicken was good for me, because it had chicken. I was clueless,” said Kirchhoff.

It wasn’t until he was 33 when his doctor suggested he go on Lipitor because of his high blood cholesterol and blood pressure. It prompted him to join Weight Watchers.

The problem today is that it’s entirely too easy to gain weight in what he termed an “obesogenic environment” surrounded by processed foods and more calories.

“The entire health system has no particular incentive to address it until it’s too late,” he said.

So Kirchhoff posed this question:

“What if I was given an incentive to deal with my weight? What if I was given access to tools for weight loss process? What if I was in an environment where it was for it to be easy to make healthy choice? What if the healthy choice was economically advantaged? What if we could create an environment where we could improve our odds of success?”

It can work. Kirchhoff referred to the Cleveland Clinic, which reported that its employee-related health costs are not rising this year - unlike most businesses. The clinic stopped hiring smokers, banned sugary drinks and offered free yoga and gym classes for workers, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. It also offers its staff free access to Weight Watchers.


soundoff (51 Responses)
  1. Mick E

    I'm glad to see this article focus on diet and exercise as a coordinated effort. It would also be beneficial to monitor RMR,BMI, and calories burned. Online calculators for these are available to make these calculations easy and are available at http://howtogainweight123.com/rmr-calculation-bmr/ Typically, just enter age, weight, height and activities you have done during the day. The calculator's will do the rest and tell you how many calories you use for the whole day and when at rest. This could help you to know how to adjust your diet to either gain weight or lose weight.

    October 28, 2011 at 15:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Sarah

    Try a free program like myfreedomfit.com or sparkpeople! Those work just as well and wont break the bank!!

    October 28, 2011 at 17:31 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Anna

      WEIGHT WATCHERS IN NOT EFFECTIVE FOR MOST PEOPLE. THEY WANT YOU TO COUNT POINTS AS YOU EAT WHICH IS NOT NATURAL OR EFFECTIVE. THEY HAVE OVER A 50% DROP OUT RATE. THE FILMMAKER'S SPIRIT HAPPY DIET BEAT WATCHERS IN A HEAD TO HEAD TEST
      JUST GOOGLE SPIRIT HAPPY DIET

      October 30, 2011 at 09:04 | Report abuse |
    • J.

      Break the bank really? It is not as if you have to buy their food. Access to the website is all you really need and how the calculate the points per meal. The key to WW is portion control not counting calories. I have found that it works wonders and am down 35lbs on it. It requires dedication and a complete change in life style. You can't expect to be on it for 6 months and then go back to eating junk food and expect it to stay off.

      October 31, 2011 at 12:16 | Report abuse |
  3. bob

    Wow, this guy kind of gets it. It is rare. All you hear is choices choices choices. No. It's habit and support. People all over America get no support because of the Horatio Alger myth that you have to do everything yourself. It's is time to put Horatio back in his grave. We are fat because we are lonely and stressed and have developed bad habits. There is no choice.

    October 28, 2011 at 18:39 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Mammaduck606

      Great observation. I really like your statement!!!

      October 29, 2011 at 13:36 | Report abuse |
    • ana

      I like your statement too!

      October 31, 2011 at 12:03 | Report abuse |
    • Carolyn

      i agree with you totaly habit is a hard thing to break , like eating to big of portions and not exercising we see it on TV and think we can get away with it , supper size everthing also your middle

      May 27, 2012 at 17:57 | Report abuse |
  4. Alicia

    I got zero support, none of the staff would help me when no weight came off after one month. All I got was, oh well...
    Very happy to take my money of course

    October 28, 2011 at 19:20 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Gay

      Weight Watchers has calorie counts that are too high for some women. If you've got a slow metabolism (like me), their diet program has you eating calories close to your daily needs, so you're closer to maintenance until to you've built up muscle (think of muscle as calorie-burning factories). It's not a one-diet-fits-all solution.

      I've successfully lost (and kept off) 110 pounds through healthy diet and exercise. When I was first losing, I needed to commit to 2 hours at the gym–about 30 minutes cardio and the rest weight/functional training–at least 5 days a week, and I kept my calorie counts between 1200 and 1400, usually closer to 1200. I staved off hunger with lots of water and raw veggies.

      Recently, a surgery forced me to cut back my exercise back substantially for about 6 months. I was terrified that I would gain weight, but I didn't gain even one pound, and I didn't starve myself either. I just cleaned up my diet, eliminating all high fructose corn syrup and synthetic artificial sweeteners (I use Stevia). I also don't "drink" my calories: except for a nonfat latte in the morning, the only beverage I consume is water. I've been at my ideal body weight for 8 years now, I feel fabulous, and I can't wait to get to the gym. I love working out, and I get cranky if I can't do it. Back when I was 110 pounds overweight, I would never have believed that I would enjoy exercise. Never.

      Weight loss is hard for a lot of reasons, not the least of which are restaurants that serve portions that are two or three times what we need and friends who tempt us and tell us we're beautiful no matter how we look (we are, but we're still killing ourselves). And there are the lies we tell ourselves. It's time we call a spade a spade. Obesity is as much a killer as tobacco, and loving someone means helping them to eat healthy and exercise, just as we'd want to help a smoker to quit.

      October 28, 2011 at 19:59 | Report abuse |
  5. Mila

    I agree with him that change, including including weight loss in this case, is much more about changing habits than using a willpower. Our brain is programed over time to follow a particular pattern of thought and behavior. We need to start with changing the thought. You can read about the process of mental reprogramming in the Mental Conditioning section on this site: http://www.womensperfectbody.com/.

    And here's a comprehensive article on Losing Fat, Not Weight: http://www.womensperfectbody.com/fat-loss/losing-fat-not-weight/. Everyone can achieve their personal best... and it is much better than you imagine!

    October 28, 2011 at 21:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. pat

    David Kirchhoff, president and CEO of Weight Watchers shows by example and that is why he is the face of the company. Losing 38 lbs, congrats David Kirchhoff. Portion control and nutrition are vital to weight loss success. So is a work out plan. For good tips on nutrition and work out plans go here:

    http://build-muscle-now.org/

    October 29, 2011 at 08:52 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Austin

      I lost about 10 pounds brefoe in a month on the Atkins diet. I didn't exercise. Actually, it's really not a diet, but a lifestyle change. There's a lot of bad media surrounding this sort of diet, but if you do it properly, it works well. I'm currently on it, to shed some pregnancy weight, and have been for a week. So far, I've lost about 6-8 pounds. My plan is to start eating healthier overall, as I'm getting older and I know my bad eating habits will come around to bite me. Exercise is important too, though. My suggestions are to cut out refined sugar. It's okay to indulge once in a while. Eat lots of vegetables, protein and fruits here and there. Just 30 minutes of exercise a few times a week can help improve your health and physique dramatically.

      April 7, 2012 at 21:31 | Report abuse |
  7. Mammaduck606

    Ok....I agree that the change in habits is essential, but how does one go about it. This where I ALWAYS fall down. It is the consistency of the routine that always flubs me up. I really know that this is what I need to do, but I have yet to see it through. Please help with suggestions, monitoring, charting or what do I do? Thank you for your answers and for posting this problem. If more of us knew this and practiced it, we would all be successful!!!!!!

    October 29, 2011 at 13:26 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Mammaduck606

      This reply is to make sure that you know that these responses are for the losing weight problem above. Losing weight and keeping it off. Finally feeling good about ourselves as we all should. I hope that these comments don't get lost in the shuffle.

      October 29, 2011 at 13:33 | Report abuse |
    • Deborah108

      @Mammaduck606: You are right, changing habits is the biggest corner stone. Here is the link to the program that deals specifically with mental reprogramming and changing the habits on conscious and subconscious levels. It is specifically designed for weight/fat loss, health, fitness and creating your optimum body – your personal best! The general link is http://www.womensperfectbody.com/. Go to Mental Conditioning section to read on how to change the habits: http://www.womensperfectbody.com/category/mental-conditioning/. Obviously, it is much more than you can put in an article, but this is a great place to start. They do offer mental coaching if you are serious about changing your habits. Mila is a wonderful coach! Best of luck!!!

      October 29, 2011 at 15:31 | Report abuse |
    • Ao

      Food Addicts Anonymous or Food Addicts in Recovery. Both have helped me to radically change my habits! Both have websites if you google them. ; 0

      November 5, 2011 at 12:58 | Report abuse |
  8. Weight Loss

    I totally aree with this article. The way to overcome the obsity disease is to focus more attention on other parts of life and having the will power to stick to a diet and get some exercise. Routines and habits play a huge part in all of this and we all need to make sure we have more good ones than bad.

    http://plan2diet.blogspot.com/

    October 29, 2011 at 13:34 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Mammaduck606

      Thank you very much. Good luck to you, too.

      October 29, 2011 at 13:39 | Report abuse |
  9. larry5

    The tough habit to break is the habit of eating things that are not food, processed products, modified products and fast food. Every time you put one of these products in your mouth you have no idea what you're eating. These x-tras are not there for your health and nutrition. If what you're eating is cheap you know that it's cheap for a reason. The first habit to break is the habit of eating things that are not food. Anything that follows will certainly be fore effective.

    October 29, 2011 at 14:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Been There

    I have tried WW in the past. I agree with another poster that the calories they advocate (even on the low side) were too many for my body. I have finally found something that works for me. It's a shake system by Standard Process called 21 Day Purification System. I have lost 15 lbs. in two months. 20 more to go! I should add that I am female and 53 and only 5' 2". My metabolism had just stopped working and this gave me hope. I am down to one shake per day. I am off all bio-identical hormones and eliminated coffee, cow's milk dairy, red meat (only once a week), sugar, white foods and bread. For whatever the reason, it's working. I think WW helps a lot of people, it just wasn't for me.

    October 29, 2011 at 18:32 | Report abuse | Reply
    • peggy

      But is your "shake diet" something you can live on for the rest of your life. Or will you regain the weight you have lost. Yes, a lot of people don't succeed on Weight Watchers. In a lot of cases that's because they don't lose weight as fast as they want. Mr. Kirchkoff is correct when he says the only way you can maintain your loss is by changing your bad habits.

      October 30, 2011 at 17:36 | Report abuse |
  11. Lifetime WW

    As a lifetime Weight Watcher I have to say that Weight Watchers worked for me because I did not stay on one plan, I mixed it up. When I lost my weight 5 years ago, all 85lbs of it, I started out on the points system. When I would hit a wall and not lose weight, I would switch to the core plan. I found the core plan worked better for me because instead of keeping religious track of everything I put into my mouth, I had to actively learn how to listen to my body and only eat until I was satisfied, NOT FULL! There is such a difference between the two that I doubt many people today could figure it out.
    I have since gone on to have a child and had no problems losing the weight again because I used the habits I developed while in Weight Watchers. I am at my goal weight and enjoy being able to run, jump, play and wrestle with my son, something that would have left me wiped out and winded before.
    What I would tell people starting out on Weight Watchers is do NOT pay attention to the numbers on a scale. I did not see a decline until 2 weeks after first starting the program because my body was building muscle as I was getting rid of fat. Instead, watch how your clothing fit you from week to week. Watch as your jeans become looser, as your bra cups start getting baggy, as your shirts become sacs that just hang on you when before they were tight.
    Also, when starting exercising, never underestimate the power of a pool. I could not walk on a treadmill for more than 10 minutes without being in pain. But I learned I could aqua-jog for half and hour and not be in pain due to the lack of gravity on my knees and hips. My legs were like wet noodles coming out of the pool, but I could exercise for longer until I built up enough strength to advance to treadmills and ellipticals.
    Going to Weight Watchers was the best decision I made for myself. It gave me confidence in my career, in my personal life and it helped me get to a point where I can enjoy and be active in life instead of watching it pass me by,

    October 30, 2011 at 03:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Anne

    I went to Weight Watchers in the early '70's, and the diet was much stricter then. I weighed 192 lbs. and they set my goal weight for 136 lbs. First of all it taught me the correct way of eating, and each week when I went you could see the people that were losing weight, it was quite an inspiration to try to lose those extra pounds. When thing they reminded us was the extra weight we had put on didn't happen over night, so we shouldn't expect to take it all off at once. Another thing was that it was better to lose it slowly, as the faster you took it off, the faster you would put it back on. I reached my goal weight in exactly 6 months.

    October 30, 2011 at 05:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. bellaminka

    I believe dieting should be a way of life, you should be allowed to eat whatever foods you enjoy but within measure.

    October 30, 2011 at 10:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Judy G

    Thank you for the eye opener. I never thought about eating at night was a habit and not will power. Now all I have to do is not eat at night for 28 days and it will be my new habit. A big THANK YOU! Wish me good luck in my endeavor .

    October 30, 2011 at 13:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Raevyn

    Two things helped me lose a significant amount of weight.....I quit diet soda and switched to water instead and I quit eating out. That's it. I found restaurant food, even the salads, often were loaded with hidden calories and portion sizes were out of control. I now eat out a maximum of once a week and I"m super-picky about what I do eat. If you've got the willpower to only eat half your meal when you eat out, bravo....but it's been my experience most people don't.

    October 30, 2011 at 18:32 | Report abuse | Reply
    • J.

      It really helps that most places put the nutritional values online. When ever we go any where I look online first to see what I should and should not eat.

      October 31, 2011 at 12:23 | Report abuse |
    • Printessa

      try weight ctawhers. you will probably see that you eat too little, and need more food to up that metabolism. if you cannot afford it, do like i did. get the books and stuff, and join online for free and use the message boards as your meetings. good luck. i have lost 14 pounds since january, and this is the ONLY diet i have ever stuck to, and it is sooo easy, plus i can eat junk food. and there aren't any expensive foods to buy, cause you can eat everything you usually eat.

      April 8, 2012 at 08:42 | Report abuse |
  16. Randi

    I read this article with great interest. I am a nurse and recommend Weight Watchers (WW) to all newly diagnosed diabetics. The program is not a diet, it lifestyle modification. Those of you who denigrate the program because you count points have no clue what the program is all about. Counting points is counting calories, but easier. The WW emphasis is on healthy eating, eating human size portions. We have a weight problem in this country because people eat too much. A program I was involved in had weight loss drilled down to a very basic concept; eat less and move more! By using WW the person learns to eat real food, and learns portion control. WW teaches that you shouldn't be eating a bag of chips and a sandwich, unless you account for the calories. That is what the program teaches, eat what you want but do it in moderation. Thin people do this normally, people who are very active they will do it also. We no longer work the fields, walk to the office or the store. Heck, I know people who take the car to go 1 mile. Don't knock WW, if you haven't worked the program. Yes they have a large drop rate, but those people haven't committed to weight loss. You have to one day look in the mirror and hate how you look, or have your doctor tell you that you need medications to lower blood pressure, or cholesterol. Getting someone's food intake under control needs the same level of commitment as any type of substance abuse. I have been involved with WW for 3 years, and I know it works. It isn't easy, but if you work the program you will be successful. I changed my behaviors. I learned to take home part of my restaurant dinner, and eat only 3-4oz of protein. Not only have I lost weight, but my grocery bill has been reduced. My family now eats healthier, and feels better. WW works and works well without any special foods.

    October 31, 2011 at 08:49 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Anjali

      I haven't used it myself, but do know plpoee who've had good results. If you stick to the plan, you can't help but lose weight. I have a coupon code for $55 off Medifast for your first month in addition to the free week or two they offer. Anyone who'd like it, feel free to contact me. I also have Nutri System coupons if anyone's trying that plan. Good luck with your weight loss Was this answer helpful?

      April 8, 2012 at 14:21 | Report abuse |
  17. Roger

    This is a great article!! I found a program that is similar to this I've lost over 45lbs and about 18 weeks using it and its FREE!! Its called the BareWeight classic series, its on this website called BareWeight Com they offer FREE meal plans, Free online streaming videos, a workout journal and Ive connected with tons of people across the country who are dealing with the same issues i struggle from!! People check it out!!! seriously

    October 31, 2011 at 11:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Ha Tran

    Great article. Indeed, if ones can form good habits in diet and exercising like David, they wouldn't really need to use WW products.

    October 31, 2011 at 12:01 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Bryan

      Great blog Adam. Point #2 works not just in weight loss but in all apecsts of life. Have a dream or ultimate goal but break it down into smaller goals so you achieve all the way not just at the end.

      April 8, 2012 at 15:31 | Report abuse |
  19. C.W.

    I lost 175 lbs. on my own the old fashioned way – ate less, exercised more, weighed and measured portions, counted calories and wrote it all down. I've been at my goal weight for 5 months, and I STILL do all that. And the money I saved by not going to Weight Watchers? Well, my bank account thanks me!

    October 31, 2011 at 12:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. J.

    I have never bothered with the meetings or any of that stuff. Their website and phone app are awesome. I use it mainly for recipe ideas and their points calculator when I shop. It is worth it right there.

    October 31, 2011 at 12:24 | Report abuse | Reply
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      April 14, 2012 at 12:52 | Report abuse |
  21. Chris in MN

    Great article! I have tried many weight loss programs – not everything works for everyone. I joined WW in April, 2011. I have lost 38 lbs! Slow, but sure. The website tools are awesome, but the meetings are where I find my inspriation, motivation & support. It is definately a lifestyle change. For those that say 1/2 of the people drop out – that is true for every weight loss program, not just WW. What I like about WW is that you don't have to use ANY WW products!! They are there for you if you want the convenience, but they are not a required part of the program as are so many of the "shake" programs or even Jenny Craig, etc.

    October 31, 2011 at 15:48 | Report abuse | Reply
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    Consistency is key. Whatever the plan is sticking to it is what gets results. I tell my participants in my classes this important key....find what you can be consistent with and stick to it.

    February 10, 2012 at 15:53 | Report abuse | Reply
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