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.

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