Growing up, David Kirchhoff never had a problem with his weight. That’s because his parents wouldn’t stand for snacking and allowed their kids only one “treat” a week. When he didn’t have those rules to rein him in anymore, Kirchhoff watched as the numbers on the scale gradually ticked upward to 242 pounds. That started to change in 2000, when he got a job at Weight Watchers. He became not just the president and CEO of the company, but also a member. Last week, Kirchhoff swung by his native Washington area to promote his book, “Weight Loss Boss” ($26, Rodale), which explains how he managed to lose 40 pounds.
Q: You were on basically the opposite of a crash diet. Why did it take you nine years to lose the weight?
A: Because it takes most people that long. People who struggle with their weight, it’s never a straight line. When I first started, I lost a bunch of weight quickly. I got cocky. And then the weight came back. I wasn’t dealing with the underlying issues and establishing new habits. So when I finally got there, I felt I’d done it the right way, and that’s what’s helped me keep the weight off.
Q: One of your new habits is exercising regularly. What’s your technique to make sure you do it?
A: I now work out six or seven days a week. It’s an old trick to set your gym clothes out the night before, but it’s incredibly effective. The alarm goes off at 5, and I stand up. That’s the only willpower I need to summon. Some people need a lot of variety. I’m not that person. What I like about my routine is that it’s on autopilot. But whatever works for you, as long as the process becomes habitual.
Q: You used to blow your diet and exercise plans when you traveled. How do you deal with that now?
A: I try to keep my routines consistent. I stay in a hotel with a good gym, and I have the same breakfast I would have at home. I’m also a member of Equinox, so I’ve stayed in Bethesda, Md., so I can walk over to the one there.
Q: You describe the problems with living in a culture of food. What do you think of government policies that try to battle that, such as requiring restaurants to display calorie counts?
A: For me as an individual, it’s helpful. We have that in New York, so when I walk into Starbucks, I can look at the pastry case and decide that no way am I giving up 500 calories for something so small. It’s like having prices printed. For someone who’s trying to make healthier choices, it gives them information.
Q: And Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s ban on big sodas in New York?
A: I would characterize it not as limiting what you can get, but limiting the ridiculous portion sizes in restaurants, sports arenas and movie theaters. We know people drink more out of a bigger cup. If you give somebody food in a larger container, they’ll eat more of it. If I can, I’ll take a smaller plate. I did that at a buffet yesterday.
Q: How have you made sure you don’t overdo it with fruit, which is worth zero points on Weight Watchers?
A: If you could eat eight bananas in sequence, in theory, you could get into trouble. But fruit has a lot of water and fiber, and most people will self-regulate. Zero points isn’t a license to eat anything and suspend reality. If you eat 70 apples a day, there will be problems. The reason we did that was that under the old Points program, if you were feeling hungry at 3 p.m., an apple was 100 calories and a snack bag of cookies was also 100 calories. Both were worth two points, so people would eat the cookies. That was just wrong. This is much more about nudging people to eat non-processed foods.
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Kirchhoff’s secret to eating better? Eating more. “I’ve been focusing on foods that keep me full and happy,” he says. That means lean proteins, veggies and fruit (whole, not juice), which he can enjoy in larger quantities. He avoids any snacks that he’s powerless to put down — even healthier ones such as hummus and nuts — and instead reaches for apples, bean dip and Greek yogurt. And he has his family hide ice cream in the basement, so he won’t be tempted.