Weight Loss Boss: How to Finally Win at Losing-and Take Charge in an Out-of-Control Food World

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9781609619015: Weight Loss Boss: How to Finally Win at Losing-and Take Charge in an Out-of-Control Food World
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Weight Loss Boss is a frank, funny, and groundbreaking guide to surviving and thriving in an obesogenic world, from the CEO of Weight Watchers International.
We live in a dangerous food world, full of temptation and instant gratification. No wonder obesity among Americans has tripled since the 1960s—and that those prone to weight gain fail over and over to maintain their hard-won goals. Simply put, our brains and environments are stacked against us. Simplistic willpower-based and food-focused diets will never bring lasting change.

But a solution is within reach—one that will help readers live better, longer, and more happily.

In fact, David Kirchhoff isn't just the President and CEO of Weight Watchers—he's also one of its biggest success stories. In his pursuit of a trim physique, Kirchhoff divulges his slide into full-fledged obesity, his struggles to manage his relationship with food, and to find an exercise regimen that sticks. Drawing on the latest scientific research and numerous other inspiring personal stories, he makes the case that the only recipe for long-term success is to radically shift our mindset when thinking about obesity and adopting a healthy lifestyle that stays with us for good. This requires incorporating positive habits that become second nature, and rigorously managing one's food environment—as well as embracing practical behavior-change tools and other sustainable maintenance strategies. In the light of a new, healthier lifestyle that helps readers look good and feel good, change isn't a burden--it's a release.

All author royalties will be donated to Share Our Strength (www.strength.org), a nonprofit organization that supports the goal of ending childhood hunger in the U.S. by 2015.

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

David Kirchhoff is the President and CEO of Weight Watchers International, which reaches 1.5 million people through its meetings each week. He lives in Fairfield County, CT.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

PART I

From Thin to Heavy and Back Again:

A Weight Loss Odyssey

CHAPTER 1

Paging Dr. Freud—Early Influences and Food Attitudes

When I look at the latest version of Windows, I can't help but see the influences, features, and DNA traces of all the versions that preceded it If I look hard enough, I can even detect glimmers of MS-DOS kicking around, and nobody wants to see that. I think of my own brain as a compendium of code that's been written, overwritten, rewritten, appended, corrupted, and patched with a frightening number of version upgrades and performance patches.

Don't worry, I'm not pulling out random comparisons between my brain and the most profitable (annoying?) piece of software in world history. One of the important lessons I have learned at Weight Watchers International--and during my own 25-year weight loss journey—is that biography really is the key to behavior. Many of my first personal operating systems are still up and running; I hear the grinding of the hard drive when I look at why I eat, how I eat, how I think about my body, how I see myself, and how I handle temptation. David Kirchhoff 1.0 (beta) is always going to be lurking in my circuitry no matter how many times I try to purge, upgrade, or defrag. Therefore, I have some choices.

I can completely ignore the early programming that led to my current crashes.

I can troubleshoot that antiquated code to help get past my many glitches.

I can make smart upgrades when better programming becomes available.

For me, this is the paradox of childhood. (And I'll drop the computer metaphor now, in memory of Steve Jobs.) Our early years are a massive influence on who we are, and yet we're not bound by these influences. I optimistically believe that they can be harnessed to help us achieve what we need to. For instance, if I understand my deep-seated urge to blow through a half gallon of ice cream at a single sitting, I can learn from it. If I know that these forces are kicking around whether I want them to or not, then I can cut myself a break when I crawl under the barbed wire to escape my healthy living ranch. I also know that willpower alone isn't enough to triumph over these urges. Half gallons are the enemy; I keep them out of spoon range.

All of this is another way of saying: I cannot change my future if I do not understand my past.

From Skinny Jeans to Fat Genes

I became the CEO of Weight Watchers International in January 2007 after assuming a bunch of different roles at the company over the previous 7 years. Never in a thousand years could I have imagined myself in this line of work, and I certainly did not start my life as a Weight Watchers guy.

I was born on August 20, 1966, to William H. Kirchhoff and Ann R. Kirchhoff, at George Washington University Hospital in Washington, DC. I was the third of four kids in my family with an older sister, Meg (by 7 years), an older brother, Dan (by 5 years), and a younger sister, Jenny (by 4 years).

My father worked as a basic research scientist, specializing in chemical physics with a focus on thermodynamics. He spent his career principally at the National Bureau of Standards and then the Department of Energy, where he oversaw the awarding of grants to scientists in academic research centers. (Hmmmm. National standards, energy regulation—sounds like what I do for a living now!)

My mother started her grown-up life at Carleton College before transferring to the University of Illinois to be with my dad (they started dating in high school in Downers Grove, Illinois). My mom taught school for a few years while my dad earned his doctorate in chemistry at Harvard. When he landed his first job, she stayed home and took care of her offspring.

My parents were both the first in their respective families to get college degrees. Trying my best to maintain the family win streak, I worked pretty hard in high school to get into a good college, Duke, where I focused on a self-taught tutorial on beer drinking. I applied myself to nondrinking activities during grad school at the University of Chicago, and I surprised myself by getting good grades. Maybe it just took that long for my parents' good example to penetrate through layers of skull.

Okay, so now you know what was going on upstairs. How about around my midsection?

Here is the first important fact about my childhood: I was insanely skinny. I'm half surprised that my inwardly facing belly button didn't poke out of my back.

Let's start with a few physical observations about myself.

I grew tall fast, and not in a particularly graceful, NBA-player-waiting-to-happen kind of way. I was all arms and legs, equipped with little coordination for most of my preadult life.

I topped out at 6 foot 3 during high school, but I only managed to pack 170 pounds onto my frame, even though I was built from farming stock. The only cultivation job I qualified for was "scarecrow." Throw on a respectable case of acne, and you've got the visual of Teen-David.

This raises a few questions: If I later had, and on some level still have, a weight problem, why was I so skinny growing up? Why didn't I just stay skinny? Shouldn't I be a naturally skinny person? What other impacts did my childhood have on my weight, including those that ultimately led to weight gain?

The genetics of weight is fascinating and is an area of study that's growing by leaps and bounds. It's been known for a long time that heavy parents are more likely to have heavy kids than thin ones. One long-term study, tracing people from the 1950s to the 1980s, showed that the odds of becoming an obese adult if you grew up during these decades were high to start with, but they were even higher if your parents were obese.

Understanding the role that family life plays in weight is complex. We are a product of both our genes and the home environment in which we were raised. Moreover, recent research is revealing that these two factors—genes and environment—can influence the odds of being an obese adult from the moment of conception, to birth, through childhood, and even into adulthood. That's one reason why there are such wildly divergent estimates—anywhere from 5 to 90 percent—in assessing the impact of genes on weight. Among identical twins, 50 to 70 percent of their adult weight can be traced to heredity. When looking at the entire population, genetics accounts for 40 to 50 percent of what we weigh. Just how much heredity accounts for your weight—and you're the most important person we address in this book--is a product of the genetic tossed salad you were born with.

To further complicate the gene story, newer research is finding that the influence of genetics goes beyond vulnerability for weight gain, obesity, and body fat. Our weight-related behaviors (things like food cravings, taste preferences, and propensity to be physically active) also carry some interesting genetic links and influences. Stay tuned, folks, as this is a new scientific frontier.

Which makes its usefulness somewhat of a question. One day, we'll be able to use genetic research to help fine-tune a weight management program, but we are not quite there yet. The other way to look at it is this: If you know you are genetically predisposed, then there is all the more reason to be careful and protect yourself in this dangerous food world we currently inhabit. You can't choose your parents, but you can choose how you live, and virtually every study attests to a strong link between weight and lifestyle. Seize the opportunity there, because it's your best chance to wrest control of the scale from your parents, your DNA, and other ghosts in the machine.

More to Eat—And Gain

Why is it that in the 1970s, about 15 percent of adult Americans were obese while today more than 30 percent are? A report published in The Lancet comparing trends in activity expenditure and food consumption over the past 100 years found that obesity rates stayed in check from 1910 to 1970, despite the fact that our increasingly "mechanized" and "motorized" society was becoming more sedentary (the amount of available food actually decreased somewhat). Then, starting in the 1970s, as new grocery items containing sugars and fats proliferated, the amount of food in the US supply chain jumped by 600 calories per day, boosting total energy consumption (measured in "kilojoules")—and obesity.

That's not to say we've been munching all 600 calories per day; the real number for the average American is closer to 200 calories, as some of that food goes to waste. But that little bit extra may have been enough to tip the scales!

MY LEAN ENVIRONMENT: THE EARLY YEARS

If obesity was purely a function of genetics, there would be no clear explanation for the fact that obesity rates have been skyrocketing over the past 30 years. As noted, much of what has been driving obesity has been the rapid change in the food and activity environment around us, and this environmental influence is pretty self-evident: If there were no calorie- dense foods around us, then we would not eat them. Therefore, part of the challenge before us is how to recreate our personal food and exercise environments (i.e., in our homes and offices) in order to craft a workable healthy lifestyle. Lifestyle simply refers to the choices we make in our daily lives, compensating for the underlying triggers that drive our behaviors—eating because we're sad, happy, bored, anxious, or any number of other emotional reasons.

I've spent a lot of time thinking about how I grew so heavy, but it's also instructive to think about what kept me so skinny during those early years. Certainly some of it was my faster metabolism. But I think my weight back then had much more to do with the way I was fed and the food available in my house.

In short: It all comes back to my mom.

It goes without saying that my food environment has changed pretty radically from when I was a kid. Back then, it looked more like the Gobi Desert than the Garden of Eating. But my feelings of deprivation led me to bust out in a fierce way once my food environment became unconstrained. I didn't binge eat much because there was nothing to binge on. Here's my typical meal plan while I was growing up.

Breakfast: cereal and skim milk (reconstituted powdered skim milk at that)

Lunch: cheese and mustard sandwich, banana, and 6 ounces of chocolate milk; no extra treat

Dinner: normal portions of whatever my mom cooked that night, served on a plate that would seem laughably small by today's standards

Dessert: a treat, once a week; usually low-fat ice cream (then known as ice milk) served with a 12-ounce soda

What about restaurants? We went to McDonald's four to six times per year, so as you might guess, every single visit was a spectacular, glorious event. We went to a nice restaurant on my birthday, and every once in a while my parents would order Chinese food or pizza. We loved restaurants, but a hard-working government scientist had neither the time nor the money to treat his family of six very often.

And what about the great big drawer in the kitchen filled with chips, crackers, and cookies? Not in my house. Sneaking treats in my house was about as fun as being the mouse in the pantry at Bob Cratchit's house. The cupboard was bare.

I couldn't make spectacularly bad food decisions because there was nothing around to tempt me. So what did I do about food as a young lad? Simple. I ate at mealtimes, consuming normal and healthy portions of food. I didn't snack much or eat fast food. So I stayed really skinny until I left my perfectly controlled anti-obesogenic environment and landed in the free-for- all known as college.

I'm mentioning all of this not just to give my mom a hard time for starving me. It's also because she came up with the solution to the obesogenic nightmare before it had even been given a name. Her implicit strategy: Don't go near that stuff.

The way I see it, I have two choices: I can focus my energy on developing mental muscle power to withstand the temptations of a food-dense environment all around me; or I can manage my environment, so I won't be tested constantly.

My mom had the answer, and it's simple: If there is little tempting, there is little temptation.

Maybe she did it on purpose—looking past my skinny frame to the raging beast within. And I will be the first to admit that I suffer from food lust, which sometimes feels uncontrollable. When the beast escapes, he engages in mindless eating, binge consumption, and lurid food fantasies.

So you know, I think the world of my mom. She didn't have much to work with when it came to me, and I turned out pretty okay. But it is impossible to parent without inflicting at least two or three unforeseen consequences on your offspring. I'm certainly guilty with my kids, just as she was probably guilty with me. If you could call it that. Her "sins" may actually have saved me.

My mom was a born saver. Her parents struggled through the Great Depression, and she and my dad never had much money when they were starting out in the world as adults. Somehow her bone-deep frugality found its most extreme expression in the food in our house.

A few notable examples come to mind.

The wrong bags: Other kids got those cool precut lunch bags made explicitly for carrying their lunch to school. I got whatever large brown shopping bag happened to be around. I looked like a street urchin in search of canned goods.

Stale bread: We never got fresh bread from the store. Instead, we stocked up on day-old bread on sale and stored it in our industrial-size freezer. I didn't complain as bitterly as my siblings, so I got the heels, not the normal slices from the middle. That's right. My sandwiches were made out of day-old frozen-then-thawed heel slices. It wasn't even Wonder Bread! Generic all the way.

Cheez? Please! Did I get those awesome-tasting processed cheese slices that the cool kids got? Nope. Bologna? Never! I got store-brand Cheddar splooshed with mustard. Some days, I did get PB&J, but no sign of Mr. Peanut or Skippy. It was generic or nothing.

Disappointing "treat": Usually a brown banana. I was the kid who had nothing good to trade at lunch in the cafeteria. I was at the end of the food chain, with no way up.

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