Weight Watchers CEO: Forget Willpower and Do This Instead

Every morning David Kirchhoff springs out of bed, grabs the exercise clothes he's laid out the night before, works out, and has breakfast. Every single morning, the same routine, the same breakfast: oatmeal with blueberries and banana, a non-fat Greek yogurt, some grapes, and coffee. "I've learned to make myself a creature of habit," he told Off the Cuff.

Kirchhoff is the CEO of Weight Watchers International.

When he joined the company in 2000, he was 34 years old and weighed 245 pounds. He lost 40 pounds through the Weight Watchers program and kept it off (No, it wasn't part of his contract -- we asked). The key, he says, is to accept that if you struggle with weight, you probably always will. "If you're depending on willpower, it's always going to let you down. Whereas when you start making healthy choices the automatic choice, living in a healthier way becomes a much easier prospect. All of a sudden, you don't need willpower."

When he wants a treat he says, "I will sometimes take a Greek yogurt, and I'll put in frozen berries, and maybe a little bit of Fiber One on top. And it's sort of like my sad fake ice cream." But even the CEO of Weight Watchers is only human. "If my kids' candy is sitting right in front of me, I will sneak it. You cannot live in a state of total deprivation 'cause you'll break. So I try to find ways of having sort of regulated grossness in my life." Kirchhoff writes a blog in which he chronicles his struggles with weight, and he's written a book "Weight Loss Boss."

Weight Watchers marked a turning point for Kirchhoff, who previously was the Director of Corporate Strategy and Business Development at PepsiCo. "When I was at PepsiCo, this was a company that made products that made people happy. Our understanding of food, and obesity, and everything else was not particularly developed. And by the way, all those products used in moderation are just fine. The issue is that we're just generally consuming too much of everything, including what I'll call 'junk food'…..Like, why do we need soda served in a bathtub?"

More than one-third of Americans are obese. David Kirchhoff has taken the long view: "Unless you can go about the messy business of getting Americans to live in a fundamentally different way, it's going to be really hard to stop the fact that healthcare costs are rising faster than the rate of inflation, in fact crowding out the rest of the economy." He supports what he called "intelligent regulation," such as nutritional labeling on restaurant menus, and New York City's upcoming ban on the sale of sugary drinks in cups larger than 16 ounces.

As the male CEO of a company with a predominantly female customer base, Kirchhoff is spearheading Weight Watchers' efforts to attract male clients. "Men don't face the same kind of media pressure around weight historically that women do, although it's sort of sad and amusing to watch that change a little bit over particularly the last year. There's this movie that came out, Magic Mike, with Channing Tatum. And women were like, 'Oh, my gosh, he's so gorgeous!' And now all of a sudden, men are like—'Seriously? That's where the bar is?' But the good news, Kirchhoff adds, is that men seem to lose weight faster than women. "It just seems to come easier for them. If you ask me why, I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that we just eat in such a dumb way, that just minor improvements can actually have a fairly massive impact."

Kirchhoff is equally frank about his position as a CEO. "The CEO job is tough in the sense that you're much more likely to feel a bit isolated-- you're supposed to be the person who's sort of, like, infallible and in control-- and exuding confidence, and everything else. I think that as a leader, you have to have confidence in what you're doing. And you have to believe in what you're doing, and you have to believe in your plan, and you have to believe in your cause, and you have to believe in your mission. And you need to be very passionate about those things. And if you're not, why would anyone else want to be alongside you? That is not the same thing as saying, 'while all those things are true, I as an individual am far from perfect.' When we put all this armor around ourselves, it basically makes us not particularly approachable, and maybe not particularly authentic."