Farewell!

August 2, 2013 — 78 Comments

Until we meet again…

The news is out that I am leaving Weight Watchers (as employee), yet I am absolutely not leaving Weight Watchers in the way that matters most (as a member).  From a professional point of view, it’s time for me to pass the steering wheel of the business to a person for whom I have tremendous respect, Jim Chambers.  He’s a great guy, who happens to be wicked smart and a top-flight executive.  He has crazy good experience, and he can (and will) make great things happen.  Weight Watchers has huge opportunities in front of it, and I am very much looking forward to cheering Jim and his team on as they realize all of their aspirations.

I am SO going to do the hobo thing for a while!

I am SO going to do the hobo thing for a while!

From my point of view, I’m going to spend some time thinking about my next chapter (Wait!  A new book?! – one never knows).  I first joined the Weight Watchers organization in January of 2000, nearly 14 years ago.  I’ve been CEO for six and a half years, and I’ve got all the newly grey hair to show for it — either that or I really am turning 47 years old.  I haven’t had more than two weeks off of work since 1994, and I’m looking forward to thinking fresh about what might be next.  I know it’s a bit trite to say, but I’m also looking forward to being an overly present nuisance to my family for a little while.

But that’s work stuff.  When I started writing this blog in March of 2009 (over four years and 180+ posts ago), I made the decision to write as a Weight Watchers member not as the CEO.  Before I joined WW, I was a BMI 30+ guy with total cholesterol of 270.  I slouched a bit, and I wore mom jeans.  I walked into my first Weight Watchers meeting in February of 2000, and I became an official lifetime member in March of 2009 (as I’ve said, I’m a slow learner).  I’ve been at goal weight ever since.  I’m the healthiest I’ve ever been, AND I wear skinny(ish) jeans.

Throughout these 4+ years writing this blog, I’ve learned a lot about myself and a lot about my health and my weight.  I’ve had more than my fair share of ups and downs, many of which I’ve chronicled on this blog.  Today, I feel more relaxed about my weight and my ability to manage it than I ever could have imagined.  In my 14 years at Weight Watchers, I’ve become vastly healthier, stronger, more energetic, and (I’d like to think) prettier than I ever could have hoped for.

I’d like to take credit for doing all of this on my own, but that would be a giant fib.  I have absolutely no doubt that I would not be where I am, either professionally or personally, without Weight Watchers.  I’ve officially had two WW Leaders (Mike Filan and Liz Josefsberg), but frankly I’ve been to so many WW meetings that I’ve had 100’s of WW Leaders.  I am who I now am because of them.  Period.  I can never say thank you enough for all the ways that they and this company have enriched my life.

During my 14 years at Weight Watchers, I’ve seen so many people change their lives that I’ve lost track.  I’ve had the pleasure of watching people accomplish what they never would have thought possible.  I’ve seen the unfettered joy and pride on their faces when they reached their goal weight.  I’ve seen the way that they make everyone around them rise up in their own self-belief.  Weight Watchers truly is an incredible and special organization, with one of the most important missions on Earth:  helping people get healthy by helping them live healthy.  That mission was happening long before I ever got to Weight Watchers, and it will be happening long into the future.  And for Weight Watchers, I believe the future is bright indeed.

For each of you who have had the kindness to read this blog as well as to contribute to it with your thoughts and comments, I say thank you.  Your warmth and support, particularly during some of my spectacular crashes, were appreciated more than you could ever know.

As I look to the future, I am now (predictably) already worrying about how I will manage to not gain 3,785 pounds.  Did I need the CEO job to keep me honest?  The answer is no.  I love my health and I like the way I look, and that’s all the incentive I need to stay healthy.  I’ve got 14 years of learning and experience that I can use to stay on the healthy path.  I may no longer be the CEO, but I will always be a WW member.  I’m just a civilian now, but WW has made me a confident one.  Just like many/most of you.

For all of you out there, regardless of where you are on your journey, please never forget the power and strength that lies inside you.  I cannot tell you how many people I have met who came close to giving up and ultimately found their spark and made their life different.  They aren’t just like you.  They are you.  Every one of you has everything you need to get to where you want to go.  All you need to do is work that WW program like there’s no tomorrow.

As this is my last blog post, I want to thank you once again for coming with me on this journey.  You will be missed on these pages, but you can still find me on Twitter.

See you in the future.

Cheers!!!!

Dave

p.s., after all the news came out last night, you might be wondering what I ate after dinner.  Did he eat a huge bowl of ice cream?  No!  He had his “fake” ice cream (0% fat Greek yogurt w/ frozen berries and Fiber One).  And a spoonful of ice cream.

 

I’m writing this post from a hotel room at 5 AM in Shanghai.  It’s been a particularly crazy travel week starting with Singapore, now in Shanghai and moving to Sydney this weekend.  My flight schedule will have started with a flight to Singapore, connecting through Frankfurt followed by a flight to Shanghai followed by an overnight flight to Sydney followed by a flight from Sydney to NY via Seoul, Korea.  A colleague worked out that it’s a little north of 29,000 miles travelled over 20 days with a total of 60 hours spent on airplanes (excluding layovers, airport time and getting to and from the airports).

It goes without saying that on trips like this, a whole lot of rules go out the window.  When I’m strapped to a seat for this long, the whole hedonic hunger eating thing pretty much beats down my frontal lobe and restraint goes out the sealed airplane windows.  I’m thinking of the 60 hours as a three day cruise.  How bad could that be?  On terra firma, I’ve been pretty good, sticking with smart choices for my meals in hotels, offices and restaurants for dinner.

As always, my saving grace in trips like this has been sticking with my workout routines.  I hit the gym the second I got into my Singapore hotel on Tuesday morning for about 45 minutes of disgusting sweat-infused cardio.  Cardio is always pretty easy for me to squeeze in, but my exercise planning efforts center around making time for four days of heavy weight lifting each week – no matter what.  Therein lays the topic for this post.

I’ve spent the last 4.5 years at goal weight, and I attribute much of my success there to making pretty consistently healthy food choices.  However, if you put a gun to my head (please don’t, btw), I would have to say that exercise has been my salvation.  I’ve preached for many years that you can’t lose weight without changing your diet, but you can’t keep the weight off without exercising pretty consistently.  I think most of us find this pretty intuitive.  The trick is in finding an exercise regimen with which we can be happy (or at least not very sad).

Those who have followed this post for a while or have read my book know that weight lifting is a pretty big part of my life.  I lift free weights four times per week using what bodybuilders call a four day split –focusing on one or two body parts once per week (e.g., back/biceps one day, chest/triceps the next, etc.).  I also try to follow the rules that bodybuilders use which is to focus on getting 8-10 reps with increasing weight as heavy as I can manage for that rep range.  I do not try to get a cardio workout in from my weight routines, and rather I use the bicycle for that.  Each body part is good for about 6-8 exercises with three sets of 8-10 reps each.  I do superset (quickly alternate between exercises) when I can, but not always.

Why do I do this?  Because Arnold did.  In the days of fancy workout systems like Crossfit, Insanity, PX90, kettlebells, etc, I am a dyed-in-the-wool 1970’s knuckle-dragging meathead.  The only thing missing for me is tube socks and parting my hair in the middle.  I’m not against any of those high-tech and fancy pants new workout systems, I’m just not interested in them.  My logic is that Lou Ferrigno looked pretty impressive (particularly in green), so why fight it?  I realize that I am missing out on a whole wonderful world of muscle confusion, but I’m pretty confused about most things in life so why confuse myself more?

Why wouldn't anyone want to rock this look?

Why wouldn’t everyone want to rock this look?

So there you have it.  I’m aligning myself with bodybuilders (sans steroids).  I’m with the dudes from the Jersey Shore.  I am a proud member of a subculture that is oft-mocked. I certainly expect to be required to give up my metrosexual New York City credentials.  I am a meathead.

Honestly, I’m not sure why more people don’t do the same.  For any guy reading this post, I hate to break it but there is no way that lifting hard for an hour four days per week will make you balloon up into a cartoon figure.  However, if you lift as heavy as you can and keep lifting as heavy as you can, you will build up muscle mass.  That will hugely help you keep the weight off, and you will look better.  What’s wrong with that?  It’s also worth mentioning that I didn’t really start lifting in earnest until I was in my mid-30’s, ramping it up in my 40’s.  My point is that it is NEVER too late to start.  Show me a really fit 60 year guy, and I will show you someone who worships at the altar of iron.

For any woman reading this post (of ANY age), building up muscle and raw strength is one of the smartest things you can do.  It boosts your metabolism, it reduces risk of osteoporosis, and it will give you great tone.  What it won’t do is bulk you up.  Given your relatively lower levels of testosterone, it’s almost impossible for women to bulk up no matter how hard and how heavy you lift.  Four hours a week will put you at little to no risk.  That this fear of bulking up exists after so many years is a source of endless surprise for me.

I write all of this knowing that most of these words will fall on deaf ears as many find weight lifting “boring”, “too time consuming”, “icky”, “intimidating” etc.  However, I feel obligated to make the case for my meathead big iron ways because of everything it has given me and the effect it’s had on my health and looks – though I haven’t rocked a spray on tan (yet!).  If you do decide to give it a go, start slow.  Learn proper technique.  Most importantly, begin building a weekly routine that you can develop and build over time.  There is no reason to start with four days of heavy lifting per week, but two days might be pretty manageable.  My only advice is that once you get going, keep trying to gradually increase the amount of weight you are using so that you are doing the 8-10 reps, struggling a bit on the last one.  Most-most-most importantly, don’t quit.  Build it into your schedule, simply stick with it, and the results will follow.

Finally, the next time you see Mike “the Situation” Sorrentino, give him a hug and commit to solidarity.

Cheers,

Dave

Tuesday, June 18 was a very big day for those of us toiling in the world of obesity.  On this day, the American Medical Association (AMA) voted to officially recognized obesity as a disease.  Other medical associations had already done so including the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists and the American College of Cardiology.  The announcement was quickly endorsed and praised by the American Heart Association.

The AMA called obesity a “multimetabolic and hormonal disease state” that leads to unfavorable outcomes like Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.  It also stated that obesity as a disease “requiring a range of medical interventions to advance obesity treatment and prevention.”  Previously, the AMA had referred to obesity as an “urgent chronic condition,” a “major health concern” and a “complex disorder.”

I was also trained as an engineer.  Double disease states it seems...

I was also trained as an engineer. Double disease states it seems…

 

Okay.  So what does all this mean?

At the most basic level, the AMA is suggesting that 78 million Americans with a BMI over 30 have a disease state that requires treatment.  That’s about three times as many people who are classified as diabetic.  This would have included yours truly in 1999 right before he joined Weight Watchers.

The question on whether obesity is a disease is not a new debate, and considerable blood has been shed on the battlefield of those who have been duking it out on this issue.  Interestingly, in voting for the resolution to classify obesity as a disease, the AMA members were voting against the recommendation of their own expert panel that had been evaluating this question over the past year.

It feels like a pretty complicated topic all the way around.  For starters, most of us think of a disease the same way we think of the flu or a cold.  However, more and more, the diseases that have the biggest impact on us are of the chronic variety including cancer, heart disease, pulmonary, diabetes, etc.  Obesity in turn significantly raises risk for most of the aforementioned chronic diseases, particularly diabetes and heart disease.  So does that make it a disease?  Honestly, I have no idea and will happily leave the finer details of this debate to the clinicians and health experts that are much more heavily steeped in these designations than little old me.

The question I find more interesting is whether this new designation is (or can be) a good thing.  I see the answer to this on three levels:

1)  The healthcare level

We have seen from our own research at Weight Watchers that the urging of a doctor to address weight can have a profound impact on how seriously we take the issue.  I have met countless members who have shared that it was their doctor that gave them the final push to get started on the road to changing their habits and lifestyle.  I happen to be one of those members.

Unfortunately, many doctors don’t have this conversation with their patients, and if they do, it may be merely a passing comment.  Worse, one study from Johns Hopkins indicated that doctors were 35% less likely to have an emotional rapport with their overweight patients.  For many physicians, the conversation about weight with a patient can be at best uncomfortable.  In some cases, they may worry that nagging a patient may cause the patient to seek care elsewhere.  In other cases, the doctor may shy away for fear of coming across as judging how someone looks.

So, by far, the biggest benefit I see coming out of the AMA pronouncement is having more doctors having constructive conversations with their patients about obesity. 

The second, likely longer-term benefit coming from announcements such as this will be greater support by health insurance companies to provide coverage for clinically proven treatments for obesity.  For many/most of us, losing weight on our own has been a losing proposition (pardon the pun):  it’s hard to just “lose the weight” and to simply “cut back”.  For many of us, we need the help from proven treatments and help.  Yes, I’m horribly biased here in that I see Weight Watchers as a leader in this area with roughly 85 publications over the past 15 years.  Programs and support systems that have stood the test of time and have a track record for clinically demonstrated results should be covered under health plans just as hypertension medicine is covered under our health plans.  If the healthcare industry starts seeing obesity as a disease, it would be odd for them not to consider covering the treatment of said disease state.  It’s impossible for me to advocate for this without being self-serving, but I believe in it passionately nonetheless.

In general, I’m a big believer that the healthcare system has a strong role to play in addressing conditions such as obesity.  We need to shift our health system from sick care to health care by helping to people avoid becoming diabetic rather than to kick into gear once it’s too late.

2) The human level

So, if you have a BMI greater than 30, you are now considered not only “obese” but also suffering from a “disease.”  Have a nice day!

First things first…  I’m not a fan of the word “obese”, particularly when applied to me.  It’s hard to argue that it has any connotation that isn’t pretty harsh/negative.  It conjures media images of exposed bellies underneath shirts.  It’s symbolic of “what’s wrong with America” and all sorts of other states of judgmentalism.  I frankly cannot think of a better word, but this one seems pretty bleak.  That said, when the healthcare world talks about obesity, they are referencing it as it relates to health risk factors, not body image.  That doesn’t make the medicine taste any better, but at least we can understand the intent.

Secondly, let’s just state right away that having a BMI greater than 30 does not mean you are currently sick.  By the way, having a BMI less than 25 does not mean you are necessarily fit either.  That said, there are very clear statistics that your RISK for related diseases (comorbidities) become greatly elevated once BMI travels north of 30.  If you are also pre-diabetic (ask your doctor), have high cholesterol or high blood pressure, the risks are that much more clear.  So, if you are not pre-diabetic, you’ve got the heart of a lion and low blood pressure, are you “sick” or “diseased” because your BMI is greater than 30?  Your risk for becoming sick is still higher even if you are not currently symptomatic other than by weight.  It’s one of the tricky parts of obesity:  the diseases it causes often come later in life.  Nonetheless, the word “disease” carries a lot of connotations, most of them not pleasant.

I wonder what my reaction would have been when I got my physical in 1999 were my doctor to have told me that I had obesity, which was a disease.  Honestly, I don’t know.  My guess is that my first reaction would have been to be pretty depressed and maybe a little freaked out.  I hate being sick.  That said, I also can’t rule out that I might have had an even greater sense of urgency to deal with it.  I also think my doctor would have been that much more forceful in how she delivered the message.

3) The broader conversation level

It goes without saying that there is a tendency (understatement) to feel pretty badly about ourselves when we are told we are obese.   Is there a way to turn this entire conversation on its head?  What if we simply saw our weight problem as a health condition that requires treatment lest we get sick or get more sick?  What if there was a way to have the obesity condition leave the world of body image, self-flagellation and bad feelings once at for all?

Ironically, just before this came out, I wrote a piece for the Huffington Post that tries to get at this very point.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-kirchhoff/health-as-a-measure-of-success_b_3398673.html

Call me a ridiculous idealist, but I see the possibility for a better way and a much more empowered and constructive conversation with this new announcement by the AMA.

Thoughts?