The Thin Man

updated 07/28/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/28/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Where does Bryant Gumbel find happiness? With second wife Hilary Quinlan, out on the golf course—and in the jeans department. "I used to be a size 38 or 40," he says. Thanks to a 55-lb. weight loss since January, however, Gumbel now shops for a size 31. "I can't lie: That feels good," he says. "I thought my days of wearing 31's were goodbye."

They very nearly were. It was only seven months ago that the 5'9" Gumbel (who says "I've always been a little bit of a chubbette") tipped the scales at more than 240 lbs. He was used to seeing his weight fluctuate—"I've lost a thousand pounds in my life," he says, "but they've always been the wrong way" and have thus come back—but this time Gumbel decided he had had enough. "I didn't walk down the street and have somebody yell, 'Hey, tubby!' " he says. He had normal blood pressure and cholesterol levels, but "I didn't care for the fact that I was getting older," he says, "and cultivating bad habits."

Those habits included snacking on M&Ms and indulging in "crunchy, salty, spicy" foods, Gumbel says. "If I sat in a Mexican restaurant, I'd eat the chips until they were gone—and when they filled [the basket] up, I'd do it again." Then he would go to the opposite extreme. "Come Christmas time, he would go on, like, a water fast," says his friend Matt Lauer. "I'd say, 'If you would take 15 percent better care of yourself during the other 11 months, you wouldn't have to go through this.' "

Gumbel, 54, says he could finally take that advice thanks in large part to his new, less taxing schedule. Since leaving CBS's Early Show in May 2002, Gumbel "doesn't have to wake up at 4 a.m.," says Quinlan, 43, a model, "so he has the time to devote" to healthy living. These days, Gumbel—who hosts a monthly HBO show, Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, and a new PBS quarterly series, Flashpoints USA with Bryant Gumbel and Gwen fill—spends two hours a day in the gym at his apartment building on Manhattan's Upper West Side, exercising with personal trainer Jason Mittelman, 31. "His stomach," says Regis & Kelly's gossip reporter, Claudia Cohen, a Gumbel pal, "is now absolutely concave!"

That's quite a turnaround, says Lauer, who once gave Gumbel a Christmas gift of five sessions with a personal trainer. "I don't know if he ever used it," Lauer says. But now, even when Gumbel travels, "he makes sure there's a facility to work out at in the hotel," Mittelman says.

Gumbel also makes sure he has breakfast and lunch every day—something he used not to do. "I was the guy who ate one meal a day, and when I sat down to eat, I would really eat," he says. Fighting his instinct to "sit with a bucket of 50 chicken wings and go top to bottom," Gumbel now moderates his food intake. "He'll still go out and have a beer and a great meal," Lauer says, "but what's he's doing is maintaining better."

The change in Gumbel's physique does have at least one downside. "He can't get the weight behind" his golf swing anymore, Lauer teases. But Gumbel—who says he doesn't have a target weight and plans to stick with his new lifestyle—is so content he has given away most of his old wardrobe. "I recently put on the suit that I got married in last August," he says, "and it's just huge."

Galina Espinoza
Mark Dagostino in New York City

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