Fox News anchor Bret Baier, right, consults with Ralph Quintanilla about a suit after having his measurements taken last month. (Matt McClain/For The Washington Post)

Bret Baier can barely recognize himself. In his office at Fox News’s Washington bureau, the anchor sits at his desk, examining photos of the man he used to be. Photos from 40 pounds ago, when the old Bret Baier, the coffee drinker and the bacon eater, anchored the evening news with a little extra flesh in his suit.

That man is now gone.

“I looked pretty puffy on the air . . . pleasantly plump,” he says.

Photo comparisons confirm his self-assessment.

“This is August 1st in California,” he says, pointing to a photo of himself with a noticeably rounder face. “This is September 3rd at the [Democratic] convention. And here is Denver just before the debate. It’s funny, isn’t it?”

Bret Baier adjusts his tie before cameras roll on the set of Special Report with Bret Baier at the network’s offices on North Capitol Street NE in Washington. (Matt McClain/For The Washington Post)

He smiles, revealing a newly discovered set of cheekbones.

Before the newsman started rapidly shedding pounds three months ago, Baier, 42, the host of Fox News’s eponymous “Special Report With Bret Baier,” was clinically overweight, an anomaly in an industry where hard bodies typically report hard news.

“I’m lucky,” he concedes. “I’ve always held my weight well for TV.”

On Tuesday night, when he co-
anchors Fox News’s election night coverage alongside the always-svelte anchor Megyn Kelly, he’ll announce political victory while privately celebrating a personal one. He now weighs less than 200 pounds, on track to have lost 45 pounds in three months. And he embarked on this weight-loss challenge in the final throes of campaign season, when traveling political reporters typically pack on the pounds thanks to deep-fried county-fair food, pizza binges and late-night restaurant fare. Because of his new physique, he’s having many of his Hickey Freeman suits taken in. He’s lost more than five inches in his waist alone.

“I feel proud of this guy,” says Baier, pointing to a recent image of his slimmed-down self. “But I do think, ‘Wow, I spent a long time as this other guy.’ How could I stay like this for so long?”

Struggling with weight

A yo-yo dieter since his college days, Baier has struggled with weight in front of the camera for 15 years. He’s always been the big guy at Fox, assigned to cover issues that propelled him to the anchor’s chair: 11 trips to Afghanistan, 13 to Iraq. Reports from Kosovo, Cuba, the Pentagon, even as his 5-foot-11-inch frame teetered close to 260 pounds.

“To their credit, no one at Fox has ever told me to lose weight,” Baier says.

Whether women are given the same clemency is debatable. Recently, a Wisconsin-based local television reporter, Jennifer Livingston, gained YouTube fame after chastising a viewer on-air for criticizing her weight. Baier sympathizes with Livingston, admitting that viewers routinely e-mail him about his appearance.

“There’s a nice little local blog that kept track” of my weight, he says. He pauses. “They said some interesting things, like ‘Try a salad.’ You get the message.”

Perhaps Baier’s appearance makes him the relatable face at the network. After all, as many as 100 million Americans try to lose weight every year. That’s more than watch cable news.

Some of his 2.5 million daily viewers are commenting on his progress: “Some have said: ‘You look great! What’s your secret?’ Others say: ‘Are you okay? Are you healthy?’ ”

But he isn’t losing weight for the camera. After his doctor gave him a diagnosis of high cholesterol, his wife, Amy, urged him to try a gluten-free diet. They tried the diet quietly together, then switched to the popular “Eat Right 4 Your Type” diet after a friend’s recommendation. The diet classifies foods as beneficial or harmful according to one’s blood type. Baier, Type O, had to limit his meat intake and to abstain from beer and, most shockingly, coffee.

“I was at five or six cups a day, with cream, the whole deal,” Baier says. “I clearly needed to make some changes.”

It’s questionable whether he’ll make it through the day after the election without a cup.

“We might have to supercharge that green tea,” he says.

A secret goal

Doug Rohrbeck thought Baier was acting a little strange back in August. As Baier’s executive producer, Rohrbeck has traveled overseas and across the country with him since 2009. He knows the man’s tastes, that he favors Budweiser with his meat, that he wouldn’t order whole-wheat pancakes or grilled fish without a reason.

“I didn’t notice in the beginning, but looking back, he was making these subtle shifts,” Rohrbeck says. “We weren’t checking into a hotel and having orders of wings anymore.”

In some ways, the staff was too busy to notice Baier’s diet, until viewers started commenting on his weight loss.

“We took the show on the road for election season, visiting swing counties,” Baier says. “And when we were flying out to Nevada in August, I was typing up a list of ‘things to do’ on the flight over. And Number 1 was drop 30 pounds by October 3rd.”

He kept the goal to himself, telling only his wife and his assistant. But the changes became more apparent over time. His car, once filled with Starbucks coffee cups and Diet Coke bottles, was stocked with tea instead. There was no beer, no pork, no fried food in sight.

“When we got to October 2nd, I brought my iPad to Doug, and I said, ‘Doug, I wrote this on the plane when we were flying to Nevada,’ ” Baier recalls. “ ‘I’m down 32. I feel like I’ve done it.’ ”

Some colleagues were surprised that Baier would make such sweeping changes to his diet during campaign season.

“It was easier, believe it or not, being on the road, going to restaurants all the time,” Baier says. “And I exercised. I got up every morning religiously and went to the treadmill at whatever hotel I was in and just did it.”

Still, even now, Rohrbeck finds the diet amusing.

“After this last debate in Boca, we got back to the hotel around 11 p.m., and we all went out to a restaurant and ordered appetizers,” Rohrbeck says. “It used to be that Bret would order sliders. This was the first time I’d ever seen him order a shrimp cocktail at midnight.”