It's lunchtime on the second Saturday in January, and the downtown YMCA is jammed. Sweaty bodies mill around the cardio equipment and drape in exhaustion (not to mention flagrant disregard for the gym's "do not rest on equipment between sets" policy) on shiny new red-and-black weight machines.
"Is it always so crowded in here?" dismayed new members ask again and again. "It's just January," replies one staff member.
"New Year's resolutions," he clarifies. "By about the end of February [or the] beginning of March, it'll get a lot quieter. People'll get lazy [and] stop coming."
According to just about every study ever conducted on the topic, "lose weight" and "get in shape" perennially top Americans' lists of New Year's resolutions. But given that more than 55 percent of Americans are considered to be overweight or obese (based on federal guidelines), the Y's January throng will likely have a lot of company in the next few months -- when they once again start being absent from the gym.
For whatever reason -- be it an increasingly sedentary lifestyle or the proliferation of Sonic Drive-Ins -- Americans are having a harder time than ever sticking to their resolutions to get fit.
And yet -- the lure of Tater Tots and 32-ounce limeades be damned -- some people do.
"It's a simple equation," explains Susan McDonald, director of fitness at the YWCA. "Calories in minus calories out: When you expend more calories than you eat, you lose weight."
Yeah. Whatever. Sonic-size those Tater Tots, please.
"It's about portion control," insists Ray Sanow, who joined Weight Watchers six months ago. He still indulges in his favorite food, potato chips, everyday. Before Weight Watchers, though, Ray says, "I would have some [chips] while I was making the sandwich, some more with the sandwich and then a few more after I'd finished the sandwich."
Now, however, he measures out 1 ounce -- the recommended serving size -- and eats just that with his lunch.
"It's little changes that make the difference," maintains Ray, who has lost nearly 50 pounds since he started measuring his chips.
Reduced chip-intake alone, however, will not a man shrink. At least not that fast. You have to cut out or burn off 3,500 calories for every pound of weight you want to lose. (Ray would have had to find more than 1,166 extra ounces of chips to cut from his diet to shed 50 pounds that way.)
Ray also plays basketball five days a week at the YMCA, and he recently started jogging regularly. About three months ago, he added weight training to his routine, as well. (Muscle tissue burns more calories than fat tissue, even when the body's just sitting around watching TV. So although weight training itself doesn't provide a high-calorie burn, by building muscle, it effectively speeds up the body's metabolism.)
At 59, Ray says he's never been in better shape.