Posted on November 28, 2012 at 8:58 AM
NORTH DALLAS – Like millions of Americans, Latrice Irwin, admittedly, was the type of person who most needed a gym but was the least likely to go.
“I’ve looked at a gym before, but never actually joined” she said, after gaining more than 60 pounds after having two children. “I never felt comfortable working out with skinny people.”
Always worried gym-goers were judging her. Irwin, 32, stumbled onto the Facebook page for Downsize Fitness
, a very selective gym in North Dallas where the chief requirement is that new members tip the scales.
“If they have more than 50 pounds of body fat to lose, then they become a member,” said the gym’s manager Michael Stout. “We target only … people who really need to lose weight.”
Incoming members are weighed and their body fat calculated. Fit men and women are directed elsewhere. The company goes out of its way to make its clients feel comfortable about working out. There are no mirrors, a staple in most fitness clubs. The windows are frosted for privacy.
“When you’re on my side of the scale, it’s not inspirational to look at other people in half-uniforms, showing off their bodies,” Irwin said, before adding with a smile, “and I’m sure you don’t want to see me in a half-uniform.”
She’s already lost ten pounds and is more motivated than ever to eventually wear a bikini.
“The weight is coming off, and the muscle is coming on, so I can't ask for more,” she said.
Studies have shown that overweight people often feel uncomfortable and embarrassed exercising around young, fit people. The company boasts on its website how its founder, Francis Wisniewski, came up with the idea of “Biggest Loser” style gyms after losing 60 pounds himself.
The company opened its first locations in Las Vegas and Chicago last year and expanded to Dallas in September.
“Dallas is one of the cities that has the largest population of obese people,” Stout said.
Inside, the equipment is designed for larger frames and heavier loads. Trainers like Krisanne Hale motivate by example.
“I lost 115 pounds in about a year,” Hale said, admitting that it was partly due to weight loss surgery. “I just know how it feels. I know how your joints feel. I know how it plateaus.”
Members who do lose weight are welcome to stay, Irwin said; anything to inspire new recruits.
Membership fees start at $50 a month but can cost hundreds once you factor in the cost of classes.
“I just like the home feeling, the more personal touch,” said Tim McCarty, 41, of Balch Springs. Since joining more than two months ago he’s lost close to 60 pounds.
“My wife loves it,” he said of his new 250-pound body. “I snored up a storm before I started here … Now she doesn’t hear me snoring.”
The biggest success, managers insist, is simply getting obese people into a gym.
“Walking through the doors is the first step,” said Hale, the trainer. “You see everybody is just like you. Nobody is 120 pounds and doing planks for an hour.”