LM Otero / Associated Press
When it comes to being a member at this Chicago-based gym, skinny people need not apply. There's one important requirement to joining Downsize Fitness: you must be overweight.
Investment manager Francis Wisniewski founded the gym in 2011 when he realized there was a large group of people whose fitness needs just weren't being met by traditional gyms, according to Daniel Gross at The Daily Beast. Wisniewski weighed 350 pounds at the time, and he rarely used the gym membership his business partner bought for him.
CEO Kishan Shah, who once weighed 400 pounds but is now half that size, says that the social aspects of traditional fitness centers are often intimidating for people trying to lose weight. Gym chains also prefer members who don't use their facilities frequently — they make more money that way.
“Gyms are designed for fit people to get more fit, not for fat people to get fit,” CEO Kishan Shah said to The Daily Beast.
Downsize, on the other hand, provides a judgment-free atmosphere with frosted windows, group nutrition classes, bi-weekly weigh-ins, and equipment built to support up to 600 pounds. New members must have at least 50 lbs. to lose, and they typically have a Body Mass Index of 35 (a BMI of 30 is generally considered overweight). Fitness coaches, many of whom are weight-loss success stories themselves, regularly check in to make sure that members are meeting their goals.
According to Shah, Downsize members have lost more than 5,500 pounds since Nov. 2011.
“What we do at Downsize is focus on functional fitness – broadly defined as anything that helps you live and meet a healthy life,” said Shah. “The primary consideration people have when joining is not because they’re interested in looking better. It’s generally that they want to be able to get up off the floor, or keep up with their kids, or live to see their grandchildren.”
Downsize opened a second branch in Dallas in 2012 and another in Naperville, Ill. earlier this year. A fourth location is set to open in Fort Worth, but the company hopes to expand to eight or ten in the coming years. For now, those who don't happen to live near a Downsize location can join in the program through online classes.
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