If there is anything larger than the waistline of the typical holiday glutton, it is the lines that formed Monday outside Southern California health clubs and weight-loss centers.
The purveyors of fitness are in fat city this week. So are the anti-smoking advocates, the stress reduction managers, the family services counselors and all of the others who help people make good on New Year's resolutions.
Now that the holidays are over, 'tis the season for self-improvement, even if the commitment to health and harmony is short lived.
Newspapers are jammed with promotions for cheap health club memberships. Pictures of former fat people who claim to have benefited from "miraculous" diet plans are also plentiful, as are ominous warnings that the "party is over" for anyone who threw caution to the wind.
Food has quickly become a four-letter word for dieters such as Joan Juckes, a grandmother who is determined to lose 25 pounds now that the temptations of the party season are behind her. The 58-year-old Juckes, a self-described chronic dieter who can reel off the names of every recent health fad, is not deterred by the unfilled promises of resolutions past.
"Normally I don't make resolutions because they're not meant to be kept, but I'm trying to think of this as a change of life style," said Juckes, who described herself as "dimply."
Dimples means dollars for people such as Patrick Netter, owner of a West Hollywood company called High Tech Fitness and author of a book called "Patrick Netter's High Tech Fitness Guide."
Netter said January is the biggest month of the year for people in the fitness industry, a time when sales are brisk for everything from simple $10 jump ropes to advanced $5,000 weight-training machines.
"People are looking down and seeing a little too much fatty tissue," Netter said. "And a lot of them feel that if they buy some exercise equipment, they have taken a step in the right direction."
January also means big business for health clubs.
A vice president of the Sports Connection chain, Nanette Pattee Francini, said fitness fans will be going at it in droves for the next several weeks, as new members join old members who are renewing their exercise regimes. Elbow-to-elbow crowds on the aerobics floor are not unusual at this time of year, she added.
A spokeswoman for the Pritikin Centers said her company "builds momentum" in January.
"This is our busiest time of the year," said Ann Jennings. "We always make sure to run an ad on the first Monday of the new year. I wouldn't say that people are desperate or anxious, but they are finally getting around to what they have been meaning to for the last few months."
At Women Only, the operators promise shapely figures for less than $1 a day. Taaffa O'Connell, manager of the Brentwood branch, said many women are encouraged to join by boyfriends and husbands, while others are simply ready to lose weight.
"Our membership will double this week," she added. "We'll get everything from gorgeous women who have gained five pounds over New Year's Eve to (tubby) women who have decided that this is the time to do it."
The Sports Connection, Pritikin Centers, Women Only and other health clubs help bolster their business around the first of the year with tantalizing advertisements. But places that do relatively little to encourage new business also benefit from heightened health awareness.
The executive vice president of the YMCA of Metropolitan Los Angeles, Larry Rosen, said his memberships will probably skyrocket in the weeks ahead. Rosen said that many people are motivated to lose weight after months of cocktail parties, family dinners and dessert binges.
"There is a great deal to be said about the power of overeating," Rosen said. "At some YMCAs, as much as 50% of the overall enrollment comes during the first part of the year."
Rosen said that half of the new members may drop out of the program within a few months, a statistic that is mirrored at many other health clubs. But for the first few weeks of January at least, it is open season on fat, cigarettes, alcohol and all sorts of despair.
The national toll-free line for Weight Watchers received more than 15,000 calls on one day last week. Telephone sales coordinator Judy Smith said business is booming, especially since the company started an advertising campaign that promises 20% faster weight reduction.
In Los Angeles memberships jumped from 7,500 in December, 1986, to 14,000 in January, 1987. Anne Boehlke, member services manager, said she expects a similar jump this year.
"It's mad here today," she said. "We'll have lines outside the door at many centers."
Heidi Montgomery, Pasadena branch manager for another weight-loss program called Nutri/System, said nearly all of the people in her program have started or will start in January.
"Our phone is ringing off the hook," Montgomery said. "Business is really wild."
For many smokers, the first of the year is also the time to try to lay down cigarettes. More than 15% of the yearly business at Smokenders, a national chain, comes in January. Arnie Willcuts, national sales and marketing manager, said people gain strength from resolutions.
"It shows you the power of the mind," Willcuts said. "People are ready for a new beginning, and from the human behavior point of view, the resolution is one major thing they have going for them."
On a sadder note, the business at counseling centers also rises dramatically at the beginning of the year.
Psychologists see a dramatic rise in the number of people who are unhappy about the course their lives have taken. Doctors say that the holiday season brings out the sadness in many people.
"The rush will come a few weeks from now," said Nora Baladerian, a staff psychologist at the Beverly Hills Counseling Center. "There are a lot of people who are real depressed about feeling lonely and not having family, or friends or lovers. There's also a certain depression about the new year and not having achieved what they wanted to achieve in the year before."
Another psychologist, who specializes in people with severe weight problems, said that she also sees a dramatic rise in patients around this time of year. The doctor, who asked not to be named, said many people are more comfortable confronting their problems this time of year.
Psychologists also point out that the whole phenomenon is cyclical, however. All of the hand-wringing over shattered romance, cellulite, droopy muscles, failed dreams and obsessive smoking will recede as the days of 1988 dwindle down to a precious few. By the next holiday season, most people will probably be back to their old habits.
But for people such as Juckes, hope reigns eternal that this is the year everything will change.
"My husband and I have decided to get serious and change our eating style altogether," Juckes said. "It's a matter of wanting to turn a new leaf and look at a new chapter. People like me want to write a new script because the old script wasn't working. I'm optimistic."