03/01/2011 08:37 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Truth About Health Clubs

I remember the first time I walked into a health club in NYC. It was back in the dark ages, somewhere around 1980. I think I was 10 years old. But really, I was in my mid-twenties and I accompanied a friend who thought he wanted to join one of those Jack Lalanne Bally health clubs.

A fitness guy showed us around and then sat us down, and basically he held us hostage. In those days, you had to give up your license to get a tour. He had our licenses and wasn't about to let two powder puffs like us out the door without selling at least one membership.

But we were resistant. My friend insisted he wanted to think about it. Now mind you, I don't think I'd ever worked out in a health club in my life at that point and neither had my friend. We had waistlines that the Michelin Man would've been proud of.

The trainer was frustrated with our recalcitrance but we refused to back down. It was a standoff. We couldn't leave because he had our drivers licenses. In exasperation, he spoke directly to my friend in a stern voice. "Look this guy's body is barely salvageable," he said pointing to me, "but you, you forget about it."

It didn't work. We refused to buy in and he finally un-handcuffed us and let us out.

Those infamous words of that trainer ushered in the modern era of health clubs in NYC. "Perfect," the movie with Jamie Lee Curtis and John Travolta summed up the period. The result is what we have today -- a health club on practically every corner in NYC.

But now the NY Times has weighed in to tell us that the "easy era" of health club memberships is over. The paper of record ran an article titled: "Full-Service Gyms Feel a Bit Flabby" which reports that in any year up to 45 percent of gym members quit and do not return. And it's getting harder and harder to replace exiting members. It's almost as though a generation of younger versions of me is out there resisting the urge to work out.

The article has many theories about why this is so but I'm going to tell you mine. It's that you can work out till your eyeballs are sweating but most likely, nothing much will happen to give you the abs or thighs of your dreams unless you also eat less.

The truth is that health clubs have been lying to us all these years. They show pictures of the perfect specimens with bodies to die for and scream, "if you work out at our club, you too will look this way."

Finally the American consumer has awakened because that line is just not true. Here's the truth, according to me. Working out has nothing to do with losing weight. Eating less has to do with losing weight. Working out has many things to recommend it -- fitness, general well-being, the ability to lift suitcases when you hit your sixties but losing weight is not one of them.

We've all been sold a bill of good all these years. I have worked out for hours on stair-masters and you name it. My abs were under all that fat but I couldn't see them until I began to eat less. And let's face it. Most of us want to "look good naked" as Kevin Spacey said in "American Beauty."

That's the real aim of all this working out. So save your money. Eat less, do a few push-ups, walk more, do yoga even and you'll get the body of your dreams for a lot less money than you think.