Losing Weight in a Weight-Loss Resort: Will It Stay Off?

The New York Times recently reported on the change of ownership of one of the better-known weight loss/fitness resorts, Canyon Ranch. The article described the resort’s comprehensive program for those who want to lose weight and improve their fitness. Like many other facilities frequented by those who can afford both the very high price and the time off from work, Canyon Ranch offers more than well-prepared low-calorie food and exercise opportunities that include hikes, exercise classes, a fitness center, and individual training. Massages, lectures on stress-reduction/mindfulness, consultations with nutritionists and physicians, and even wrinkle-reducing treatments prepare the guests for entry into the real world in a much-improved physical and mental state. Sometimes people will stay at facilities like Canyon Ranch or others such as Hilton Head for weeks if they have a considerable amount of weight to lose. Some places stress hours of strenuous exercise and all restrict portion size and variety of food. No alcohol, of course, is allowed.

It is hard to obtain information on whether, after returning home, participants are able to maintain their lower weight, increased fitness, and decreased stress. The article mentioned that at least half of the people who go to Canyon Ranch have gone there before; one woman had visited the facility more than 100 times. No information was provided as to whether she needed to return frequently to maintain her weight and fitness status, or because she simply loved the facility or both.

The transition from staying in a facility detached from the realities of daily life (some forbid the use of electronic devices, television, and newspapers) to the real world may jolt the individual out of his or her newly found healthy lifestyle and make the return to old eating and exercise habits unavoidable. The weight-loss resorts don’t have satellite ‘drop-in centers‘ to reinforce what was learned and practiced while participating in the residential program. Few can maintain the four or five hours of daily exercise in which they engaged while at the resort; at least, not without giving up their day job. Reproducing the low-calorie meals with their emphasis on vegetables, grains, and lentils takes more effort than ordering takeout. And eating away from home at work, meetings, social occasions, and while traveling limit further the ability to obtain the foods offered at the weight-loss facility.

In short, taking on and keeping new habits requires time and effort. Plunging immediately back into the life led before going to these weight-loss resorts may shatter the new lifestyle acquired there.

People whose weight-loss efforts begin at home with dieting, and perhaps some exercise, are familiar from the very beginning of their diet with the struggles they must overcome to lose weight. They are dealing with all the stress triggers- temptations to overeat, work, family matters, exhaustion and lack of time, that may have contributed to their gaining weight.

Those who opt for stomach reduction surgery face an additional struggle because they cannot overeat without making themselves sick, and yet may also face all the factors that caused their weight gain. In contrast, people whose path to better weight and fitness starts in the otherworldly atmosphere of a residential weight loss and fitness facility are helped enormously by the elimination of triggers to overeating.

That is, until they leave.

However, there could be an enduring positive effect to losing weight and becoming more fit as a result of participating in a residential weight-loss facility. Success at seeing oneself thinner, even if it is only by a couple of pounds, and gaining stamina and strength, could motivate and reinforce further weight loss and fitness efforts. Many people don’t start diets or refuse to do any physical activity because they assume they will fail, at one or the other, or both. Stories of people self-identified as unfit, who go to one of the more physically demanding weight-loss programs and find themselves able to hike four or five hours a day, and then participate in hours more of physical training, are often shocked at their ability to do so. People who at home have not been able to give up their high-calorie foods and instead resist eating “healthful” foods, learn to enjoy varieties of grains and vegetables at these facilities and may try to continue eating these foods when they return home.

Could they have initiated these activities and changes in food choices without going to a weight-loss resort? Of course. But at home, they have a choice not to. At the resort, they either do or do not eat what they are served and participate in often grueling physical activity programs, or drop out of the program.

Most adults will never have the opportunity to go to a resort where food, physical activity, stress, sleep, and pampering are designed to make them feel optimally healthy. But might it be possible to take some of the effective programs at these facilities, such as healthful menu selections, opportunities for recreational exercise, e.g., hiking, stress reduction techniques, and introduce them into the workplace for everyone?

These methods of weight loss and fitness seem to be reserved for the few who can afford them. But like many things in our society, from indoor plumbing to cell phones, eventually they become available for most. Perhaps someday, strategies to eat healthful foods, maintain a normal weight, and achieve fitness will be available without staying in a weight-loss resort.

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