I’m recapping my late January visit to The Biggest Loser Resort at Fitness Ridge in Ivins, Utah. Click on over to my first installment, if you haven’t read about my check-in and weigh-in!
Monday: Day 1 at The Biggest Loser Resort at Fitness Ridge
2 am: After drinking copious amounts of water, per staffers’ instructions, to avoid getting dehydrated on my morning assessment hike and throughout the week, I actually wake up to pee in the middle of the night. I don’t recall doing that in years — not since I was pregnant. Clearly my body wasn’t prepared for the onslaught of liquid.
4:45 am: I awake for the day well before my 5:30 am alarm. Likely due to the frigid temperatures in my room. I had turned off the forced-air heater on the wall before retiring because it was so loud. Truly, the most annoying heating system I’ve encountered in a hotel room, perhaps ever. Even with the earplugs I use nightly (at home and on the road), I knew there was no way I’d be able to get a wink of sleep with the noisy heater going on and off all night. I pulled the blanket off of my extra bed and burrowed under the covers. But I wake up early and feel as if I’ve been camping. The temperature outside is 28 degrees Fahrenheit. I wonder if I brought enough warm hiking clothes for the week.
6 am: As I drink my contraband cup of coffee, dress and walk the short distance to the Court (basketball court for fun “P.E. classes” like badminton and volleyball) for optional “Stretch & Core” class, I realize it’s been years since I’d been up before the sun to exercise.
7 am: I revel in having completed a soothing but effective stretch class, vowing to get up by 5:30 a.m. each morning this week to start the day off right. I’m hungry, and appreciate that breakfast is menu style. Options, all listed with their calorie total, include oatmeal with a side protein (might be chicken sausage, egg or turkey bacon), granola with almond milk and a side protein, scrambled egg and toast, egg scramble (with diced vegetables and meat) with a slice of toast, chocolate peanut butter smoothie and side protein or peanut butter on toast. I go for the egg scramble, knowing it will likely feel the most filling to me (even though it, interestingly, has the least amount of calories, 291 calories, same as the smoothie with side protein).
Lovely flavored tea and some sort of all-natural, chicory, coffee-like beverage are available self-serve. I sample the teas all week long. While they are no replacement for the real coffee (I have hidden in my room), I realize I like sipping on the warm beverage during breakfast — and it does help me warm up on the chilly desert mornings.
Before we leave the dining hall, friendly waitstaff offers us our morning snack — to be eaten as needed before lunch. The protein-centric options are the same every day: hard-boiled egg, 12 almonds, or peanut butter or white bean dip with celery (or you can take raw veggies like baby carrots from the salad bar, open in the morning for guests to snag different vegetables, and always open for making your own salads — with vinegar, no oil — at lunch and dinner). These snacks are doled out in little baggies. I hope Fitness Ridge has stock in the Ziploc company; they go through probably hundreds of baggies a week. I go for the almonds.
8 am: We’re divvied up into vans to head out on our “assessment hike.” How we do on today’s hike will determine what van we’re in — and the difficulty level of the hikes — for the rest of the week. I’m grouped with four other guests on a moderate trek along the Lower Gila Trail (whose trailhead is a short 10-minute drive from the resort). Three guides accompany us. We go out an hour, each at our own pace, and then turn around and hike back for an hour, covering nearly 5 miles (I record the hike with my Android’s My Tracks app).
I’m definitely not the fastest on the trail; there’s one gal who keeps up neck and neck (or foot and foot) with the lead guide, while I hang back a bit. Afterwards, the speedy guests says of me and guy in our group, “We all basically kept up with one another. You’ll be in the fast van with me.”
I think this is hilarious, because at the Welcome Orientation, a longtime staffer admonished us not to use the terms “slow van” or “fast van,” as we’re not only judging our own ability, but also others in the “slow van” — who may not think of themselves as slow. Of course, later in the week I hear other guests saying things like, “I’m not that fast, I’m in the second to last van” or “I like the slow van. I don’t want to go move up to van #3.” The fastest van is labeled #1 and the slowest van is #5. Names of all participants are posted in the dining room. It’s no secret — and it’s really no big deal.
11:15 am: I head to the Lecture Hall after our invigorating hike to get the scoop on reading the somewhat complex printout from our InBody measurements, taken the day before. It’s helpful to understand what the “Body Composition Analysis,” the “Body Water Balance” and “Segmental Lean Analysis” on the report mean.
12:20 pm: Lunchtime! This is the biggest meal of the day: always a low-calorie (but oh-so-yummy) soup course, such as roasted red pepper, creamy mushroom or butternut squash, and then an entree, which might be chicken curry, salmon and orzo, poached shrimp with veggies or vegetable hummus wrap. Once again, I nearly lick my plate clean: the food is that good, plus I want to make sure I’m getting all the calories I’m allowed.
We’re offered our afternoon snack: the same protein snacks we were offered in the morning (egg, almonds, bean dip or peanut butter), plus a fruit, apple, orange or half a banana.
1 pm: Time for another lecture for the new guests, this time it’s on heart rate and fitness and nutrition basics. Much of the information I know already, but I appreciate the reminder that food is fuel for our bodies.
2:15 pm: The newbies gather in the gym for an introduction to the strength training machines, followed by a 45-minutes circuit training class, that alternates between time on a variety of machines — not only ones for biceps, triceps, abs, shoulders and abductors, but also the treadmills, stationary bikes and ellipticals. So far, I’m holding my own. I love sweating and working out hard — something, again, I haven’t done in a long time.
Only half of the 30 or so guests are in my circuit training class. We’re divided up into two groups for afternoon exercise classes — orange and purple — which I like. Instead of 30 people to a class, we’re only about 15, which makes for plenty of room to spread out and some personal attention.
3:30 pm: We move to the Court for a core medicine ball class — lots of squats, lunges and crunches with a weighted medicine ball. I love it, and I know I’ll feel my obliques in the morning.
4:15 pm: I make a beeline to my room to munch on my afternoon snack — white bean dip — making a mental note to get ice from the dining hall to store the dip in tomorrow afternoon. Warm dip isn’t as good as chilled dip, I think.
4:30 pm: We have the choice between a stretch class and “H20 Intervals” in the pool. Though it’s pretty cold outside — not much more than 40 degrees — I opt for the class in the heated pool. The class, led by an instructor on land, started out nice and mellow — walking or “jogging” from one side of the pool to the other, until it got more difficult with actual swimming strokes, and having to heave ourselves up on the side of the pool using only our arms (a la a type of push up) and intense bouts of kicking while hanging on to the edge. This is not your grandmother’s aqua aerobics. We stretch afterward on our own in the nearby hot tub; but there’s really not that much time to relax, since we’ve got to quickly shower and change for our next meal.
5:20 pm: Dinner is insanely early, but that’s okay… I’m ready to eat after a busy day of exercise. Dessert is a cinnamon crisp with some sort of custard on it. Don’t love it, and can’t even finish it. This is the first food item that I haven’t inhaled with relish.
6:15 pm: Yet one more evening lecture for newbies, detailing the differences between (and the importance of) fats, proteins and carbs. My legs are sore, and I try to stretch them while seated in the Lecture Hall.
8 pm: I wander over to the communal television set in the lounge to watch the second half of the Biggest Loser. While I’m an occasional viewer, other guests have watched every season since it’s inception. We gossip about the contestants during commercials. I’m rooting for a couple of the young, feisty players, Jackson and Danni. But I’m sad, too, when Lisa, the mom of four, gets booted off.
9:30 pm: My lights are out. I’m burrowed under multiple blankets. I’m hungry… or think I am. I’m accustomed to eating a big bowl of ice cream with chocolate sauce while watching 9 pm television with my husband. That’s one habit I aim to break while I’m at The Biggest Loser Resort. I know I can do it.
Tuesday: Day 2 at Biggest Loser Resort at Fitness Ridge
Each weekday at the resort is identical: breakfast, lunch and dinner are served at the same times; hikes depart every morning at 8 am and vans return to the resort around 11 am; the afternoon consists of three different exercise classes. Lectures are thrown in here and there, especially for the new guests (stayover guests usually do an extra fitness class or stretch during our lecture times).
Today’s morning hike for my “fast van” is the resort’s notorious “stop sign hike.” This is 4.3 miles on a paved trail or road to a… stop sign. The elevation gain is 1,600 feet. Yeah, it’s steep — especially the last 1.3 miles on the road to the top. From the stop sign, we can either choose to walk on an off-road trail to an overlook and then check our watches to turn around and make sure to return to the stop sign by 10:30, or head back down the paved trail, ending at one of the occasional parking lots by 10:30 to get picked up by the van driving down from the top.
While guests tell horror stories of this hike — namely for its insane incline — I actually love it. We are allowed to bring our iPods or mp3 players with headphones on the hike, and really it’s a solo endeavor. Participants tend to spread out a lot on the trail — at least my group did — and there are restrooms along the way to take bathroom breaks.
Despite the fact that I bumble around at the trailhead — realizing I forgot to transfer my upbeat “running” playlist to my iPod, and seeing that I have my pullover fleece on inside out (yes, I feel the need to make it right side out) — I seem to make it to the stop sign in a decent time. At least that’s the vibe I get from the hiking guide at the top who snaps my photo. It took me 70 minutes to fast-walk up the hill, so it’s only 9:30 am. I determine I can make it down to the initial parking lot (the trailhead) in an hour. Indeed, I meet the van at 10:38 am; just as I’m turning into the parking lot, it is, too.
I’m proud of my speed on the 8.6-mile round-trip. But my feet hurt. I think my soles took a beating on the pavement. I can tell I’ve got some blisters forming, despite applying anti-perspirant to my toes for “glide” and wrapping some toes that tend to chafe with cushioned tape.
Now I understand why so many stayover guests were hobbling around when I first met them on Sunday and Monday. I’m no longer so cocky about my fitness level.
Late morning brings a stretch class, which I love, followed by lunch and a fun “Calorie Challenge.” Everyone turns out for this contest in the Lecture Hall, where the registered dietician on staff shows photos of different foods and we have to write down what we think the calorie content is. The theme is Italian, and she shows entrees from popular restaurants like Olive Garden and Macaroni Grill. She reveals the calorie content after we’ve turned in our entry forms (she’ll tabulate and give prizes to the best guessers at dinner); when she reveals that one baked, cheesy, pasta entree is more than 1,000 calories we all groan. A slice of cheesecake from the Cheesecake Factory is more than 800 calories.
I have a work conference call I need to take, and I’m disappointed to miss the 1:30 pm cooking demo with Chef Cameron, who, by now, I think is brilliant. The fact he can turn out such yummy, low-calorie, healthy, filling, all-natural dishes makes him god-like in my eyes. I get the other guests to fill me in on the demo afterwards — turns out it’s lite coconut milk he’s using to make the soups so creamy, as well as Greek yogurt as a sour cream substitute in dips and a high-fat/high-sugar pudding substitute in desserts. I immediately sign up to buy his two cookbooks, to the tune of $60.
While I was totally depleted of energy after my long morning hike, by 2 pm — amazingly — I’m ready to work out again. One of today’s afternoon fitness classes is cardio intervals. We choose our weapon of choice — stationary bike, treadmill or elliptical; I go for the elliptical, thinking it might be easier on my sore feet. Not really. Our trainer yells out instructions during the 35 minutes we’re on the machine, telling us to pump up the intensity every few minutes (in between some lower-intensity breaks).
I find myself wanting to please her and not slack off — and it seems like everyone else in the gym does too. We’re all sweating, hooting and hollering, and giving each other thumbs’ up as she encourages us to “take it to a new level,” “push yourself harder – get to a higher intensity than you ever have before!” and “dig deep – you’re worth it!” (At least those are the types of things I think she was yelling over the pump-it-up tunes; I was so into the workout, I can’t recall the exact phrases she encouraged us with.)
After the intense cardio class, I wept. Truly, tears running down my face. I hadn’t pushed myself that hard during a workout in years. Years! I hugged and thanked the instructor through my tears. I’m guessing she gets weepy types regularly. Cardio is cathartic.
After yet another stretch class — oh, yes, I opted for three 45-minutes of stretching in one day — it’s time for dinner, after which I have a massage scheduled for 7 p.m. I am patting myself on the back, having scheduled a deep-tissue massage for tonight, well before I even arrived at the resort. Pre-scheduling treatments helps ensure you get the times and dates you want.
Despite all the stretching I’ve been doing my legs are crazy sore. I was going to hustle out of the dining hall to hop in the shower to make it to the Lecture Hall for a “Facts of Weight Loss” talk, but I just can’t manage to motivate quickly. Instead, I decide to bag the lecture (hoping that staff don’t call my room looking for me, since attendance is taken at these events), and I opt for a soak in my guest-room tub, followed by a scorching-hot shower — prepping my muscles for that much needed massage.
Pretty sure my eyes were shut by 8:30 p.m.
Wednesday: Day 3 at The Biggest Loser Resort at Fitness Ridge
I absolutely adored today’s hike: Camelback. Though it was a good 25-minute drive to the trailhead, and we only covered about 2.5 miles total, the entire trek was simply fun, fun, fun. (And a great antidote to yesterday’s paved, solo-esque, head down to the ground sludge up to the stop sign.) It was like an outdoor gym workout, where we got to climb all over rocks, descend down into a funky natural vortex, and pose for silly photos. It helped that we spent a lot of time in the sunshine, too. Here’s a photographic tour of our upbeat, two-hour adventure with some of the friendliest hiking guides at the resort:
After that incredible hike, I felt on top of the world… and eager to dig into the day’s lectures, all about emotional health and emotional eating, with the goals being to learn how to dip into our “mental toolbox” when we’re feeling low, unmotivated or roadblocked in meeting our health and wellness goals, and how to eat intuitively, not emotionally.
Suffice to say, I took a lot of notes.
While I don’t want to repeat the lectures here (and really can’t, given that the workbook we were given is proprietary in nature), one important tip I got from the lectures (from the dietician and licensed clinical social worker) is that recognizing that I’m an emotional eater is an important first step.
Historically, the moment I feel anger when I find out a kid lost an expensive sweatshirt or I’m disappointed I wasn’t chosen for a fun press trip or I’m angry at my husband for working late, I reach for something to eat — usually bread, chips, pasta or sweets. It literally makes me “feel better” (some sort of endorphin courses though my body after ingesting those high-sugar, high-carb, high-fat foods) as soon as I get something in my mouth.
My goal now is to just allow myself to feel the emotion. That is, yeah, it sucks to feel mad, sad, angry or frustrated. But instead of trying to quell the feeling with food, I am going to try to let it roll over me. Or, instead of reaching for ice cream when I’m sad, do something else to help heal the pain. If I’m stressed or angry, go for a walk or hop on a treadmill (those endorphins are released in exercise, too!). If I’m lonely, call a friend. If I’m frustrated, talk to my husband.
I was able to put some of those “tools to combat emotional eating” practice into play Wednesday night when I had to do some work. The day prior I received a surprising email that my Denver Post editor didn’t love my Out West column I’d handed in. It was unexpected, since she’d typically print my columns with little editing. But I agreed with her that the story meandered and didn’t really have a point.
So, even though I was exhausted from three solid days of exercise, and all I wanted to do was take a bath and go to sleep, I had to sit at my laptop to reconstruct a brand-new column.
Typically, if this were to happen at home, I’d put on my PJ’s, make myself a bowl of ice cream and pour myself a glass of wine to “get through” the frustration of having to start from scratch. At The Biggest Loser Resort, I didn’t have that option.
Instead, knowing I’d be up late-ish at the laptop, I saved one of my two, 60-calorie, gluten-free, dairy-free, chocolate chip cookies from that night’s dessert (surprisingly good!) and washed it down with a flavored Vitamin Water from the gift shop. It wasn’t ice cream and red wine, but it made a decent substitute.
And as much as I wanted to go get the two granola bars that I knew were stashed in the glove box in my car, parked only feet away, I resisted. I went to sleep only a little hungry, but oh-so-pleased I could write a late-night, from-scratch article without any carb-heavy crutches.
Kara 1, Carbs 0. I consider that a good day — topping off a great first three full days at The Biggest Loser Resort at Fitness Ridge.