About halfway through my eight-hour drive to Ivins, Utah, and The Biggest Loser Resort at Fitness Ridge, I couldn’t shake this thought running through my mind: “I’ve been given a gift… don’t waste it.”
Just a month prior, I’d approached my husband about spending a week (and $2,700) at the fitness boot camp Fitness Ridge, recently rebranded in partnership with The Biggest Loser TV show. You know the one: where obese contestants compete to lose the most weight over the course of several months for a cash prize of $250,000.
This was a show I’d watched when it first started airing years ago, thinking, “Gosh, I’d be able totally get in shape by eating well and exercising all the time if that was my ‘job’ and I could be like those contestants — able to escape ‘real life’ and focus on good nutrition and spend my days working out — not working, or cleaning the house, or cooking dinners for my family…”
In fact, I’d long wanted to go to a “weight loss boot camp” in Utah, even back when the precursor to Fitness Ridge (now “The Biggest Loser Resort at Fitness Ridge”) was called (I think) the Body Shop Spa in 2002. That was a year after I’d given birth to my second child, and I was the main caregiver for two kids under age 3. I was frazzled to say the least. I longed to book a week there to make the time to just focus on me. I wanted someone else tell me how to eat (and to cook for me!), and spell out for me where and when to work out — heck yeah, I’d be able to lose the baby weight in no time! (Alas, that fitness vacation didn’t happen, but I did start following Body for Life principals and got pretty fit and completed a sprint distance triathlon a couple years later…)
Road to The Biggest Loser Resort at Fitness Ridge
Fast forward to last autumn, when I took on way too many freelance assignments, often ending up on my laptop working late into the night; I committed to a volunteer gig that took up more time than I thought it would; and got dealt some other personal stressors. This combination of overload meant I wasn’t working out, I was turning to ice cream, chocolate, starchy carbs or wine every time I felt stressed, sad, bored, angry or frustrated, and I just let healthy routines go to pot. Coupled with a holiday season in which I ate and and drank my way through several parties, I woke up January 1, 2013, weighing more than I had in years.
I had little energy. I was overwhelmed. I was irritable.
I told my husband Quent that I really wanted to book a week at The Biggest Loser Resort Fitness Ridge as soon as possible. I believed that a week of healthy eating, intense bouts of exercise (including strenuous daily hikes amid southern Utah’s red-rock landscapes – which I love!), and some nutrition counseling would help me get back on track, help me feel better about myself, and help me reduce my stress level. In short, I told him, he’d get his pleasant wife back.
His response, “Go for two weeks!”
Yep, he was desperate. (I was pretty nasty September to December 2012…)
So, that’s how I found myself driving solo en route to a week-long fitness vacation in late January. I knew full well what I was getting myself into: limited calories during the week, multiple hours a day of exercise, lectures on fitness and nutrition and emotional wellness… no time to do much else than what’s on the program. We’d be busy from sun-up to past sundown. Sounded great to me!
I knew food intake was going to be stringently controlled during the week (a la an old-fashioned weight-loss camp or fat camp!), so I did have a “final meal” before I checked in Sunday afternoon. Now, thinking back, what was I thinking — it was a fatty, refined-sugar-filled convenience meal from a supermarket in Cedar City, Utah: chicken salad on a croissant, tortellini salad and… wait for it… a glazed doughnut and Diet Coke.
Arrival and Weigh-in at The Biggest Loser at Fitness Ridge
When I pulled up to the resort late-afternoon Sunday, the friendly staff at the front desk was expecting me. They handed me a workbook and name tag, asked me to sign a liability waiver, and told me my “fitness assessment” would take place in about 20 minutes. Just enough time to get a quick tour of the dining room, the workout areas, the spa and the lecture room.
The “fitness assessment” has nothing to do with how well you can do a jumping jack or touch your toes. It’s all about numbers. One woman (who I later found out was a fitness trainer) asked me hop on a cool InBody scale, while she called out numbers that another woman (a hiking guide) recorded on a computer. Not only did the scale weigh me, but the sensors recorded my body fat and BMI. And then the trainer took quick bust, waist and hip measurements with a measuring tape.
To my surprise a) I weighed about 3 lbs more than I did on my simple scale at home (even considering I was being weighed in the late afternoon with clothes on vs. naked first thing in the morning, like I usually weigh myself; and b) my body fat percentage was just a smidgen over the “normal” range. Wow. I’d had my body fat measured a few times before (with calipers, not a fancy machine that shot electric waves through my limbs to do a full-on body-composition analysis), but it had never ever registered that high — a bar graph inching past “normal” and into “over” on my InBody printout.
After that lovely weigh-in, I wanted to hop on an exercise bike stat. But refrained once I looked at my weekly schedule and realizing that I’d be exercising at least 5 hours a day for the next week. Plus, I wanted to settle into my room.
Accommodations at The Biggest Loser Resort at Fitness Ridge
The design of Fitness Ridge is a Southwestern motif, which fits perfectly against the desert and sandstone landscapes of southern Utah. My room — a double, though I chose not to be matched with a roommate — was plenty spacious for just me. The decor is warm — with some pretty artwork on the walls — but sparse. A desk, a nightstand, two no-door closets (yay, both for me!), laundry baskets and a bathroom with two sinks were about it. I knew there would be no coffeemaker, microwave or refrigerator — after all, the resort is caffeine and alcohol free, and contraband food is verboten.
However, I did bring my secret weapon: my Keurig. There was no way I was going to get through the week on a caffeine-induced headache, so I packed my own small coffeemaker. I brought just enough K-cups (and evaporated skim milk) to have one cup of coffee each morning. What harm would it do, I thought? After all, I had no plans to give up coffee for the rest of my life. And this program at Fitness Ridge was all about making good lifestyle changes that we could carry on for the rest of our lives.
And I wanted coffee for the rest of my life.
As I unpacked, I decided I’d store my little Keurig coffeemaker in a small cabinet in the nightstand. That is, I’d hide it from the maids. Online, on blogs and on Fitness Ridge alumni Facebook groups, I’d read stories of past guests who’d been ratted out when the maids found candy wrappers hidden behind headboards. Indeed, if they took this “no caffeine” rule seriously, I didn’t want anyone taking my coffee away.
But I didn’t have much time to dwell on my contraband coffee… I had my first dinner to sample!
First Meal at The Biggest Loser Resort Fitness Ridge
Meals are taken in a spacious dining hall with four communal tables. As the seats started filling, I realized that only two of the four tables were being used. Indeed, the entire resort was only half filled to capacity — I soon learned that there were only about 30 guests on property that week, when it could accommodate more than 70.
That surprised me, given it was the start of a new year. I thought others might be like me — wanting to kick off 2013 on the right foot. Then again, given the steep price tag for Fitness Ridge ($2,695 for a private room for a week; $2,295 for double occupancy), it’s not an easily accessible fitness vacation. The hefty price likely turns a lot of potential guests away — though you do get a discount if you stay for more than three weeks at a time. Three weeks! Who would, or could, leave their family and jobs for that long?
Well, plenty of folks, I soon found out. At that first dinner (baked stuffed chicken with ratatouille stew, followed by a small slice of banana cream pie all washed down with as much ice water as you want), I sat next to a mother-daughter duo who was starting their stay just like me. Except the mom was staying for four weeks, the daughter two. I also sat next to a woman who was booked at the resort for an incredible eight weeks! I was most definitely in the minority, only planning to be on property for seven days.
Welcome meeting at The Biggest Loser Resort at Fitness Ridge
After dinner — which I polished off, knowing I’d have no access to food until 7 a.m. breakfast the next morning — I learned more stories of the other couple dozen guests at the Welcome Orientation. All guests — “stay-overs” and newbies — were expected to attend the meeting in the Lecture Hall. I met a 400-lb father of four, whose friends and family raised money for him to stay at the resort for 10 weeks. But he wasn’t the longest-term guest: another woman was scheduled to be on property for an incredible 20 weeks.
As we went around the room introducing ourselves, I found there were people there who had a lot of weight to lose. There were average-sized people like me who just wanted to “get back on track”; others who needed to learn some fitness and nutrition principals; others who were celebrating a milestone birthday; others who were given a multi-week fitness vacation as a gift by loving husbands or children. Sisters were at the resort together, more mothers and daughters, even a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law who were sharing a double room for five weeks! (More power to them!)
I marveled at these folks who were committed to being away from loved ones for weeks on end… I even asked some of them if husbands were coming for a conjugal visit anytime soon! I don’t think I could be away from my husband and children for that long. But they were committed to changing their lives for the better. Truly, as I heard everyone’s stories, I felt humbled by the dedication in the room.
But even more enlightening was the introductory session led by a longtime Fitness Ridge staffer who laid out the policies and procedures of the week — and offering us lots of advice to get us through in one piece. Here are the highlights (or what stuck with me most):
1. We’d be eating 1500 calories a day: 3 healthy meals (7 am, 12:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m.) plus 2 snacks
2. Drink water constantly. One guest had been brought to the ER due to dehydration (from constant sweating during exercise and hikes) the week prior. She was treated and continued her stay at the resort.
3. Caffeine is prohibited, mainly because it’s a diuretic; drinking coffee and caffeine-filled sodas can add to dehydration — that’s why it’s prohibited. However, we were told that if we did bring any coffee products, we could prepare them in our rooms if we didn’t have a roommate. (Whew! As soon as I heard that, I decided not to hide my coffeemaker from the maid.)
4. Take care of your feet. Body Glide anti-chafing balm was highly recommended for the feet and between the toes for daily hikes. So were double-layered socks. Both were sold at the on-site gift shop. I made a mental note that solid deodorant/anti-perspirant applied to the toes could work, too. I’d packed some Nexcare cushion tape, and figured my toes would be emerge blister free…
5. Attendance is taken at all mandatory hikes, fitness classes and lectures — typically we had one two-hour morning hike, three afternoon 45-minute cardio, strength or stretch classes, and for the new guests, at least one lecture or cooking demo a day. If we don’t show up to class or lecture, staff will find us and find out why we missed a class. (Oh yes, someone came around with a clipboard to check off names at each workout or lecture venue.)
6. “If you’re comfortable while you’re exercising, you’re probably not doing it right.” Indeed, these workouts are not for sissies. I was going to sweat.
7. Lights out is 10 p.m. If you want to watch TV in your room after that time, keep the volume down low.
And with that, we were dismissed to try to get a good night’s sleep before Monday’s optional 6 am. stretch class, 7 a.m. breakfast and and 8 a.m. departure for our “assessment hike” to see which of five ability groups we’d be placed in for the rest of the week.
Did I feel a little daunted after my first afternoon at this Utah fitness resort? Maybe — if only because seasoned guests had already told me horror stories of blisters, sore muscles, and needing to visit the on-site chiropractor for ouchy knees, backs and shoulders. After hearing the war stories, I definitely thought, “I just want to get through the week uninjured.” But mostly, I just wanted to get started… on my road to better balance, healthy eating and challenging exercise.
Read the rest of my journey:
Part two of my stay at The Biggest Loser Resort at Fitness Ridge: a review of days 1 to 3.