Fitness Vacations: Worth Their Weight?

PHOTO: Are weight loss vacations worth the money?

Gwen Wunderlich-Smith had, as she put it, become a "negative Nancy."

Working long hours as a New York City-based publicist and the president of her own company, commuting and gaining a bit of weight had gotten her down. She was "snapping" at her husband and employees and was too exhausted to work out.

It's a familiar feeling this time of year: The holidays take their toll on our minds and bodies. At the same time, the new year offers the chance to start fresh.

A weight-loss vacation offers the opportunity to escape the stress of daily life and at the same time, come back a newer, thinner version of yourself. But these trips often cost thousands of dollars.

So are they worth the money?

Canyon Ranch, one of the nation's most respected wellness facilities with several locations, is looking toward a huge demand in early January.

"It's like a gym in that way," said Chrissy Wellington, the nutritionist for the Canyon Ranch in Lenox, Mass. "We see a surge of people wanting to come this time of year."

Canyon Ranch's "Jumpstart" program is offered four times a year. January's five-day program begins Jan. 12 and costs $2,970 per person. The price includes all meals, classes and a spa credit.

But guests also have access to nutritionists, exercise physiologists, behavioral therapists, acupuncturists and physicians. These experts, Wellington said, are crucial to understanding how to make long-term change.

Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo, author of the book A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness said that while weight-loss vacations aren't necessary, they can be great to get a new mindset. "Think of it as, 'I'm giving this to myself as a pre reward' as you jump-start a healthier you."

But it's sticking to the new, healthy habits that's the hardest part. "You didn't put it on in one day, and it isn't going to come off in a week," said Canyon Ranch's Wellington. "We're ultimately a teaching facility that encourages long-term lifestyle changes."

Weight-loss vacations are a particularly good option for people new to the world of workouts and fitness, Lombardo said. "There's not a lot of handholding at the gym and it can be intimidating at first. These trips are a safe place to give lots of different types of workouts a try while getting the specifics from an expert."

Wunderlich-Smith's September trip to The Ranch 4.0 in Malibu, Calif., resulted in a loss of 6.5 pounds and 10 inches over the four-day trip. That trip costs about $3,800, she said.

When Wunderlich-Smith came back, she was committed to her "new way of life." But then, as she put it, she started "messing up" a bit as daily life settled in. So she pulled out her recipes from her trip and has been making them with her husband. They're down 5 pounds since the new year.

Would she spend the money to go again? "Absolutely. I'm going back in March."

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