Putting aside sugary addictions and (reluctantly) embracing exercise, Monica Tan discovers the real way to fight the fat at a New South Wales weight loss retreat.
"It's time to stop seeing bad foods as a reward!" cries out exercise physiologist Gina Ferraro. "And start enjoying good food."
It's difficult to imagine that this energetic woman in lycra and legs like marble was once 23 kilos heavier. Listening attentively are eight Australians one week into an immersive program at the NuYu Total Health retreat, designed to help them lose weight and keep it off.
Under a cloudless blue sky of northwestern Sydney's Hawkesbury Valley, the attendees had kicked started the morning with a set of team fitness challenges. Exercise makes a significant part of the program, but contrary to popular belief long-term weight loss isn't just about pounding hours on the treadmill. NuYu not only subscribe to the belief that weight loss is "80 percent dietary, 20 percent exercise" they also believe that the best results require a complete lifestyle change.
Hence today's seminar, which was counting the calories in alcohol and tackling how to stick to one's diet guns when eating out the dieter's equivalent of a recovering gambler stepping into a casino. Gina's presentation is at times informative, but mainly she dishes out the kind of practical advice that we all know ("Don't eat dessert, and if you do, share it!"), but simply need a firm reminder.
The seminar is followed by lunch in a sun filled gazebo. Situated in the 4.5-star accommodation of the Sebel Resort & Spa, along with the dining spaces attendees have full access to hotel facilities. Extensive gardens are the perfect setting for early morning bush walks and tai chi sessions which are also on the program schedule. Together with yoga, psychology sessions, cooking demonstrations, fitness testing and a range of other sports and games, attendees are kept agreeably busy.
Vegetarian pizza is on the menu today a light, middle-eastern style bread topped with fresh vegetables. While undoubtedly healthy it tastes a little bland and leaves me hungry. But rather than complaining I begin to wonder if my own diet is crowded with the rich, sugary and oily. The other attendees eat their meal slowly and thoughtfully they're on a caffeine-free, 1400-calories-a-day meal plan and probably savouring every mouthful.
Twenty-three-year-old attendee Emily from Perth tells me that in order to make changes in her diet she took the rather drastic step of moving out of home. One year ago she deferred university and spent all her savings to attend her first four-week session. And in the year that had passed she had implemented many of the lifestyle changes she'd learned from NuYu and lost an incredible 29 kilos.
For Emily, the program was nothing short of a life-changer.
"I've met some of my best friends on this program. Everyone comes together to help one another, because we're all in the same position," she reveals.
"We're here to change and when everyone's encouraging each other, it's not an effort anymore."
For NuYu, returning attendees are so common, in fact, that they're nicknamed "expats" (ex-participants), and often get together for quick refresher sessions and meet-ups. It acts as a continuation of the support they discovered on their first program.
The friendly, non-competitive atmosphere is just one of many ways the retreat seems to differ to the boot-camp aggression portrayed in television shows like The Biggest Loser. NuYu co-founder Shaun Cardillo says that while the popular television show has brought much needed awareness to the issue of obesity in Australia, the emphasis on rapid weight loss is totally unrealistic.
"The show makes out that in order to lose weight a lot of yelling and screaming needs to be involved, which really isn't the case," Shaun says.
"For most people struggling with weight, it's a mental issue. For example, a lot of them have never exercised in their life, and it really gives them a boost just to realise that for an entire month they've been training and eating healthy as well."
Even the show's obsession with weight loss is a technique that can be counterproductive.
"There are so many things that might affect your weight: genes, age, sex, and if you're a woman things like if you're on your periods. Everyone is different. If you become obsessed with numbers you end up on this psychological roller coaster ride," says Shaun.
Shaun and his fellow NuYu co-founder Gavin Brooks try and shift attendees away from thinking about weight loss and instead focus on improving fitness.
Things attendees can look forward to? Sleeping better, increases in energy level, clearer skin, reduction in stress or anxiety levels, improved mobility, clothes fitting better and of course, along the way, weight loss.
"Healthy weight loss is around half to one kilo per week, but we prefer to ask attendees how are they feeling?"
After lunch program director Paul Robertson takes the group for a one-hour strength session and hands me one of the middle heaviest weights. With such small groups the trainers are able to tailor the exercises to each attendee, always finding a level that is both achievable and challenging. By the end of my final set my arms were starting to feel like jelly, but as the rest of the group cheered and counted me off, I finished the last lift with a big grin. Now here was weight loss I could believe in.
NuYu offer packages that range from one to four weeks with two locations, Salt Beach (Northern NSW) and Hawkesbury Valley (Sydney). Prices start from $1590. For more info, visit www.NuYutotalhealth.com.au.
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