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The Spa Solution for Weight Loss

Spas That Promote Healthy Lifestyles And Weight Loss

Most of us know what we need to do to live a healthier lifestyle. We know we should eat more fruits and veggies, more lean meats and fewer carbohydrates. We know we should get more exercise. We understand how important it is to relax and be reflective. The problem is finding the time!

A Serious Start

For Paula Hardy*, creative director at an advertising agency in Chicago, Ill., taking care of herself became a priority as she battled a serious overeating problem and 93 pounds of extra weight. In 1999, she launched a new business and knew the time had come to get a handle on her eating habits and overall health.

"I took stock of my life and realized this was an opportunity to take a break and try to understand my overeating and move my life in a direction that was more fulfilling," says Hardy.

Hardy did what more and more people across the country are doing. She found a spa program tailored to helping her gain control of her life and eating habits. But the spa she entered, known as Structure House, is very different from what people have come to expect in a spa. It is a weight and lifestyle management program, not a typical spa.

"Some pampering services are offered, but the focus is on providing participants with concrete tools to help them manage their lives in a productive and fulfilling manner," says Hardy. "After much research, I knew this program, which included a psychological approach in addition to nutrition and fitness education, had a better possibility of providing me a long-term solution."

Structure House, located in Durham, N.C., has been in the weight loss business for more than 25 years.

"When I began my work in obesity in the early 1970s, there was little interest among the various professions to deal with weight loss in a serious way," says Gerard Musante, who founded Structure House in 1977. "In fact, I saw a definite bias against people who had a weight problem. It was my intention to develop an evidence-based program that approached the problem in a setting that was both residential and intensive."

Weight Loss Success

Musante believes success comes from changing the relationship people have with food. At Structure House, he developed a program where people could learn, over time, the nature of that relationship and what they need to change.

"Learning how to eat healthy is just one component of a successful approach," says Musante. "People are more likely to be successful if they know how to change behaviors and have sound individualized exercise programs."

According to the National Weight Control Registry – an ongoing study developed by researchers Rena Wing, Ph.D., and James Hill, Ph.D., tracking nearly 3,000 people who have lost weight and then kept it off – an individual who changes diet alone has a one in 10 chance of losing weight and keeping it off for five or more years. An individual who modifies both diet and exercise has a nine in 10 chance of long-term success.

Just a Trend?

Structure House is just one of many spas nationwide offering intensive weight loss programs along with the pampering commonly found in spas. Most programs require a one-, two- or three-week stay, offering a healthy break from everyday habits.

After Hardy went through a two-week Structure House program, she found the weight loss tools that would become a part of her everyday life. "The combination of all the information I was learning about the psychology of overeating, the food program, fitness program and my subsequent weight loss allowed me to experience how great it feels to take good care of yourself, which is my key motivator," says Hardy. "After many years of yo-yo dieting and focusing on my weight, it was amazing to realize that self-care was far more important."

Susie Ellis, vice president of industry relations for Spa Finder, a spa travel and publishing company founded in 1986, feels spas specializing in weight loss will only become more popular as the nation's weight problem increases.

"It makes sense to expect that as our country becomes more overweight people will seek new solutions and real help," says Ellis. "What the spa environment can offer that no other diet program, exercise program or even medical prescriptions can offer is a place where outside influences are controlled to the point where a person absolutely is guaranteed to lose weight."

The Whole Person

"Spas are known for addressing the total person, and they do not treat the overweight issue from just one angle," says Ellis. "It isn't just diet or exercise or emotional issues or education. It is body, mind and spirit. It necessitates a lifestyle change."

Ellis believes weight loss at a spa can be a pleasurable experience. Being with others who share the same problem, coupled with spa treatments and delicious healthy foods is certainly an enjoyable way to begin the lifestyle changes needed to lose weight and keep it off.

Choosing the Right Spa

Before choosing your weight loss spa destination, you should ask the following questions, says Susie Ellis, vice president of industry relations for Spa Finder, a spa travel and publishing company.

  1. How many people does the spa accommodate?
  2. How much structure is there? Are foods readily available or have temptations been greatly reduced?
  3. Is there a medical staff?
  4. Is the emphasis on exercise, reducing caloric intake or education?
  5. Is there a proven record of long-term weight loss success?

Once you have chosen a spa destination, make a list of your reasons for going. Why do you want to lose weight? Why do you feel the spa experience will help facilitate your lifestyle changes? What sort of changes are you going to make in your life once you are back from the spa to keep your momentum going?

For lasting results Ellis believes that a one- or two-week stay is needed. "In most cases I think staying one week is the minimum for real weight loss progress," says Ellis. "In my opinion, anything less than one week may get some short-term weight loss results, but doesn't generally have the long-term result most people are looking for. I also think it's possible to stay too long. Some people are better off going several times a year to a spa than staying so long at one time that they plateau or lose the joy of the experience."

Whether you are going to a spa for some serious weight loss or simply to kick-start a healthy lifestyle plan, chances are you are going to enjoy the experience. Who knows? You may even find the motivation and determination to change your life forever.

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