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By Maria Hoyle

The storm is howling and whipping up branches, with the odd whistling kettle sound thrown in as bonus material. While the chaos rages outside, I am calm and warm within. Which makes a change; I’m generally in a state of mayhem while the world hums quietly around me. This is one of the reasons I’m at Resolution Retreats; to learn to care for and nourish myself; to ‘put on my oxygen mask first’ to use that cringingly corny but annoyingly apt phrase.

Right now I’m impersonating the quivering foliage outside – holding a shaky ‘tree’ pose, surrounded by 15 other women in varying states of wobbliness. We’re practising ‘gentle yoga’ in a spacious, high-ceilinged room with a crackling log fire. Our instructor, the ever cheerful Jo Andrews, is a weight-loss coach and personal trainer. She’s also a key team member here at the three-day taster retreat at Ridge Country Retreat in Tauranga which I’m attending with my 16-year-old daughter. The retreats – which also run in Wellington – boast they are the only live-in weight-loss, health and wellness retreats in New Zealand exclusively for women.

New habits

This is the brainchild of Joelene Ranby, who launched the business after attending a live-in yoga retreat in the Coromandel. She hadn’t gone there focused on weight loss, but the support, the clean eating, yoga and de-stressed environment meant she came away healthier, calmer and a few kilos lighter. It’s the afternoon of day one, and so far we’ve had a morning tea of low-fat plain yoghurt and red grapes, a workout with personal trainer Nicola Smith, then lunch: a wholegrain wrap with chicken (salmon for pescetarians). Delicious. At least I think it was delicious. I was so hungry I could have gnawed the arm off one of the sofas and given it a rave review. Let me explain. The hunger is my fault. We’ve willingly signed up to a retreat that focuses on weight loss, even though losing weight is the last thing I want for myself or my daughter Susanna. But I’ve heard such great reports about Ranby’s programme and I want Susanna to learn some sound nutrition and fitness tips, because, erm, well I’m not always the best role model on that score.

Being of slight build I’ve always taken this as licence to eat what I like. But filling up on carb-laden treats and not easily piling on the kilos isn’t, as some may think, ‘getting away with it’. If my liver had a lawyer, I’m sure I’d be hearing from them very soon. The very fact we’re both ravenous by 11.30am after having scoffed over-sized muffins en route, and then a generous snack, reveals how used to grazing on unhealthy options we are.

But if being lighter is your goal, this is the place. Not the monthly three-day stay, of course; which is nonetheless a solid foundation. It’s the longer retreats that get results. The limited calorie rule (between 1300 and 1600 a day – which applies to this retreat too) – sees women attending the annual Three Week Life-Changer retreat losing an average of 7kg.

Retreat Wellness Meals
Beauty therapy

Today for afternoon tea we are to have carrot and cucumber sticks with a quarter cup hummus, and for dinner low-cal spaghetti bolognese. If it sounds bleak, the luxury surrounds take the edge off the hunger. Our room has two baths (one on the deck), and two giant, plush beds. There’s a heated outdoor pool (for aqua aerobics and quick dips) and spa, plus a well-equipped library with a chaise longue and a definite Downton vibe. Best of all is the complimentary beauty treatment. I love that it’s practically enforced (they book it in for you before you arrive), a kind of ‘pamper yourself woman, for goodness sake!’ exhortation to our martyrish selves. After 45 minutes of products being slathered on my face, I’m sleepy and calm. However, rather than slinking off for a nap, I opt for the yoga session and meditation, followed by a nutrition talk by Andrews.

We sip our healthy teas, while she explains the four types of eating: ‘Joy’; ‘Fuel’, ‘Fog’ (mindlessly grazing); and ‘Storm’ (emotional). The first two, all good. The last two, not so much. She talks about the liver, the ‘dishwasher’ of the body, which prioritises the nasties. So if you’re eating sugar, drinking coffee and knocking back several vinos a night and/or on medication, the liver is so busy processing those that other toxins and hormones re-enter the bloodstream. And rampant oestrogen levels, for one, are bad news; they have been linked to weight gain and also certain cancers.

Andrews explains why lemon water, especially first thing, is your best friend. Lemons – strange as it may seem – are alkalising, helping to combat acidity. I ask Ranby what her three ‘bottom line’ nutrition rules are. Without missing a beat she says: protein with every meal (20-22g per serve); sticking to low GI carbs like quinoa and brown rice; and drinking at least two litres of water a day (one litre per 30kg of body weight, to be exact).

January 2016

Taking small steps

Afterwards, we think about the advice Smith gave us this morning; that to get fit and age healthily, forget the morning gym workout followed by hours sitting at a desk. What’s key is constant activity sprinkled throughout the day. The goal: 10,000 steps daily. We look at the darkening sky and the spiteful rain, and decide to stay put. This quiet time with my daughter is rare, and right now – the two of us curled up with peppermint tea and a book – well, I wouldn’t swap this for high tea with champagne.

At 5.30pm, Ranby shows us how to make ‘spaghetti’ bolognese, using low-calorie kelp noodles and quorn mince for the vegetarians. We learn several handy tips, such as how to fry without oil; that for weight loss you should ditch the carbs after 1pm; and that ‘zero’ noodles (made from the konjac yam) are amazing as they have, that’s right, zero calories. We also learn that Marmite is a great way to ‘salt’ your bolognese, and that balsamic vinegar with mustard makes a tasty oil-free dressing. As we enjoy the food, I am glad wine isn’t an option. With a longed-for meal and lively conversation, the house white (water with lemon) isn’t so bad.

Ready for the real world

The following morning, after 7am yoga (and a brief meditation, spent mainly thinking about breakfast) we launch into oatmeal pancakes with yoghurt and blueberries. Then comes our workout with Smith. Exercise, by the way, is an important part of this weight-loss approach – for both its physical and mental health benefits. Our exercise, Smith explains, should be a mix of ‘workouts’ – high intensity – and ‘work-ins’, like yoga and stretching and walking. Today it’s the workout: a 12-minute session of squats, push-ups, step-ups, lunges and tricep dips alternated with bouts of running.

After a very satisfying lunch of quinoa sushi at a long, shared table on the deck, Susanna and I go for a walk. I ask her what she’s got out of the retreat so far. Silence. Ah well, I think; at least she’s spent time with her gorgeous mother. Then she says, “I should definitely drink more water.” Good, I say. “And stop fog eating.” Fantastic. “I need to exercise more regularly too.” Pause. “Stretching. I need to stretch more.” Hey, that’s great… “And cut down on sugar.” It’s clear she understands it’s not about being a size six but about being fit, strong, and keeping her body in great condition for as long as she can.

Dinner – pad Thai with ‘zero’ noodles – is followed by DVD night by the fire. But sadly we have to leave a day early, at the crack of dawn; life rumbles on away from this sanctuary, and already we feel the pull of responsibilities. But here’s the thing. This experience hasn’t just been about the gorgeous natural surrounds, the healthy food, the fresh white bath robes, the delight of having people to cook for you, and the warm, entertaining company. It’s about going away better equipped to tackle real life.

Because we are leaving pre-breakfast, our hosts have prepared pineapple, yoghurt and muesli for us. It’s 5.30am when we pack our bags to leave, but I’m feeling energised, fresh and – above all – optimistic. Ten thousand steps a day? Hmm, perhaps. But I reckon I can manage one or two important ones. Maybe I’ll start by turning the odd glass of pinot into lemon water…

This article featured in and was reproduced with permission from New Zealand Good Health Choices. Read the original article.

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