So, after a number of years of carrying an extra couple of pounds, ahem sorry, stone, I decided it was about time I made a special effort to ditch the timber. After years of been unhappy and unhealthy it was time to tackle things head-on. But instead of sacking the booze, using the incredibly expensive gym membership I pay for and chopping the portion sizes, I decided to book on to a health and wellness retreat in the heart of rural Devon. A long way from Yorkshire but the Betty Ford Clinic is further…
On this particular Saturday afternoon I did my research and made a call to OnTrack Retreats to book my week long stay at Woodbury Park Hotel in Devon. OnTrack offers programs ranging from a one-week to twelve-week stay at a hotel with a view to restore health and wellness into your life through targeted exercise, nutrition and education.
How It Works…
So, you arrive on a Sunday afternoon after a jolly long journey to be greeted by Ingrid. Ingrid is a 6ft tall, blonde haired, blue eyed lean, athletic, Swedish vision of beauty, with a sense of humour drier than London gin. She meets and greets us all with a warm welcome and takes us down to one of the woodland lodges to settle in, get weighed and get measured. Shit. To be honest, I have avoided the scales for sometime now, simply because denial was the best way for me. Sadly, the reality is about to hit home. Like a truck I expect.
Enter Sam. Sam is the lovely young lady that has the pleasure of wrapping me up in measuring tape and documenting the astronomical numbers that I have managed to rack up over the years. Despite all the disappointing results I have just been in receipt of, Sam was able to put me at ease and make me feel slightly less disgusted.
All the campers congregate together in the lodge for the “how do you do’s” and “what brings you to a place like this?”. Although, to be honest we all know what brings you to a place like this. We are all overweight and in need of some TLC. We all have that in common. That and the fact we are all shitting ourselves about the next 7 days and what it has to bring.
The first week brought a small, intimate group of very different, very wonderful characters. We all joined for dinner at 6pm in the hotel restaurant before an early night to prepare for Monday’s onslaught. The hotel rooms are spacious, clean and well styled. And the beds are huge and incredibly comfortable. Something which would become very important to be over the next few nights to soothe my aching muscles.
The next morning I woke at 04:45, my circadian rhythm, a gift that just keeps on giving. Still nearly 3 hours before we meet for breakfast. I went for a tootle around the grounds to take in some fresh air and to reflect on the previous 24 hours. This was a wonderful start to the day and a trend we all continued as a group each morning.
We then meet for breakfast in the self-catering lodge located in the stunning grounds at Woodbury Park Hotel. We have two sittings so as not to clutter the dining table. Breakfast was well-balanced, prepared for us each day and had splendid variety. Each breakfast would have the four components required for a good start to the day: lean protein, essential fatty acids, complex carbohydrate and antioxidants. For example, oats, live yoghurt, flax/ chia seeds, nuts and berries or eggs, tomato and avocado on rye toast.
This was a challenge for me to embrace as someone who gets up at an ungodly hour most days, I would tend to go six to eight hours without eating anything and then just pick and graze until dinner in the evenings. That wasn’t the only thing about to change….. looking forward to a nice coffee with my breakfast, I am to be disappointed.
Ingrid: “Would you like a rooibos, lemon and ginger, or perhaps a mint tea, Amy?”
Oh dear, none of these options seems to contain my morning crutch: caffeine (since it’s not acceptable to have a G&T on a health and wellness retreat at 07:40am and I have given up my other morning habit – 6 Marlboro Lights). Lemon and Ginger it is then. It felt important to embrace all aspects of this retreat to help me relearn healthy habits. It’s not about never enjoying a coffee again, just appreciate it and not use it as a tool to help me get through the day.
The group introduction seminar at 8am clears up any cheeky thoughts that I may have about popping to the hotel to get an espresso to go. The hotel staff are all working together to help and support the OnTrackers in staying OnTrack. And as it later turns out, Yvonne, my teammate and partner in boxing class would grass on me anyway!
9am is the preliminary fitness assessment. A 1k “run,” step ups, and sit ups. Each person is assessed individually based on their ability and any limitations such as injury. Variations of each exercise are demonstrated for those who need adaptations.
We take a break at 10am followed by a seminar at 10:30. We meet Tamara, a Public Health England Nutritionist with a monumental enthusiasm for everything nutrition. Her whole approach is inspiring enough to swallow you into the world of the gut microbiome and kombucha.
We see Tamara 2-3 times per week. She educates us on the pitfalls of sugar, food labelling, approaches to food as fuel and nourishment and, her speciality, the balance of healthy bacteria in our gut and the impacts it can have on every aspect of our health and wellbeing. Her seminars are aimed at a variety of levels, having a little clinical knowledge as a nurse, I found it incredibly informative.
12:30 – lunch. Tuna Nicoise salad – delish. The lunches served over the period were excellent. Again, well balanced, large portions. Over the three weeks, we enjoyed homemade soups, chicken or salmon salads, stuffed peppers, tortillas.
A short break after lunch allows for the digestion of food and information. This was then followed by a goal setting seminar and an exercise class. We head up to the studio located within the health club at Woodbury Park Hotel. Enter Tory. The Amazonian Woman.
Tory is tall with long dark hair, a professional athlete and, for want of a better phrase, is fucking ripped. Her guns would rival an AK47 but it was her supportive and encouraging attitude to each one of us was what really made her an exceptional professional trainer. I think I have Stockholm Syndrome.
After our muscles warm up we had an hour of Tabata, a form of HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training). During the week, the classes vary. We were blessed with the weather most days so circuit training on the tennis courts followed by Boxercise in the ”fungeon” as it is fondly known among some OnTrackers… Or the sweatbox in the bowels of the hotel to others. We took body pump classes, body attack, body balance (LES MILLS), spinning classes, box fit, bastard ropes, sorry battle ropes.
The diversity of the exercise allowed for aerobic, anaerobic and lactate threshold workouts, whole body weights including core conditioning. But what sets this place apart for me was the person-centred, focused input from Ingrid and Tory. They were aware of everybody’s capabilities and limitations and were able to anticipate, adapt, and plan so that we could all work to the best of our ability, as a team. A personal favourite of mine (LIE) was what’s known as the 100 up session. We have 10 exercises and each must be performed 100 times. You have your own time in which to do this so you are essentially battling with your self to win. My favourite kind of combat.
Ingrid: “Amy, really good news for you today!“
My head: “3pm finish, hotel lounge, fire, glass, who am I kidding, bottle of Chianti and a Cheese board…..?”
Ingrid: “The quicker you get it done, the sooner you finish!”
Me: “Inspired Ingrid. Truly.”
I think on that particular Friday I did actually have some red wine with my dinner. And I really appreciated it. Rather than just a matter of course, it was perfect.
This brings me on to the psychological aspect of OnTrack Retreats. The seminars took place on a Tuesday and a Thursday were hosted by Linda, a Nurse and Psychotherapist with a wealth of knowledge and experience. At OnTrack, a holistic approach is adopted and applied.
Care for the mind and you will be in a better place to care for the body. Many of us at OnTrack had a few problems with prioritising ourselves and indeed self-care. We could as a group or as individuals, if we wished, explore the root causes of our unhappiness linked to the weight gain and unhealthy habits many of us has adopted. We then were helped to develop some skills and strategies to ensure our health and wellbeing remains a primary factor in our minds and lives upon return to our natural habitats.
Exercise and seminars were usually completed by 4pm each day allowing for a trip to the swimming pool, jacuzzi, sauna, steam room or hydrotherapy pool to relax those muscles. This did really help with muscle recovery for me and the fact that was a pretty swanky place also helped of course.
At 6pm dinner was served in Woodbury Park Hotel Restaurant. The standard of food executed was truly excellent. The menus are designed by OnTrack to be balanced and the chefs did manage the delivery very well indeed. Perfectly cooked fish, chicken, lamb, beef, vegetables every day. The portion sizes were not to be sniffed at in my opinion (I did hear one person say she got two more green beans on her plate and then sent it back saying I would like some more. No, I am not kidding) Most people pulled their big girls pants on and embraced the food, even if it wasn’t something they would normally eat and on the whole it went down, tickety boo!
Following dinner, your evening was then your own. You could attend any of the classes at the gym, go for a swim, a walk or do what I did and do an hours work on my laptop and then hit the very plush and comfortable sack in anticipation of the next day.
On a couple of the afternoons, we took trips out of the Woodbury Park Hotel complex to experience the outdoors and the stunning Devon countryside in which we were located. We took a walk up to the common, usually a couple of hours at least, unless of course, Tory came then we were all done in an hour and a half, same distance of course. Her legs are so long and fast…
We also visited Budleigh Salterton, a beautiful coastal town for a mooch and a much appreciated full-fat latte. We had the privilege of bonfire night whilst we were at Woodbury so got to see the amazing firework display over the lake at the golf club. There is plenty to do and see in the surrounding areas. The location really was perfect.
Each Sunday prior to departure you are weighed and remeasured to hopefully see the fruits of your labour. I was successful and overall managed to lose some weight and even some inches! Everyone was rooting for each other as we had done this together and built some amazing bonds, literally through blood, sweat and tears.
I booked on this health and wellness retreat for a week and ended up staying for three! This reflects what an incredible experience it was and is a testament to the people that run it with expert knowledge and interpersonal skills. What I have left behind, other than a stone in weight, a memory of an incident involving a “beach ready” bikini, a “non-beach ready” body and an aqua aerobics class, is some habits and life choices that were making me unhappy and unhealthy.
More importantly, what I will take away with me is my much missed confidence and self belief, the realisation that sweat is just my fat crying and a lifelong friendship with those inspirational people I have had the privilege of starting this journey with. You know who you are. Thank you to all of you for your amazing support and encouragement.
Woodbury Park Hotel, located in Exeter, Devon is a 4 star hotel with a leisure facility, a hotel, a golf club and a selection of self-catering lodges. The lodges are located near to the woodland, boasting wonderful views of the 1st tee of the championship golf course and sleep up to 6 people. Within the lodges, you are able to share rooms if you wish to keep the costs down. Or you can stay as a guest of the hotel and have a little luxury and privacy.
What do you get for your money:
- Your lodgings
- 3 well balanced nutritious meals a day
- Access to a well-equipped gym
- Access to the indoor swimming pool
- Sweat in the steam room and sauna
- Relax in the jacuzzi or hydrotherapy pool
- Tap into specialist knowledge of expert trainers, nutritionists and psychotherapists
- Unlimited post-program support