Decades ago when I went to live in the USA for a year I was faced with two alternatives. Either 12 months of overindulgence, gorging on gargantuan gourmet grub, lazing around on spectacular beaches and lapping up the LA nightlife. Or, become super-fit, calorie-focused, a hiker, biker and jogger, and share every super-sized meal.
Now at 52, mired in menopause and on the verge of empty-nesting, I am at a similar culinary crossroads as I plan to fill my calendar with travel.
As in my California days, I tend towards the slim-line option but with menopausal midriff impending I now need a helping hand when it comes to healthy holiday habits. I have always avoided fat farms and weightwatcher set-ups due to never being more than around 10 pounds overweight. And I have never been the spa type – but where else to find a guilt-free game-plan?
With its high rates of obesity and a fried-fish focus, South Carolina doesn’t initially sound like the perfect place. Most British travelers – especially those with golf inclinations – will have heard of Charleston, Myrtle Beach and also Hilton Head Island, thanks to the internationally-televised Heritage Classic PGA tournament held there every April. But those TV glimpses of the sea-to-tee resort life and the temptations of the 19th hole don’t necessary correlate with diet or fitness aspirations.
However, hidden among Spanish-moss swathed oaks and towering pines is a health resort which has been changing people’s eating and exercise habits for the past 35 years. At the forefront of the movement to counteract obesity, Hilton Head Health was used as the location for A&E’s weight-loss docu-drama, Heavy, in 2011.
Lured by the multi-disciplinary scope of its slimming schedule – including lots of yoga, Pilates and beach walks for my ageing physique – I decided to give Hilton Head Health a try to set me on the straight and narrow for my new travel timetable.
The rustic buildings which house the extensive workout facilities, state-of-the-art teaching kitchen, reception, dining and lecture rooms are set around a year-round heated swimming pool. Originally a health institute, it offers a holistic regime of fitness, nutrition, calorie control, healthy mindset and outdoor appreciation. For the pampering-prone, there are also spa treatments and massages.
Based in a former plantation, the whole enclave is submerged in sub-tropical foliage with gigantic trees shading the low-rise buildings. Bike paths meander quietly through the adjacent residential villas, crossing tributaries of the Intracoastal Waterway which intersects the Low Country island. Watch out for sizeable alligators sunning themselves on the river banks! You can continue biking right onto the seemingly endless beach as the sand is flat and compact –a great surface for the daily sunrise beach walks. The Atlantic is also surprisingly warm for all-year swimming with bottlenose dolphins to keep you company.
Staying at Hilton Head Health for a week of workouts and low-calorie gourmet food – with no cocktails – isn’t as punitive as it sounds. It’s a health-infused holiday with plenty of off-campus trips available such as golf clinics, cardio tennis, zip-lining, kayaking and other water sports.
Always an exercise junkie, I loved the diversity of the day-long fitness schedule. There’s nothing more tedious than pounding away at the same old machines or weight routines week after week. Here I was able to come away with lots of new ideas to spice up my gym regimen as well as try different concepts for pool, aerobics and dance. My favourite cardio class was “treading” which, led by a tough taskmaster, added team spirit and interval training to the treadmill and elliptical.
Although I was doing three or four times as much exercise as I would normally do in a day, I didn’t get too hungry due to the pacing of calorie intake. The three main meals were interspersed by three “Metabo Meals” – each 100 calorie apiece and enough to keep me going to the next trough time. Check out this link for sample menus. Aimed at 1200-1500 calories per day, these recipes provide the quality rather than quantity that we need as we lose muscle and metabolism through the ageing process.
Having been traumatized by group home economics classes as a schoolgirl, I don’t usually allow voyeurs when I’m in the kitchen. But, inspired by the inventive low-cal recipes, I went out of my cooking comfort zone to try one of the series of healthy cookery courses available. Although my turkey burgers stuffed with cream cheese and jalapenos stuck to the grill, they must have tasted okay as someone swiped the whole plate full before I could get a look in. Coming away with a dozen low-fat barbecue recipes, I now feel well-equipped for this summer’s outdoor eating without the usual calorie overload.
One of the things that struck me at Hilton Head Health was the friendliness of the inmates. As soon as I arrived I was greeted and welcomed into the fold by regulars and repeaters who come back annually for refreshers. With everyone together for a common purpose, there seemed none of the usual barriers to conversation or connection. Some were there for the long-haul – three months or more to shed up to 80 pounds.
Although mine was a brief stay with more moderate goals, I feel confident now to face my travels with a body-conscious attitude to help me navigate through foreign supermarkets and vacation menus. And whenever I waver I can check www.h3daily.com for inspiration.
Hilton Head Island Travel Tips:
- Hilton Head Health for weight-loss programs and cookery courses
- Hilton Head Island for information
- Coligny Plaza for beachy bargains – especially if you’ve dropped a clothes size –
- Arts and antiquities at Old Town Bluffton – not to mention the cheeses and wines at Vineyard 55
- African-American and Gullah culture, golf, beaches and armadillos at Daufuskie Island
- Plantation history at Rose Hill Mansion
- Harbour Town Golf Links
- Best beach bar – Coco’s on the Beach
- Seafood – Alexander’s
- Posh and traditional – CQ’s Restaurant