Monday, March 24, 2008

Fat Camp

Last week, I went to Fat Camp. I didn't know I was at Fat Camp (I thought I was at a spa) until I overheard a woman dining next to meet at lunch say to her companions, "I think of this place as Fat Camp." I gotta hand it to her--she was right.

I'd been to said spa* before and enjoyed the array of exercise options, the spa treatments, the healthy living lectures, and the great rooms, replete with old library collections, roaring fires, and comfy sofas on which to nap or curl up with a good book. My problem was with the food (we'll get to that later), though I will say now that I came prepared with stores of my own.

At FC, the staff encourages a lot of exercise--you finish one cardio class and they're already asking you which class you're taking next. Most people end up doing 3-4 classes a day, if not more. It reminded me of The Biggest Loser, where uber-exercise is combined with a restricted diet--not a good prognosis for long-term success. The classes are fun and varied--I tried spinning and cardio aqua, kickboxing, rebounding, and striptease aerobics. Speaking of previous posts, there were a couple of 14-year-old girls who attended striptease. I know this because I approached one of them and asked, "How old are you?" and she said, "14." The class was fun, and everyone's inner Carmen Electra shone. For the record, no men attended, nor did FC offer a male equivalent.

Now, the food. . . Fat Camp food is actually pretty good, with lots of selections and healthy eating options. They find a way to create unprocessed, balanced meals, heavy in protein, fiber, and complex carbs, and low in fat, sodium, and anything else unnecessary in larger quantities. Still, the food, for the most part, tastes good.

My gripe? The portion sizes. The food is really, really. . . small. If I were there long-term, I'd think that they were slowly starving me to death. Now, the difference between this and real Fat Camp is that you're allowed to ask for seconds, or even thirds (and, you're allowed to bring food into your room, without having it confiscated as contraband). I learned the first time around that often I'd need to order two entrees, along with appetizers and sides. Because when you're exercising as they encourage, you need some extra fuel. . . unless, of course, you're trying to lose weight. . . which wouldn't be hard to do. . . though, you and I both know what would happen when you went back home.

Fat Camp also offers desserts--low calorie, low fat treats that provide that post-meal, sweet-tooth zing. Day one, I ordered a brownie:

Can you see the size of this? I said to my server, "Can I get three more?" I figured that four of these equalled. . . an actual brownie.

On my last day, I sat down to lunch before heading out on the road. The restaurant menu, displayed on a stand outside, beckoned, "Italian-Style Grilled Cheese." Yum!

Here was my grilled cheese (accompanied by a salad):

If you can't tell by the photo, the "Italian-Style Grilled Cheese" would be more aptly described as two tiny slices of Italian bread, served bruschetta style. Each one was easily consumed in two bites. They were small, and I had just played too hard for food that was small.

So, I left wondering, for people who attend these spas, looking for long-term weight-loss success, is this a set-up for disaster? The first time I attended, I hit Carvel in the airport before even getting to my gate. Even if guests return home with their Fat Camp cookbooks in tow, is exercising three hours a day really sustainable? Are they sacrificing long-term success for short-term results?

*I'll try to write about the couple of lectures I attended in forthcoming posts.


Suzanne Nam said...

First let me say that I love your blog!

Regarding your fat camp experience, it’s really indicative of a society that encourages women to consume in order to lose weight or even just be healthy. We live in a world where we are constantly manipulated into buy something or spend money in order to do the right thing by our bodies. It’s not enough to eat a healthy, balanced diet, you’ve got to buy special low-fat, vitamin enriched muffin tops if you really want to lose weight or ensure your longevity. Running in the park or swimming at your local YMCA? Nope! Got to spend money on the latest exercise fad. Totally absurd! Worse yet is that women routinely allow themselves to be duped.

What I find strange about your post is why you were surprised it was a fat camp. It seems like someone who’s paying attention to such things would have known. Also I wonder what you thought you’d get out of it other than intense cardio.

observer said...

Spa a.k.a "Fat Camp"?

Or, is this place the ultimate "How To Get An Eating and Exercise Disorder in Order to "Prevent" and/or "Control" the dreaded EVIL Diabetes--and Lose the UGLY FAT While You Are At It-- via Starvation and Obsessive Exercise No Matter What Boot Camp?"

C'mom, now...Is 'health' and 'fitness' for their "clients" really the aim of this place? Don't make me laugh!

Hungry?? I am not surprised: The blood glucose levels you ended up with as a result of spending forever exercising were undoubtedly so low that if you did not arrange to actually eat enough to 'refuel'? You would have been in a world of hurt.

Really, now...those microscopic food portions (set by experimental protocol for nutrient standardization purposes/"exchange" lists) would likely fit the ADA (American Diabetes Association) 'meal plans' to a "T". Ditto with the "cardio until you drop" exercise regimen. Both are commonly recommended to diabetics to get down the "numbers" (BGs, 'cholesterol', etc.) to try to prevent complications of the disease (that happen anyway sooner or later). For the exact same reasons--really--as for any "fatty" without diabetes (like you and most likely everyone else who attended this nonsense): Weight loss. Not "better health", no matter what they tell you.

In other words, you were made to do something that has no real health value for a non-diabetic (more food and less exercise would produce fitness enough for non-competitive athletes); this intense a regimen would be of limited long-term value (if not carefully implemented and maintained) even if you were diabetic.

Premee said...

I LOL'd at the brownie. My God, if that's not a fat-camp brownie, I don't know what is. It looks about as big as a Malteser.

In other news, the salad accompanying the wee little cheese dish looks (unenlarged) like it's composed of weeds and rocks. Mmm, now that's healthy eatin'! :-D

Anonymous said...

Love your photos! That brownie cracks me up and your grilled cheese looks more like a mini-snack. Portion sizes in America are so....too big or too squat. I went out to breakfast with my Dutch boyfriend and he was appalled at the size of his cinnamon roll. It was literally bigger than his head.

I enjoy "spas" too but I usually go to places that allow me to pick out what I want eat. Hershey Spa has chocolate muffins, bowls of chocolates sitting around, coffee, tea and tons of bottle water. They also offer "healthy" muffins. I tried to "be good" and eat the healthy muffin but it made me gag. When I returned to get the chocy muffin the other women standing there burst out laughing when I said "ew, tree bark, I'm going for the chocy muffin." They all agreed. Hey, it's Hershey, PA, what are you gonna do?

Anonymous said...

I am just wondering, why did you go there? If you'd been there before, you knew about the portions. Was it research for the book?

Anonymous said...

Wow, that's tiny food! I hope it at least tasted good.. Was the whole point of this "Fat Camp" thing to starve women, or what?

drstaceyny said...

sn--thanks! Good points. . . It's a spa, it's just that I realized (the 2nd time around) that it was similar to FC. I got a lot out of it (and I'd go back), including great classes, good food (in small doses), an idyllic setting, and the other things I mentioned in the post.

observer--interesting points. A lecture I went to (on weight control) kept stressing the importance of health/well-being, while the crowd was focused on weight-loss (he acknowledged that that's why most ppl seek his help).

premee--glad you laughed! Weeds and rocks have lotsa fiber!

anon1:07--Hershey spa sounds fun, despite the fact that I'm not a chocolate person.

anon2:46--b/c I like what else they offer, including their food and can compensate by 1) asking for extra helpings 2) bringing some of my own snacks

anon3:43--their food is pretty tasty (that tiny brownie was v. good--that's why I asked for 3 more!) The spa's philosophy is to help ppl make lifestyle changes (with this as a jumpstart, I'm guessing).

Palmtreechick said...

That's my kind of place. I need to go there for a month!

azusmom said...

My brother would call that salad "Medley O' Weeds."

Hmmm...Hershey's Spa? Do they let you bathe in chocolate? 'Cause that's my kinda spa!

Fauve said...

I do not think that it's truly Fat Camp - at least not as Abby Ellin describes it in "Teenage Waistland". First, I doubt you saw many - if any - really fat people there. Obese, that is, Morbidly Obese. (I now sound like a James Bond for the portly, lol). The camp described by Dr. Stacey seems to me to be more of a "body sculpture camp". People (of means) go to such places to refine and (re)define their body. They "get back on track" to maintaining an already fabulous figure. Such a camp is for the serious dieter/exerciser who is dedicated to looking very slim and strong. I think the maintenance that goes into having such a body must take a lot of work for most people. Hence, the need for this kind of camp. (Kudos to asking for more brownies, though). Myself - I wish I could go to an eat-all-you-want of healthy foods camp. You could have as much food as you wanted, of a very healthy nature - and also quite delicious - with No portion control except learning to honor your own sense of fullness. Also - No desserts would be offered, save for fresh fruit and/or desserts made with things like stevia. The emphasis would also be on pleasurable exerise - not on doing alot of intense exercise. No 3 or 4 classes of intense exercise a day. Enjoyable movement would be promoted, not killing yourself with cardio, spin classes and the like. (I can see the value of *one* intense exercise class a day, - if you really want it - but no more than that). Of course, such a camp as I describe probably might exist...if you can afford to go, that is. (There would also be lots of gorgeous nature all around to *also* fill up on)!

Anonymous said...

That "Spa" is offering the typical approach to weight loss that is doomed to failure: keep people genuinely hungry (and unfortunately, also malnourished), give them so much exercise that they're ready to drop from exhaustion and charge them a fortune. Sure, they'll go home 5 lbs lighter and many dollars poorer but also with the deep understanding and belief that they'll "never" lose weight because they could "never" continue with such a program. And they're right. It's completely insane. JD from Canada

zubeldia said...

I may be coming at this from a different position, but, frankly, it sounds like a great place... and I wouldn't be going there for the weight loss, but more the focus on movement and healthy eating. I am pretty sure that a good many go for the reasons Fauve suggests, but there are some people who just really do love to move their bodies... I am a case in point. I DO have an eating disorder, but I actually work towards recovery just so that I can move my body more... And given the huge portion sizes in the US which, I think also contribute towards eds (how could we possibly be tuned into our bodily signals in this culture), it's pretty refreshing that sizes are small and then you can get fifths if you want... I think it likely helps people to tune into their bodies more... Of course, there are other factors which would stop most people from asking for more...

But it doesn't sound like a fat camp to me... That people go there looking for that is another thing - and says more about the wider culture, I think.

Hey Fauve, I am a rower and went to Craftsbury Outdoor Center in Vermont last year... It involves rowing three times a day and then an all you can eat buffet of locally grown produce. The food is fantastic. You can actually just go there without signing up for one of their programs and they offer yoga, mountain biking, kayaking.... the rooms are dorm style and the price is very reasonable. All food is included.... And the scenery is just amazing. I would take this over a spa any day. I will say, too, that for one week last year I lived without an eating disorder. it was pretty amazing.


Fauve said...

Zubelida - congratulations on your successful work to combat your ed. (That place you mention in Vermont sounds great. Not that I could do rowing - but bike riding would be enjoyable, and the locally grown food sounds sublime)! You bring up good points. Perhaps places like the spa Dr. Stacey describes are in reaction against the overabundance of food in "real life". However, the spa overreacts to this by serving *tiny* portion sizes that are not going to truly satify most people. And people who exercise need enough food to sustain their efforts and replenish themselves. I know well the dangers of overeating - but I do not think that undereating is the panacea to overeating. The middle path always seems to be the hardest.