Review: The Body Retreat

Review: The Body Retreat

Back in February, you may or may not remember I had a patch where I was sick. Constantly. I don’t know what happened to my immune system, but I felt like I’d been hit by a bus – and I caught every bug going. It was laugh a minute – and I felt very, very sorry for myself.

Fortunately, like a gift from the skies, Juls Abernathy – one of the founders of The Body Retreat – dropped me a line asking if I’d like to join them on one of their upcoming retreats to recover and revive myself – so naturally, I jumped at the chance. I mean, a week of R&R, healthy food, and lots of exercise?

Hell yeah. That, I can get down with.

Thanks to a pretty crazy schedule on my part, though, I couldn’t get around to visiting until last week, when I packed my bags and headed off to Dorset for their Weight Loss Retreat. And man, when I arrived, I thought I’d found myself a lil’ slice of heaven:

Body Retreat

Ain’t that just perfection?

Fast forward to 11am the next morning, however, and there I was – having fallen arse first and knee deep into mud so thick and slippery, it was like quicksand… Half way through a six-mile muddy, rainy hike.

Yuh-huh. This was bootcamp, no two ways about it.

See, The Body Retreat run a number of different types of trip. They’ve got a Stress Re-Set, a Detox, a Health and Fitness holiday, and a bunch of weekend and one day bootcamps – but muggins here plumped for the Weight Loss retreat on dates alone. But, considering myself pretty fit and healthy, I figured I’d be a-ok – and that it’d be an interesting learning experience about whether these kinda things actually work.

And I’m a big fan of The Body Retreat’s aims. They advocate a holistic approach to weight loss, focusing on mindful, healthy eating, positive body image, and all the other things I bang on about – so as bootcamps go, I figured this one would be the most Katie-friendly of them all.

But I never, ever expected to find it quite as hard as I did.

It turns out Julie Brealy – The Body Retreat’s founder, personal trainer and Head Butt Kicker – is one hell of a trainer. In fact, I’d say she’s one of the best I’ve had the pleasure to work with, sitting up there with Tom Dyer and of course, Matt Peacock, in the pantheon of personal trainers who’ve taught me things about myself I didn’t think possible.

Each morning started with a shot of juice and a circuits workout, which usually involved weights, kettlebells, or – gulp – sprints – to name but a few. That’d be followed by a long (long, long) hike, a whole bunch of fitness classes (including the terrifyingly-named ‘Ultimate Burn’ and ‘Ultimate Burn II’) and polished off by a swim or pool workout – although fortunately there was a sauna, steam room and outdoor hot tub on hand to relax in afterwards.

Hell, I needed it.

Every day, I went to bed feeling like I’d exercised every single muscle in my body – including, notably, my knees, which gave out a couple of times, but – astoundingly – managed to survive far more than I’d ever expected them to.

What I loved about Julie’s style of training – bearing in mind we were a group of seven women aged 20-70 – was that she managed to push every single one of us, whilst allowing everyone to work at their own pace. That’s a hell of a skill, and one that I haven’t seen often in fitness trainers – so I really, genuinely loved the workouts, despite constantly grimacing and resisting the urge to shout ‘please god no more’ on a half-hourly basis.

Now, y’all know I’m a girl that likes to eat – and don’t get me wrong, the food served all week was consistently damn tasty, with highlights including an unbelievably delicious fish pie, and some glorious after-dinner snacks including a healthy cheesecake and the frankly glorious poached pears.

Dayum. I could eat those every single day.

However – I did spend a considerable amount of time feeling pretty hungry over the course of the week. I was hitting a calorie burn of between 3000-4000kcal a day, and while our diet was supposed to pitch at 1400-1700kcal, I did calculate one day that struggled to hit 1200 – notably, on the day I hit a whopping 3800kcals burned. It also felt to me as though the type and timing of our carbohydrates could’ve been a little better balanced to give more of a boost around exercise times – and as a dedicated fan of meat, I didn’t love the low animal protein diet.

The trouble is with any ‘bootcamp’ like this is that it’s pitching on two fronts. On a weight loss retreat, a lot of people are there – as you might expect – to lose weight, so it’s absolutely necessary to create something of a calorie deficit. But as The Body Retreat don’t believe in counting calories, and aim to teach their residents how to eat mindfully, the daily food plan was designed to reflect everyday life – so naturally, it wasn’t at the sort of level you’d expect to reflect the level of exercise we were doing.

So it’s not a criticism of the intentions behind it – and I do believe that what they’re aiming to create is a brilliant alternative to a lot of weight loss bootcamps out there – but I definitely could’ve done with a little more to eat, to help me get the most out of the amazing workouts.

That said, some people weren’t as hungry as I was – and, psychologically, I think I struggled to justify my hunger with the goal of losing weight, because I wasn’t really there for that – so there’s an argument to be made that I was more inclined to get the gripes. I’m a growing girl, after all, and having always struggled with binge eating after going hungry, I was glad of the shared experience of my fellow attendees to stay focused on a balanced return to reality.

Aside from that – which I would strongly counterbalance with the fact that they’re purely based on my personal neuroses and monster appetite – there’s a lot to love about the Body Retreat. The massage and spa treatments were divine, and very much needed mid-way through, and at the end of the week – and Juls’ hypnotherapy sessions and behaviour workshops offered something very different to any other bootcamp that I’m aware of. We also had visits from guest instructors in yoga and Zumba (which I’m still terrible at), and a workshop with a nutritionist who provided some great advice on how to eat a healthy, balanced diet at home.

It’s very rare to find a weight loss retreat that focuses on long-term change, rather than short-term weight loss – and I think that’s something that’ll allow them to help a heck of a lot of women to make changes that actually last.

And there’s a whole ‘nother post to be written on the people I met, and my own epiphanies (found whilst soaking wet and emotional up a never-ending hill) – both of which I’ll continue to count among the most rewarding experiences of my life so far.

Of course, the other question is – does it work?

For me, personally, it did – I lost a frankly shocking 12lbs over the course of the week, with 7 inches from my chest, tum, arms and shoulders – and a 3% reduction in my body fat. I fell at the top-end of the spectrum, with losses from 6-11lbs from the other attendees – which, I suspect, is a result of the fact I already eat along the lines of their plan – which involves an almost entirely whole-food based diet – so this was like a hugely scaled-up version of what I usually do.

The question of how sustainable that is for someone like me – given I’m going to be edging my diet back up to normal levels over the next couple of weeks to avoid throwing my metabolism outta whack – remains to be seen, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect most of the women who came along to continue their journey in a positive way, thanks to the holistic approach The Body Retreat offers. I do have some niggling concerns about losing so much, so fast – and I certainly wouldn’t advocate it under any circumstances other than those directly supervised by experts, like Juls and Julie there – but it’s hard to deny that the retreat delivered as promised, and I’m certainly the smaller for it.

Overall, I’d say it’s a great kick-start to a weight loss regime, and you’ll struggle to find an environment more supportive and rewarding to learn about exercise, nutrition and mindfulness – but you’ve got to be prepared to be pushed, and to go home feeling rather less like you’ve been on a retreat, and more like you’ve been a contestant on Gladiators. That said, compared to more military-style bootcamps, The Body Retreat offers a brilliant alternative for women looking for a crash course in mindful eating, healthy food choices and exercise, and if you’ve ever fancied a bootcamp, but been too scared to give it a shot – this could be the perfect one for you.

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