One of my guilty pleasures is watching a little show called The Biggest Loser. For almost all of the 17 seasons, I’ve watched overweight contestants literally work their asses off, going from morbidly obese, broken people to basically athletes.
If you’ve ever seen the show, people drop dozens of pounds a week — they actually get upset if they only lose six or seven pounds. (Do they even realize that’s a pound a day?!?) Now I’m not obese, but I wouldn’t mind losing five or 10 pounds (15 if you ask my mother). By my reality-show-universe calculations, if I were on The Biggest Loser, it would only take me one week to reach my goal. Since I’m all about instant gratification, I daydream of being on the show.
Well recently, my dream came true — sort of. As it turns out, The Biggest Loser brand has four fitness resorts across the U.S. (in Florida, Illinois, New York, and California) for regular people like you and me. So when I was offered the chance to check out the newest location at the J.W. Marriott in Palm Desert, California, I jumped at the opportunity.
“I’m going be 15 pounds thinner by the time I get home,” I told my colleagues at Yahoo Travel. “You’re going to be so jealous,” I warned them. Funny, they didn’t seem too jealous that I was going to spend my Christmas vacation eating healthy and working out.
Whatever. I was excited. But just in case, I ate lots of pizza the night before I left.
It turned out to be quite an experience. If you, like me, dream of going to The Biggest Loser Resort, here’s what you need to know.
After a direct flight from N.Y.C. to Palm Springs and a 20-minute drive to the J.W. Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa, I had visions of the swanky Biggest Loser Ranch we see on T.V. dancing in my head.
Not so much. In reality, though it’s called The Biggest Loser Resort (BLR) and the program is created by The Biggest Loser brand, each location is housed in and run by a different hotel or resort property. The J.W. Marriott Desert Springs is an enormous hotel in what sort of felt like the middle of nowhere. I knew why I was here, but I wondered why others came to stay at this behemoth of a hotel. (Turns out the clientele are largely convention-goers and time-share owners who like to golf.) The rooms were basic, had nice bathrooms, and mine had a pretty view of the pool. There’s a Starbucks (but you’re not allowed coffee on the BLR diet); there are several mediocre restaurants (but you’re not allowed to eat at them anyway). There’s also a pool, a golf course, a small gym, a basketball court, tennis courts, and a spa.
The food is decent, but you’re probably going to be a little hungry a lot of the time.
The BLR diet is roughly 1500 calories a day from three meals and two snacks, all low dairy and low gluten with a careful balance of protein, fat, and carbs. You get to choose from six breakfasts (think Greek yogurt parfait, oatmeal, eggs, and more), but other than that, there’s no ordering here. Save for accommodations made for dietary restrictions, everyone eats the same thing. The BLR chefs do a great job of mixing it up (they have so many recipes, they never repeat for a full month), but the truth is, some recipes are better than others. I personally really liked the Greek Salad and the dishes that were just simple grilled meats with veggies or potatoes as sides. Everyone loved the pulled-pork sandwich and slaw and the chocolate peanut butter fudge (yes, you get dessert). Some light versions of bad-for-you meals, like the tofu enchiladas, were not good. Breakfast always felt pretty filling and the mid-morning snack helped (I’d usually have a banana or apple with a little natural peanut butter), but by lunch and until dinner I was pretty darn hungry. Dinner — if I liked it enough to eat the whole thing — filled me up.
You’re going to have workout four hours a day — or more.
You may think that because you’re going to a pretty expensive program created by The Biggest Loser brand that there will be fancy workouts and a state of the art gym. Not the case — but that’s good news, because that means you can take your workout program home with you. The workouts mostly consist of interval training. A lot of them were combinations of moves that you could do almost anywhere — things like jumping jacks, running, sit ups, push-ups. Others involved cardio machines and weights. There were also options to work out in the pool, to take walks (around the time-share parking lots — so not glamorous), and to do spinning. There was even a “last chance” workout, like on the show.
In my opinion, two of the daily workouts were fairly challenging, while the others were easier. But you can modify the moves to be as easy or as hard as you need, based on your fitness level.
You won’t lose 15 pounds in a week, unless you’re a morbidly obese man.
Despite all the working out and the carefully measured healthy food, it’s not realistic for a person who is not morbidly obese to lose that amount of weight in seven days. (On the T.V. show, they reportedly feed contestants less than 1,000 calories a day for five to eight hours of workouts, as well as using unhealthy tricks, like dehydrating the contestants before weigh in to artificially boost weight loss numbers.) According to most experts, one to two pounds a week is a healthy amount of weight loss. However, given that these conditions are more extreme than your every-day life, you can do more than that. I only need to lose about 10 pounds (if that) and I was able to lose more than four pounds during the week. Some of the heavier male contestants who had 50 or more pounds to lose dropped 10 or 11 pounds their first week (some of which is water weight).
You’ll be exhausted.
I was up at 5:30 a.m. each morning to make the 6 a.m. stretch (which also included some isometrics — this was no easy stretch). I was dead tired and fast asleep by 8:30 p.m. every night. Why you ask? Well here’s a typical day, with four hours of workouts and three hours of classes:
There’s so much you don’t know about nutrition.
As a lifestyle writer, I’ve written 1001 stories about nutrition. But even I learned some interesting things I didn’t know. They taught us everything from portion size to the right mix of carbs, fat, and protein to quick carb calculations you use anywhere. We even had a class trip to the local grocery store to learn how to make the best choices in the real world. They gave us suggestions for balanced meals and what to choose when eating out. You walk away with a ton of information.
A week may not be enough time.
It really depends on your situation. For me, I just needed a kick in the butt to work out more (I already worked out twice a week at home) and wanted to lose a couple of pounds to use as motivation. For that, a week was just perfect. But if you’re looking to solidify new habits, get in better shape, or lose a more substantial amount of weight, you probably want to stay longer. Some of the participants I met stayed for one week, many for two, and a couple for as long as eight weeks or more.
It’s mostly single women who do the program.
Even with a healthy diet and plenty of exercise, a week might not be enough to shed major pounds. (Photo: Biggest Loser Resort)
Perhaps this isn’t totally surprising. Lots of single women of all ages, shapes, and sizes; the odd single guy; and some married couples.
I’ve kept up my goals at home — and so can you.
I knew that the biggest thing that would lead to my success post-BLR was to create realistic goals. (The BLR life coach taught me that in class, thank you very much.) Thinking I could alter my diet and lifestyle drastically — counting every calorie like they did for me at the resort or even working out four hours a day — would not only be delusional, it would have set me up for failure. So instead, I decided on a few easy-to-achieve goals that I believed would help me do better than before I went. So far, since I have been home, I have kept them up (mostly), and as a result, I have lost about another two pounds and another half a percentage of body fat. Here are the four goals that, in my mind, have made the difference:
1. Work out and stretch more — specifically, four times a week.
Before BLR, I was working out twice a week, which is pretty much nothing for young, healthy person. But stretching and working out four hours a day, every day at the resort really gave me the push I needed to get to the gym more at home. Not only did I realize my body is capable of a lot more than I originally believed (which is very motivating), but I felt stronger and I didn’t want to lose that. Now I hit the gym at least two times a week (including stretching) and the other two days I either go for a long, brisk walk or I do one of the BLR workouts in my living room or at the gym and finish with stretching.
2. I gave up (almost all) artificial sweeteners.
At BLR, we weren’t allowed to ingest anything that was filled with chemicals. And artificial sweeteners in general, may make you gain weight. So for tea or anything I like sweetened, at BLR I would use the plant extract stevia. They served Stevia in the Raw, which I liked, so I stuck with that at home. I also swapped some of my Vitamin Water Zeros (which contain Truvia) for Bai, which the BLR nutritionist said has less chemicals.
3. I eat protein with everything.
According to the BLR plan, protein is key. That’s because protein takes longer to digest, so it helps slow the digestion of carbs (preventing a spike your blood sugar) and helps you feel fuller (so you don’t eat too many carbs or too much fat). So now, when I want carbs or fat, I just make sure I eat them with some healthy protein.
4. I tweaked a couple of my favorite treats.
I used to have a medium skim flat white (basically like a skim latte) every morning. Since I miraculously felt so much better on the low dairy diet, I’ve switched to regular coffee with a dash of skim. I’m still totally satisfied and I actually save like $2 a day, too. Then there’s dinner. Most nights I’m home, I order a chicken burrito with low-fat cheese. Now I have it with greens instead of rice, and make the balance of carbs, protein, and fat even healthier, I only eat half of it with the tortilla — if I’m still hungry (or just feel like eating more), I eat the insides of the other half, sans tortilla.
Eventually I will set new goals, but for now, these work for me.
Rates for a seven-day package at The Biggest Loser Resort at J.W. Marriott Desert Springs start at $2,995 for a single room and $2,445 per person for a double room (not including tax). That includes the weeklong accommodations, all food, and the program itinerary. You can find rates for longer stays and more information on The Bigger Loser Resort at the J.W. Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa (and information on the other locations, too) right here.