My size has always been a part of my story. I never felt embarrassed of my weight or pressured to change myself. I loved my body and loved eating good food—I was even a food blogger in New York City. However after 14 years in New York, my life turned upside down. I’d just ended a long-term relationship and needed something new, so I decided to make a big change and moved to Greenville, South Carolina.
It was a huge risk but instantly I knew it was the right choice for me. It is a charming town, known for its outdoor recreation and active lifestyle. Hiking and biking trails crisscross the city and while I loved this, at over 300 pounds it was, honestly, really difficult for me to do. I realized that while I was happy with my body I wasn’t happy with it getting in the way of things I wanted to do.
I decided that while I was changing literally everything about my life, maybe it was time to change this too. I deserve to be happy and healthy. Hilton Head Health, a health-focused weight-loss resort, was located nearby so I took another risk and signed up for a three-month stay. I’m lucky in that I was able to take the time off from my work as a freelance writer and use this as an opportunity to really focus on myself.
I opted for a weight-loss resort because I didn’t want just a “diet,” I wanted to learn and change from the inside out. I wanted to do it the right way with a holistic plan that focused on longevity, sustainability, and happiness, not just appearances.
Upon arrival, I sat down with a therapist to come up with a nutrition, fitness, and healthy living plan. I started by undergoing a detailed metabolic assessment that showed how many calories I was burning and my current fitness level. A nutritionist gave me a customized calorie goal to help me lose weight at a reasonable rate and I was assigned a personal trainer to help design a fitness program geared toward my goals. (I wanted to get strong!) I also got a schedule of classes, including cooking, nutrition principles, self-care, and many different types of workouts. Then I got assigned to a bungalow and got to meet my roommate.
For the first month, I did the Hilton Head Health’s LoseWell program, which is a very structured program—there’s less choice and more guidance, my dieting training wheels, so to speak. I met with a group of other people looking to lose weight, and we ate pre-planned meals and did our prescribed workouts together. In between, I went to classes about the basics of nutrition and fitness, trying to learn everything I could about this new lifestyle.
I won’t lie: For the first couple of weeks, giving up all junk food and sugar was really hard, but eventually the desires stopped and I began to feel happier and healthier. Plus, I’d already lost 15 pounds.
For my second month, I moved up to the LivingWell program, which is comparable to LoseWell, but it offers more flexibility in what to eat and which activities and classes to try. In the dining hall, everything is labeled with calorie counts and nutritional information, so I could practice making healthier food choices. I also learned during this time how to better listen to my body. If I wanted to take three exercise classes one day, I could, and if I needed rest the next day, I rested.
Now I’m starting my third month, and I have total control over my daily schedule. At this point, all the principles are fixed and I understand what I need to do and why it’s important, but I still have the support of the staff whenever I need it. I know that real life isn’t going to be like a weight-loss resort, so this is the final step in preparing me for when I leaving here.
A Typical Day
My days here are very different than what they were before I came to the retreat. Most days I’m up at 8 AM, but the last few weeks I’ve been inspired to wake up earlier to take a sunrise beach walk. I am not a morning person usually, but it’s turned out to be a surprisingly beautiful way to start the day. After that, I have breakfast. I can choose from a lot of different options as long as I stay within my calorie goal for each meal. My favorite is either oatmeal or berries with coffee or scrambled eggs with vegetables. Sometimes I’ll have a smoothie.
At 9 AM, I take a fitness class. My current go-to is a treadmill interval class, which energizes me in a whole different way than a cup of coffee does. A medicine ball class done with partners, which is a fun way to combine strength and cardio training, follows that. Next is a group meditation, followed by an hour to recover, read, or write in my journal.
Then comes lunch. Today at lunch I had vegetable soup, salad, and a small cup of turkey chili with broccoli mixed in. (That’s one of the tricks I’ve learned here—adding veggies is an easy way to bulk up food so I feel like I’m eating more.) After lunch I take a 15-minute “thermal walk” or bike ride. These are short bursts of activity to keep my metabolism active and burning fat after eating.
Afternoons often include a TRX strength class or cardio boxing, both of which I have fallen in love with, or meeting up with my trainer for a personal training session. One of my main goals here is to be strong so we’re really working on strength training. I wrap up with hip-hop dance or yoga. Even though they’re totally different classes, each bring me joy. If that sounds like a lot of exercise, it is, but even though it’s more movement than I’ve ever done in my life, it’s always fun and there’s no pressure to do it. I don’t have to do this many classes and some days I choose to rest.
Throughout the day, I take nutrition classes or sit in on lectures to help me with my other goals. These are taught by registered dietitians or other experts and are designed to teach us not only what to do but also why it works, and how to maintain our new healthy habits for a lifetime.
Dinner is similar to lunch but there are daily specials that we can choose from in addition to the set menu, followed by another thermal walk. At the end of the day, I always have a cup of my favorite cinnamon tea and then I focus on self-care, whether that’s by taking a hot shower, a shopping trip, or enjoying a game night with friends. One of the best parts of coming here has been meeting all these astonishing people going through the same journey I am. I didn’t know anyone when I started and now I feel like I have a whole group of supportive friends.
Honestly, most nights I’m tired from being active all day and I rest, relax, and go to sleep earlier than I ever have. As a night owl I have a new appreciation for going to bed earlier and waking up earlier the next day.
I’m already seeing a lot of success here. I’ve lost over 50 pounds, which is a significant amount for three months, but I feel good about it as we’re both monitored bodily and mentally, and I know I’m doing it in a healthy way. But I don’t really care about the number on the scale. For me it’s all about the non-scale victories. For instance, I used to be uncomfortable with anything fitness related but now I enjoy trying new workouts. I can ride a bike, lift weights, and many other things I couldn’t do as easily before.
Another happy side effect is how my taste buds have changed. I no longer crave salty, sugary junk food. If you had told me a year ago that plain almonds or a banana with peanut butter hummus would be a delicious dessert to me, I wouldn’t believe you. I’m still a food lover, I always will be, but now I feel like I appreciate it even more.
But perhaps the biggest change has been in my mindset. I’m learning that health is all about balance, which I’ve always known but to be here and live it has been eye opening and comforting seeing it direct. It’s so easy to fall into an “all or nothing” mindset, thinking that if I couldn’t do everything perfectly then it wasn’t worth trying or if I “messed up” then it wasn’t worth continuing on.
I’ve learned it’s okay to make mistakes. It isn’t about avoiding mistakes and not living, or living in fear, but making positive steps forward. Being here has been a reminder to me that there’s no good or bad food, just like there are no good or bad bodies. And when you strip away all the judgment and perfectionism and rules that we create for ourselves, what’s left is so, so beautiful.
For more of Sarah’s wellness journey follow her on Instagram @NYCFoodieFinder or check out her website.