Diary of a weight-loss retreat

OLIVIA BENJAMIN takes time out of life to get back in touch with her mind, body and soul during a six-day vital health retreat, run by one of Channel Five's Diet Doctors Vicki Edgson, and held in the peaceful grounds of Grayshott Spa.


2012 dates

Six night programme:

  • November 11-17, 2012

    Find out more on Vital Health Management from Grayshott Spa »

    As a self-confessed night owl, with a coffee addiction, it came as quite a shock to find myself bopping to the beat of Mama Mia while clinging on to a rubber noodle during the early bird aqua aerobics class at Grayshott Spa. But the most surprising fact was that I was actually enjoying it!


    And this was only after a refreshing glass of spring water instead of the usual shot of caffeine. I was also, well aware, that after this exhilarating wake-up call I was scheduled to do an hour of circuit training before breakfast was served. So, what had led me to take time out of life and sign up to the six-day Vital Health - Weight Management course which is run by Channel Five's inspirational Diet Doctor Vicki Edgson?


    Well at 44 I wasn't getting any younger and after a long career (in which I had travelled the world,) the sudden arrival of two babies, closely followed by major spinal surgery and then redundancy my life had taken a few unexpected twists and turns. I was now, not only coming to terms with my new role in life, but also battling middle-age spread, symptoms of the peri-menopause and the pursuit of how to stay fit and healthy for my active boys. All challenges faced by so many women today.


    So, with nervous excitement I drove through the gates of Grayshott Spa, the former home of Poet Laureate Alfred Lord Tennyson in 1867, on what would become a journey of self-discovery. I was not sure if I was I signing up to a boot-camp style regime or a stereotypical health farm with only a lettuce leaf for lunch?


    At that point, the only thing I was certain of was my goals. These included shedding six kilos of baby weight; educating myself about nutrition and establishing the right exercise programme for my body. This was my opportunity to take stock and begin to lay the foundations for a healthier future.



    My welcome couldn't have been warmer and all thoughts of "health farm or boot camp" quickly faded as I was shown to my spacious suite which overlooked the picturesque gardens, golf course and National Trust woodlands beyond. My transition from the 'real world' began the moment I pulled on the soft, cream bathrobe, wiped away my make-up and tied up my unruly hair. It was now back to basics within this little haven of luxury which was to be my home for the next few days...


    The week started with an informal chat with Vicki, who personally welcomed all 15 guests (two couples and the remainder women of all ages, shapes and sizes) as they checked into Grayshott. Prior to my arrival I had filled in a health questionnaire which allowed Vicki and her team to create a unique programme designed to meet my particular needs while also taking part in group activities and having “time out” to rest. After a brief meet and greet dinner in the conservatory restaurant we all retired for an early night.



    My alarm shrilled at 6.30am sharp and it was time to find my swimming costume and make my way down to the pool and wait for my aqua aerobics class to start. As Abba pumped out of the ghetto blaster we all started to splash to the beat following the lead of our enthusiastic trainer. After 40 minutes it was a quick change and into the gym for an hour of circuit training which included everything from squat thrusts to press-ups and jiggling the hula hoop (which many of us hadn't tried since school).


    This was to become the schedule we all followed every morning before breakfast (although some guests opted for the wake-up and stretch instead of aqua aerobics). With rosy cheeks and glasses of much-need water, infused with lemon and mint, we all assembled for breakfast at 9am. I was surprised to be offered a veritable banquet of salmon, scrambled eggs and muesli - but, as we were about to discover, this feast was for day one only.


    The following day Vicki asked us all to choose one option, either the protein or the carbohydates, so we could see how our bodies performed. Focusing on nutrition at breakfast Vicki urged us all to try a sprinkling of the spice turmeric in hot water as this is considered a natural way to beat cancer. Although an acquired taste turmeric can be incorporated into your diet during cooking. Mealtimes quickly became a forum for us to quiz Vicki on food and diet - as this was the main reason most of us were here.


    Her messages were clear and concise:

    Breakfast like a King, lunch like a Queen and supper like a Pauper * Try to eat as close to nature as possible

    Always eat what nourishes you

    Chew your food and don't just 'munch, munch, swallow'

    Always eat sitting down in a designated place and take at least 15 minutes over your meal

    Try to take digestive enzymes with every meal - when you digest well you absorb the nutrients from food and avoid cravings

    Stick to the one plate rule - seconds are not a luxury they are greedy.


    "We all know diets DON'T work!" says Vicki. "If they did we would all be on the one that worked, permanently, and it would not be considered a diet. "The very ethos of dieting usually dictates the exclusion of one of the main food groups, fats, carbs or proteins, all of which are essential in the right balance for each individual. "Eat your food when you most need it - during the day and lighter at night, to lose weight, rebuild and repair efficiently (the key to ageless beauty) and sleep soundly. This is fundamental to good health, longevity and happiness."


    Once I had finished my turmeric tea it was time for my first, of two pre-booked, spa treatments which are built into your itinerary and used to compliment the set diet and exercise programme.



    Today, was reflexology and the following day was to be a micronized marine algae body wrap. Both treatments provided time to relax and, for some guests, to experience something new. I had not tried either one before and was amazed how accurate my reflexology therapist was diagnosing my ailments just by pressing my feet! Having a layer of hot, green algae spread over your body may not be for everyone but this particular Piscean felt most at home under the foil wrap. The benefits of this include boosting circulation and detoxing the body.


    A few hours later it was back to business with a rather daunting Body Composition Analysis with former Olympian Ravi - who I later learnt had played hockey for Malaysia. This test determines your lean body mass and percentage of fat, bone and muscle and considered a far better indicator than weight alone.


    It’s quite sobering to hear you have 22.2 kilos of body fat when you should have only 15.6 and only 10 kilos of muscle when it should be 12.1 and that you need to lose 6.6 kilos - you can't argue with the facts! With this new-found knowledge I headed for lunch (determined to eat like a Queen) as there was no going back to my old ways now.


    Fortunately this was when we were introduced to the Grayshott healthy eating plate which is colour-coded pink for proteins, brown for carbohydates and green, yes you guessed it, for vegetables and fruit. Yet again, at this meal we all ate well piling up our plates with everything from chicken and salmon to half-a-jacket potato (stuffed with rosemary) and a selection of salads. However, this was not the case at supper when the portion size was dramatically cut and although we didn't exactly eat like paupers, as we were treated to everything from duck to ostrich, the portions were small.


    But as Vickie pointed out our stomach is only the size of one hand so our portion of food should not really be any bigger – especially at night. “It takes 20 minutes to register that you are full (when the Vagus nerve in the stomach sends feedback to the brain) so stop when you have eaten your plate of food and wait – you could be surprised how satisfied you feel,” said Vicki.


    That night's discussion took our mind off and thoughts of seconds as we all listened intently to Vicki's advice on coffee, chocolate, yoghurts, oils and the best vitamin and mineral supplements on offer. It was as if she had given us all a digestive enzyme for the brain and we were able to absorb her advice and store the knowledge.


    “I am investing money and time in this retreat and failure is not an option," one guest told me as she scribbled down all the advice before booking a food intolerance and vitamin and mineral analysis test which screens the body for food sensitivities.



    After a couple of days we were all in our stride, friendships had been struck up through shared experiences and we had all accepted the pace of life within our cocoon. Although mobile phones were allowed, by day two I had switched mine off as I didn't want anything to pierce the peace and tranquility I had discovered at Grayshott.


    Our minds were now open to trying new experiences such as the moving meditation class in which we were silently taken into the gardens to literally "stand and stare" at the sights around us to our introduction to Tai Chi, Pilates, Yoga, Hypno Slim Class and a session with a life coach.


    I had been privileged enough to have a taste of this holistic course. Vicki had provided us all with lifestyle choices, which we can now embrace (or choose to ignore) as we integrate ourselves back into the “real world”.


    As Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote: “Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers.”


    And it is with this new-found wisdom I am now trying to make those vital lifestyle choices; I have now signed up for yoga, aqua aerobics (my new passion) and weight training, I take a daily dose of vitamins to suit my needs and my kitchen cupboard has been given a complete overhaul – much to the surprise of my husband.


    Within two weeks I have dropped four kilos, suddenly have the energy to keep up with my young sons and bounce out of bed in the morning. It’s only when I smell the aroma of freshly-brewed coffee my resistance begins to waver. But then I think of Abba and my first early bird workout and temptation passes…


    The SPA Traveller’s tips 

    • Try to set yourself a few goals before attending.

    • Don't forget to pack a range of comfortable clothes and shoes suitable for yoga, circuit training, outdoor treks, tennis and swimming.

    • Don't be nervous about attending on your own as you’re immediately made to feel at home.

    • Be honest about your health issues and don't hold back any information.

    • Try to attend with an open-minded attitude as you will be trying treatments and exercises you may have never done before.

    • A follow-up, mini retreat is planned a few months later to check on your progress – so you never feel alone...



    Nutritionist - Vicki Egdson:

    Vicki Edgson is considered one of Britain’s top nutritionists. She has run private clinics in London for more than 15 years and founded the well-known The Food Doctor clinic and business in 1999.


    Vicki has written three books under that brand, including The Food Doctor: Healing Foods for Mind and Body, which has been translated into 10 languages and The Food Doctor for Babies and Children.


    She filmed the Fat Nation series for the BBC in 2004 and two series of The Diet Doctors Inside and Out for Channel Five in 2007; both shows were accompanied by bestselling tie-in books.



    Grayshott Spa:

    Grayshott Spa (situated only one hour from London), is one of the very few true Destination Spas in the UK – unlike a hotel spa or day spa, an all-inclusive stay is aimed at health and wellbeing with therapeutic spa treatments, healthy spa cuisine and full programmes of fitness classes.


    With 47 acres of sweeping lawns, a visit to award-winning Grayshott Spa means stepping in to a world of calmer, healthier living, dedicated to the rejuvenation of both body and mind. Grayshott has spent more than 40 years perfecting their holistic approach to well-being and offers a unique and extensive range of natural therapies and lifestyle treatments.



    From the classic elegance of the Manor House Suites, to the more contemporary style of the Luxury and Classic rooms, all the rooms are designed to cocoon you in comfort and calm, and are equipped to make your stay relaxing and enjoyable.

    • Most of the 59 suites and bedrooms overlook the gardens and grounds. All ground-floor rooms have patio doors leading onto the gardens.

    • All Grayshott rooms have duvets, flat-screen television, DVD player, safe, direct dial telephone and hairdryer.

    • Toiletries are provided in the bathrooms and robes and slippers are placed in the room for your arrival.



    • Indoor pool with hydrotherapy pool

    • Relaxation Room

    • Heated Outdoor pool (open April – September)

    • Indoor and outdoor tennis courts

    • Separate Male and Female spas

    • Fully equipped gym

    • Yoga, Pilates, Tai Chi

    • Power Walking

    • Personal Training

    • Power Plate

    • Exercise programmes

    • Relaxation Classes

    • Cinema

    • Evening talks 


    2012 dates

    Six night programme:

  • November 11-17, 2012

    Find out more on Vital Health Management from Grayshott Spa »


    Contact The SPA Traveller