Celebrate Your Life – See the World
by J Kat Loren : :
I drove past the beautiful sprawling golf course of Miami’s Trump National Doral Resort and turned into the spa entrance, trusting that the Pritikin Program was tucked inside someplace along the winding driveway. And there it was – with its own beautifully landscaped entrance and resort staff ready to lift my bags into the golf cart and whisk me off to my villa located somewhere on the 650 acres of Italianate architecture and landscape.
Programs at the Pritikin Longevity Center + Spa are generally one or two weeks in length. But six times annually, Pritikin also offers special weekend health retreats, called “Taste of Pritikin Weekends” for those of us who would like to try the program before committing to a longer course of action. Curious about Pritikin’s focus on longevity, I decided to attend.
Years ago, two men I knew talked about their time at Pritikin as a vegetarian-oatmeal-and-salad diet attracting those with serious heart disease. They dropped a great deal of weight, felt the stress of life fall away as they focused on themselves, and came away much healthier. Clearly, the program has evolved to encompass new metabolic research and focus on the roles of diet and fitness as they impact longevity.
I arrived in time for lunch and noticed participants in gym clothes loading up their salad bowls, or sipping veggie soup and investigated the ala carte offerings. Rather than heading for my room, I joined them. The salad bar was 70% organic with no-fat dressings. The soups, salt-free. A potato bar and even a bit of pasta and meat was offered to ease newcomers into the program. Diners filled huge salad bowls with a wide variety of veggies, handed it over to be chopped up by the wait staff, and then took it back to their seat. I wondered if they were serving others from that bowl and realized that a salad bowl that would ordinarily serve a family of four, was meant for one. After surveying the food choices, I found myself curious about the afternoon cooking classes.
Noticing a few women sitting at a table, I asked if I could join them, they nodded. One woman, a rather striking, retired attorney from Vancouver, BC in her early 70’s, told me that she had been to health spas all around the world. Pritikin was her spa of choice. She suffered from diabetes. “I pretend I’m not in a medical program because of the spa and resort, otherwise I would go insane. Still, this one is the best I’ve attended. The service is wonderful.” She is one of the 60% of Pritikin’s repeat customers.
Another man in his 70s, European in demeanor, well-healed, sat alone dipping into his salad, probably wishing he were elsewhere but wise enough to know that his body needed to regain some health for longevity sake. A time out enjoying a couple weeks at Pritikin may well add another year of heartbeats to his life. A “Reserved” placard sat on his table. You just don’t ask who some people are here at Pritikin. He seemed like the kind of man who would have sent his chef to learn the Pritikin way of cooking if only his chef could have worked out for him in the gym. There are some things you have to do yourself – for yourself. After all, what is the point of having money, a fantastic family, or a career you love if you don’t have the health to enjoy a long life?
Others in the room varied in age from 20 to 80, mixed genders and races, and a few tables reserved for the annual kosher week participants. Mid-lifers prevailed in the weekend program. We all know that we need to change dietary habits now if we are to be healthy into our 80s. What we didn’t know was how much this weekend would become a wakeup call as we listened to the experts talk about the dangers of excess salt, fat and sugar and tasted the effects of salt-free, low fat, sugarless meals. Combined with several periods of exercise choices per day, Pritikin served up an appetizer of what a real detox program could feel like once it was over.
The first lecture of the weekend led by staff nutritionist Kimberly Gomer, highlighted the simplicity of the Pritikin Program: cut the salt, fat and sugar and exercise and plan your strategy ahead of time. Start each meal with a huge veggie salad (no oil) or some (no-salt) veggie soup. Any plant-based food is welcome. Pasta is a no-no as it doesn’t grow on trees. Potatoes, the staff nutritionist is quick to point out, are fine. In fact, six potatoes are equal in calories to a large dish of pasta. One small serving of protein a day is acceptable with seafood high on the list. Poultry should not be eaten more than once a week and red meat more than once a month.
The big “Aha!” came when she talked about how many diseases is the result of poor dietary choices and that most diseases are reversible – at any age. Almost every attendee was struggling with some health crisis or impending doom. I could hear the rumble in the room as attendees started realizing their diabetes, heart disease, or other chronic conditions are reversible and those reversals can be sustained.
Attending a short-term program like Pritikin breaks through apathy and increases motivation. However, a weekend is not long enough. But it helps.
Dr Danine Fruge, the resident medical doctor gave the most amazing lectures about women’s health and hormones. The big “Aha!” for most was hearing that plant-based foods regulate hormones and that more than 4 drinks a week is carcinogenic for women (7 drinks a week for men).
Eventually, we got around to a lecture about the biggest dietary evil in America – excess salt intake. Excess salt, beyond 1500 mg, becomes a breeding ground for inflammation, cholesterol plaque build-up, cardiovascular diseases, chronic kidney disease, and, if not checked, kidney failure.
The good news – just one week on a low salt diet can lower blood pressure. One Pritikin study of 268 subjects on blood pressure medicine revealed that three weeks on a Pritikin low-salt diet enabled 83% of them to go off their medication.
Sustaining that health benefit meant a radical change in dietary choices – including mindfully reading food labels for sodium and fat content and cutting out processed foods. Approximately 70% of the sodium in our diets comes from processed foods, including items that we don’t typically think of as salty, such as breads and cereals. Also, restaurant food typically contains more salt than dishes prepared at home.
Between lectures, I ventured into the spectacular workout room boasting the usual cardio machines and free weights. My assigned personal trainer introduced himself and helped me establish some goals and ensured that I knew how to properly use the equipment and left me to sweat in private. After awhile, the cardio machines filled up and a trainer turned up the music, jumped up and down, clapped his hands in time with the music and kicked our motivation up a notch. Working out is easy when you have a personal trainer and a cheerleader in the room.
Later, I attended the stretching class held in a beautiful room with a view of the golf course, a fountain’s water falling in the background easing our minds and calming our bodies, a prelude to my late afternoon massage in the Trump Doral’s lovely spa.
All Pritikin attendees have access to the spa, the sauna, a private pool, and massage treatment areas along with the full resort. After a relaxing massage, I toured the grounds. A long resort pool, located outside my amazing villa, curved beautifully around the road, hidden by lush landscaping, boasted cabanas and pool service. At the other end of the pool lay a family pool, complete with poolside bar service and water slides for kids. And across the street, the golf pro shop, bars and restaurants overlooked one of America’s most stunning golf courses.
There is no time for napping on a short weekend retreat. Dinner was about to be served. So I dressed in business casual and wandered in to a fine dining experience ala Pritikin – salmon (no butter or salt) was served one night along with several other choices of main entre. Veggies were prepared with a lovely presentation. Clearly, this was not designed as a boot-camp, but a luxury experience for those who expect a certain level of care as they nurture themselves into a healthy lifestyle.
I so wished that I could stay longer. A weekend is not enough. As in any health and weight loss program, two weeks would be the ideal minimum stay to start detoxing and begin feeling positive results. Three weeks would slow down the medical issues. Six weeks would be optimum to begin reversing obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes.
Participants can tap into a wealth of support from Pritikin once they return home. Meals can be directly ordered (if you don’t have a personal chef), recipes for those who do, the latest research and motivational direction can be read online, and diet and fitness trackers are available.
It takes time to break old habits and create new, sustainable diet and exercise habits. But staff assured me that if I followed the Pritikin diet for one month, I would feel amazing. I’m sure that if I stayed at the resort for a month I’d feel even more amazing. I might even take up golf.
For more information, see http://www.pritikin.com.
J “Kat” Loren is a Pacific NW-based journalist and author of more than a dozen books. She currently focuses on writing health, fitness, and travel articles. Her blog “Crazi Culture” is a popular read among those who like eclectic topics and travelogues about odd places and adventures. http://www.craziculture.com
As is common in the travel industry, the Pritikin Program sponsored this weekend program. The opinions of the writer, and the “Aha! moments” she experienced, are her own.
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