For me, exercising means carrying heavy shopping bags back to my flat or bounding down the street to catch my morning train – and along with monster evening meal portions, it’s taken its toll on my waistline. While I’m not overweight, I’m certainly not in-shape either, so when I was invited to try out a three-night FitFarms retreat as a pre-wedding weight loss programme, I jumped at the chance. Branded as the UK’s number one weight loss holiday, their website promises great results at the weigh-in and beyond, so after using all my willpower to stop myself from putting a nine-pack of Twixes in my suitcase, I’m off to the Peak District to overhaul my fitness phobia.
Envisioning bunk beds and cold hostel-style corridors, I was delighted to find that the accommodation was actually a huddle of pretty stone cottages with modern en-suite rooms and comfy beds (much needed to rest the muscles after a hard day’s work-out). Each of the cottages are shared by about four other FitFarmers (you can choose between a twin room or single), and hanging out in the living room together sipping herbal tea was the perfect respite during breaks from the timetabled activities.
After completing our first aerobic workout and a getting-to-know-you session, we settled down for dinner. Cries of ‘is this a starter?’ echoed around the room: alas, no, it seems portion control will be a bit of a theme for the next few days.
I was on the ladies-only course where the fitness level ranged from those who struggle with mobility to yummy mummies who just wanted to drop a few pounds, but despite the big range in ability, the atmosphere here is completely non-judgemental from the start. After dinner, we were all asked to share with the group our reasons for signing-up to the programme – giving everyone an understanding of the different motivations for wanting to kick-start new health habits. Hearing what’s pushing people to lose the pounds sets everyone up in support mode, keen to cheer-on and motivate each other during the challenging days ahead.
A holistic approach
The popularity of FitFarms comes down to its non-bootcamp style… Forget memories of scary school PE lessons or visions of army-style shouting as you do 20 press-ups face-down in mud, this is a non-competitive environment for people who want to get into healthy living (although instant weight loss is a happy bonus). A host of staff are ready to retrain you, from super-motivating activity instructors to health food chefs, as well as a nutritionist and sports therapist. The instructors are all highly trained in a wide range of disciplines, and you’re allocated a personal mentor to make sure you get tailored advice.
With locations in Somerset, Dorset and Derby, FitFarms use stunning natural surroundings to help introduce people to different kinds of activities. Walking through beautiful Derbyshire countryside on a three-mile hike and jogging on a quiet, breezy afternoon was exactly the boost I needed to get back into exercise.
However, that average loss of 6% body fat decreases on seven-night courses doesn’t occur by skipping around a maypole. To get the best results you obviously have to push yourself, and it’s something of a shock to the system. Classes include boxersize, aqua aerobics, zumba, resistance workouts, relaxation techniques like tai chi and yoga, circuits and endurance activities like walking and bike riding.
Then, there’s the diet; going cold turkey on my usually massive sugar and caffeine intake made me feel a bit sick by day two, and small portions of their (albeit delicious and super fresh) meals made me wobbly by day three. The hardest part, though, was waking up so stiff I had to lower myself slowly onto the toilet like an 80-year-old, and then still do a day’s exercise through the pain.
However, even after half a day of exersize, you feel fitter, more flexible and more confident in what your body can do. Obviously, everyone has classes they are great at, and classes they wish they could skip, but if you’re introduced to a wide range of activities, you might just discover one you enjoy – and that’s the secret to keeping it up.
So did I lose weight? Well, yes! Despite only signing up for a three-night course (their shortest stint available), I trimmed one-and-a-half inches off my waist, one inch off the hips and lost two pounds in weight. For someone of my mass who simply wanted to get fitter and improve muscle tone, I actually wasn’t predicted to lose any weight, so it’s a result I was over-the-moon with. However, while I went in with a normal body fat percentage, I left with one that was slightly underweight and was told to up my portions once I got home (no problem there, then!). Perhaps the tiny meals and an intensive exercise regime means the course is better suited to brides who want to shed some pounds, rather than just increase their fitness levels.
When it comes to food, I used to have all the self-discipline of a toddler in a pick ‘n’ mix shop, so it was with cautious elation that I realised my eating habits had been totally reformed. I discovered the ‘food anger’ I was getting (my term for snapping when over-hungry) and 3pm concentration slumps were all down to my unbalanced diet. Working with the nutritionist meant I learned eating habits that were easy to follow, and now, I try to have some protein with every meal and have completely cut out refined sugar. I’m also upping my fitness game by doing some toning techniques I learned at FitFarms in front of the telly and going jogging.
If your wedding is coming up and you want to look as trim as possible then this is a perfect place to start. My FitFarms room mate was a gorgeous bride-to-be who, at the four-weeks-to-go point, wanted to make sure she felt totally confident in her strapless gown. After shedding two inches off her waist over a long weekend, her only regret was that she didn’t sign up for a longer course.
My advice is to leave your inhibitions at the door and get stuck in to every activity. Although the programme is hard, it’s designed with the knowledge that you can actually do it, so push yourself a little and you’ll be so glad you did come the final weigh-in. So what if I left walking like John Wayne, when I have the know-how to keep myself in shape for the rest of my life?
Find out more
A three-night course costs £599 for a shared room and £799 for a single. Four-night and seven-night courses are available and you can choose from single sex, mixed or parent/youth courses. For more information and to book, visit fitfarms.co.uk