Think Celebrity Fit Club but without the whinging self-serving of celebrity participants. That is NuBeginnings, a new style weight-loss and wellness retreat in Devon, that is more about relaxation, nurturing and retraining than carrot juice, crying and self-flagellation.
Based in a beautiful, tranquil old house in Ilfracombe, NuBeginning describes itself as “boutique boot-camp”.Here, in real peace and quiet, fantasies about a healthy mind and body can start to be realised. Each week around six strangers arrive to eat healthily and exercise under the watchful eyes of NuBeginnings owner Victoria and her partner Frank, your caring and congenial hosts, guardians and moppers of brow, sweat and tears. Both have total empathy with their charges — they are on the NuBeginnings programme themselves. They are making steady progress, and are passionate about encouraging and inspiring their guests.
No-nonsense fitness instructor Donna leads the all-important exercise programme; the house is fully equipped with a gym and exercise studio, and in sunny weather her circuit sessions take place outside, atop a hill. As Donna measures my blood pressure, she asks how often I exercise. I admit to an average of once a week if I am lucky. She raises an eyebrow and I spy my blood pressure counter rising too. Here, exercise is more of an hourly than a weekly event, but Donna assures me that it is done in an enjoyable way in which everybody can join in. That’s handy, I think, as I struggle up and down a step during my fitness test, wheezing like an asthmatic walrus.
It is not all circuit training; you will find yourself in a bellydancing class at 7.45am at the start of your weight loss week. It’s a chance to shake your body before you shape it up. Classes are held in a gym with spectacular views of the Ilfracombe hills, a cheering sight and one less disturbing than my shoddy shimmies. All exercise is done as a group and the atmosphere is generally fun and supportive. Many guests have not exercised for years, so if you are more used to the sofa than spinning classes, do not be afraid. Yoga and pilates also feature; indeed, you sample so many activities, you are bound to find something you like enough to do at home. And that is exactly the point.
The exercise programme features something novel for urbanites: hikes. Come rain or shine you hike — poles and rucksacks provided. All you need are good hiking boots and faith in your own abilities and your hiking guide. Our guide, Bryan, was somewhat bemused by my JP strop at the start of our rainy walk: “I am slipping and I am not doing this!” He gamely holds my hand and coaxes me up a steep hill known as the Torrs Walk. What Bryan does not know is that I get myself through the difficult bits by thinking about which Jimmy Choos to buy once I’ve survived the outdoors. I do however feel a great sense of achievement when we finish, by which time we have all eased into the countryside terrain and enjoyed Bryan’s tale of a sheep and dog who once, following a short chase, fell off the side of the hill we have just climbed. Heart-warmingly, both survived; the dog with nothing but a sprained paw and the lamb well tenderised.
Vitally, a holistic approach is applied to weight loss here; neuro linguistic p programming and hypnotherapy sessions, along with nutrition talks and cookery demonstrations, help you to make real life changes. Victoria begins our hypnotherapy session by asking about my diet. After three minutes, she points out that I have mentioned bread six times. We decide that she will work on my cravings for bread, and as she asks me to breathe deeply, I wonder if it is goodbye forever to challah. There is certainly none of that here. I nearly cry when served my first breakfast — a healthy (read small) portion of porridge with banana, instead of my beloved Coco Pops, but it quickly becomes clear that the organic food is fresh, cleverly put together and packed full of balanced nutrients. You don’t have to think about what to eat; you just eat the meals, sip water and herbal tea in the luxurious dining room and concentrate on being looked after. Vegetarian options are available and dishes such as sea bass on fennel with Thai broth and butternut squash, and curried chickpea soup show that healthy food can be tasty and interesting.
After my time at the retreat, I felt healthier and more peaceful. Many guests get their weight loss journey off to a good start here, leaving with the tools and knowledge to create a slimmer, healthier life. Does it work permanently? That is up to you.