By Amely Greeven
How do you stay lean and healthy when your lifestyle involves dining out, travel and entertaining? Temptations are everywhere; good intentions get tested, and even the strongest-willed person can yo-yo between indulgence and repentance. New York registered dietitian Tanya Zuckerbrot, founder of the cult-favorite weight management and nutritional counseling program F-Factor, set out to solve the quandary by creating an immersive wellness experience for women at Southern California’s legendary retreat Golden Door. This haven of tranquility, modeled after a Japanese Edo-period estate, helps harried globetrotters knit themselves back together, mind, body and spirit. Any anxiety about deprivation melted away as my 30 fellow F-Factor initiates and I stepped through the golden portal and onto Golden Door’s floating walkway. This five-day getaway was not your average boot camp.
Amid the soothing environment of Zen-garden waterfalls and koi ponds, the irrepressibly motivating Zuckerbrot guided us on a journey designed to revamp our relationship with food. Step One: A reframe. Tanya says we live in an obesogenic environment where food is everywhere and portion sizes are distorted, yet we’re obsessing over the wrong things—counting calories and doing endless cardio. With awareness and skills, Tanya promises, we can healthfully “dine out, enjoy a drink or two, and make no food taboo.” All ears prick up. Step Two: A solid foundation of nutritional science. The mantra? “Carbs are not the problem. It’s eating carbs in excess of what your body can burn that is the problem.” Intake more carbs than the liver and muscles can store as glycogen, and your body converts the excess into fat. Using food journals, we eager students mastered the math of a daily carb threshold for both weight loss and healthy weight maintenance, while learning to cut oversize protein portions in half.
Step Three: Make fiber your new BFF. Consuming more of this nondigestible plant matter—a lot more, as it turns out—revs the metabolism, triggers satiety signals, slows down digestion to increase absorption of nutrients, builds a healthy microbiome, absorbs excess cholesterol and cancer-promoting estrogen (and yes, delivers liberatingly regular bowel movements). F-Factor’s secret weight-control weapon, the high-fiber GG crispbread cracker, was dutifully choked down in copious amounts. “This really works,” encouraged one attendee who had lost 25 pounds in six months “effortlessly” under Tanya’s supervision. Eureka! I felt full between meals and my problematic, all-day grazing habit was squelched.
Step Four: Strength-training sessions in Golden Door’s airy gym to build muscle mass, which increases storage capacity for carbs, boosts metabolism, abets restorative sleep, and is especially important for women as we age (we lose half a pound of muscle per year, unfairly contributing to “menopause middle”). Theory was put into practice at every meal, as we savored small portions of delectable protein and fresh vegetables from the estate’s organic garden. Tanya, an admitted foodie, insists that meals look, smell and taste fantastic because suffering to lose weight is not sustainable.
In the Golden Door’s nurturing continuum of care, from exhilarating pre-dawn hikes to private fencing classes (a “physical chess game,” according to my teacher, and a highlight of my stay) to in-room massages and pre-bedtime sound-healing sessions, F-Factor’s nutritional know-how helped us connect to a deeper commitment to self-care. By week’s end, our sensei had shared all the skills we needed to continue on this path, but it was up to each one of us to stay connected to our intentions. “Honor your health by setting your standards high—be exceptional, not average!” urged Tanya as she tied a green string on each wrist as a mindful-eating cue, then ushered the group to a farewell dinner under the stars at Golden Door’s enchanted labyrinth. I felt renewed and clear-minded, ready to navigate the complex, delightful, and totally exasperating modern food milieu waiting for me outside those shimmering golden portals. $5,250; ffactor.com