When David Leafe signed up for a week at a weight-loss retreat, he was thinking fluffy robes - not hard slog
MONDAY JANUARY 28
Odd call from Telegraph. Want writer to visit fat camp in Devon for week and - much polite hesitation before getting to point - thought of me.
What? Am I really fattest freelance in Britain? True, 15st 6lb is on heavy side as am 5 ft 8in tall, but surely am just naturally stocky? All right, maybe could lose pound or two. Nice to go home for Christmas without reminders from Mum that Grandad had first heart attack at my age (43).
Don’t hold out much hope, though. Over years, have abandoned Atkins (bout of food poisoning after scoffing family-size chicken in one sitting), flunked FPlan and wobbled off Weight Watchers. Main exercise now - sporadic jogging and swimming apart - pulling cork out of wine bottle.
Still, retreat results promising (people dropping average 8.2lb and 2in off waist in week). Very much at home in fluffy white towelling robe and good at sipping orange juice, so will give it a go.
This fitness business exhausting and not even out of London yet. Don’t have half of things on “to bring” list so rush around Primark for 10 cheap polo-shirts, three pairs tracksuit bottoms, 10 pairs sports socks, etc, then mad dash to Paddington station. Missed breakfast as usual so pant into M&S for lunch to take on train. En route to till with egg-and-bacon sandwich but pop back for chicken pasta salad too. With rushing round, must have burnt enough calories to justify it. Feel thinner already.
Three hours later, Tiverton Parkway station, picked up by minibus from retreat. Bumpy ride along country roads, then arrive at old farm now turned into holiday accommodation. Can’t see pool, but must be in huge shed over there.
Quick glance at room - clean, comfortable, en suite, but no mini-bar, and where is fluffy white robe? Squelch across farmyard for induction in dining room. No chairs, only big rubber gym balls. Squatting on them works core muscles, says health manager Julie Brealy. Yes, but will also crack skull if roll off.
The rules: no alcohol - gulp - or sneaky trips to village without retreat staff as chaperone.
Regime three meals a day, plus morning and afternoon snacks. Average 1,700 calories a day, but can ask for more if dizzy. Dizzy? Why? Soon find out. Average of six hours of exercise a day. What? When did agree to that?
Dinner (on chairs, at table, luxury) - grilled salmon with wild rice and curly kale, then fruit salad. Not bad. Settling down for nice relaxing night when all summoned to big shed seen on way in. Hope they are showing us spa pool and Jacuzzi. Greeted by Siân Cheedy, elfin Welsh women’s football player and exercise coach for week. Bad news: this is “exercise barn”. No pool, no Jacuzzi, and definitely no hoped-for secret cupboard of fluffy white robes.
Instead, huge red rubber mat on which will play team games. Now? Yes, now. Hour later, am done in. Was unexpected good fun but ready for bed and is only 9pm. Motivational signs pinned all over. “What Mind Can Conceive, Mind Can Achieve” etc. All mind can conceive right now is nice glass of red wine. If only.
Up at six, weighed and measured. My targets: lose half stone; 3in off waist and 2.5in off hips; cut body fat 5 per cent. Resolved to achieve all, so attack next part of assessment - three-mile walk/jog through Devon countryside - at stupidly fast pace. Have to stop after a mile, wheezing, panting. By end, feel sick.
Minibus going back passes through Bampton village. “Look, a chip shop,” says mournful voice. Faces press to window but back to farm for mid-morning snack of nuts and dried fruit. Before lunch, circuit training, then game in field, involving much dragging along of car tyres on rope.
Exhausted. Spoons on lunch table give rise to excited rumours of proper pudding but are for starter - miso soup. Tasty, but not cheesecake.
After lunch, abdominal workout, then aerobics. Dinner of mushroom risotto and fruit salad, then back to barn for Iron Arms upper-body workout. Evening ends with tiring team game, bit like netball.
Never done so much exercise in one day. Beyond exhaustion - nodding off in bed as write diary.
Woken by whistle at 5.40am. Dear God. Still stars in sky as enter exercise barn at six for Stretch ‘n’ Move - hour and half of circuit training. Breakfast, then seven-mile hike around local area finishes me off. After lunch, life coaching workshop. All very interesting, am sure, but would listen to lecture on astrophysics at this point as long as could sit down, even if perched on gym ball.
Despite constant stretching, all now stiff from exercise and hobbling about. Looks like old people’s home. Encouraged to think how hard we are exercising, from one (no effort) to 10 (very hard). Should be six to eight, but feel have spent past two days at about 20. Not sure how much more can take.
Tonight, line-dancing. Good laugh but never mind hoe-down; need lie-down. Another Cardio Blast and game of Crazy Cricket before bed. On way to barn for final session, see frogs mating on path. At least someone’s having fun.
Whistle of doom sounds again, 5.40am. Stretch ‘n’ Move hard and only kept going on five-mile hike by company of others. Camaraderie very strong.
This afternoon, thank God, chance to sit down. Inspiring session with nutritional consultant Julia FitzGerald, deviser of week’s menus. Can really see self sticking to her healthy recipes. Delicious. Lots of good advice. For me, big realisation that often confuse dehydration with hunger. Note to self: drink lots more water. Will help keep off wine too.
Blur of more exhausting exercise, then at 10pm find self alone in pantry, surrounded by food. Weirdly, am not tempted to swipe it. So far not really hungry or - astonishing - missing alcohol. Actually in pantry to use washing machine. Definitely sweatiest person in Devon. Leaving perspiration pools everywhere. Still, beats alcohol fumes.
Strange thing. Still hate early morning whistle but actually enjoy sweating to Burn Baby Burn and Oops Upside Your Head at 6am today. What’s happening to me? Stretch ‘n’ Move definitely easier. Couldn’t have managed this three days ago. Good feeling.
March along to Amy Winehouse on six-mile hike this morning. Cold sunshine, stunning countryside, feel euphoric. Maybe Amy should try retreat - can’t imagine drugs give bigger high. Mood dips lunchtime when realise still have hours of exertion to go. By evening, ready to drop. Kept going by Denise Rose, 37-year-old from Reading, overweight since childhood and twice the weight she should be. Harder for her than anyone but never stops. Spurs me on, too.
Draining nine-mile morning hike over Exmoor - practically licking tarmac as lean into horrifically steep final hill. Great sense of achievement at end.
Lunch followed by tai-chi next to lake at back of farm, accompanied by quacking ducks. Wonderful, but is only brief respite. Next, Bounce an Ounce - sounds fun but horribly testing abs-and-arms workout with gym balls.
Dinner, then repeat of games we did first night. Seems weeks ago. Afterwards, exercise workshop, helping us plan goals. Short-term aim? Survive week without dying. Also, might try to get through all the exercises in Stretch ‘n’ Move tomorrow without stopping once. Wonder if can.
Last full day. Great boost when get through final Stretch ‘n’ Move with no stops, just as hoped. Am getting fitter.
This morning, repeat of the walk/jog/run from second day. Two minutes slower for me but no stopping this time, so feel good. Emotional moment when Denise crosses line. Lots of cheers. Group bonding is big part of week.
This afternoon, repeat of tyre-pulling game, then obstacle course and game of rounders before last session of week - aerobics. A class too far. All too whacked to think, never mind move. Blank faces all round and aerobics teacher says tiredness has turned brains to spaghetti. Closest we have got to pasta all week.
FRIDAY FEBRUARY 8
Final weigh-in early morning. Anxious wait - with much visiting loo to get weight low as poss. Feel nervous as step on scales. Can’t believe it when needle stops just past 14st. Incredible. Have lost 1st 2lb in just six days, 3in off waist and 2in off hips. Body fat down 7 per cent. Really happy.
All others reached target or more. Delighted reporting of weights and measurements all around. Thrilled to hear Denise managed to shed a stone. Between us lost 72 inches off our waists and hips. Have also lost total of 10 stone - half a Pavarotti and surely a whole Gillian McKeith.
Sad goodbyes, promises to keep in touch, then back to station with packed lunch to keep us out of buffet and recipes for meals from week.
Was one of best experiences of life but now back in real world. Lured by neon signs on Paddington food shacks, but walk on by, filled with Moonie-like zeal for new life -healthy eating, Boxercise, cycling, running, and no more reminders about Grandad’s heart attack. Back home, straight on internet for ultra-healthy online shop. So far doing well, but big question is whether can keep it going. Shall see…