America's Healthiest Spas: Four Great Weight-Loss Spas

Forget the typical travel binge—these fitness spas will ensure you come home from your trip in better shape than you left.

By Diane Vadino

We’ve blamed countless vacations for unexpected weight gain: too many plates of pasta in Rome, too many nights of tapas in Madrid. Our dream scenario would be to return from a fabulous trip without having gained a dress size – or even better, having lost one. Fitness vacations provide that chance, a rare opportunity both to experience a new place … and to come back with a markedly improved outlook on life and, hopefully, some fabulously fitting jeans.

Today’s full-service fitness retreats aren’t like the fat camps of old: These spas offer deluxe accommodations, some in a spiritual atmosphere. And while they’re great places to take a vacation, they’re also the perfect environments to spark a top-to-bottom extreme makeover.

The Ashram (, in Southern California’s Santa Monica Mountains, promises “a commitment of a week … a change of a lifetime. With Oprah Winfrey, Ashley Judd and Cindy Crawford all touted as past participants, it has the celebrity clientele to suggest that there’s truth behind the marketing.

Despite the $4,000 price tag for a weeklong stay, the Ashram is no cushy, ultra-luxe spa. Full days begin at 6 a.m. and include three hours of yoga and self-improvement seminars in the evening — as well as long hikes, weight training and meditation sessions during the day. The Ashram suggests setting your weight-loss goals at around 10 pounds; carefully monitored diets featuring the locally produced, all-vegetarian organic food created by the Ashram’s kitchen make this target much easier to achieve.

The Maya Tulum resort ( is perfectly situated on Mexico’s gorgeous, low-key Riviera Maya, about an hour south — and light-years away, atmospherically — from the nightlife hubbub of Cancun. Maya Tulum runs wellness programs throughout the year with faculty imported from around the U.S. With the Six Perfections Retreat, which focuses on the titular ideas of generosity, kindness, patience, joy, stillness and wisdom, you’ll spend three hours doing yoga in the morning. Then, you’ll have your afternoons free to explore the wildlife of the nearby Sian Ka’an reserve, swim in the Caribbean, snorkel in nearby coral reefs or even seek out the famous Mayan ruins in Tulum.

The Hilton Head Health Institute ( wants to be clear: It’s not a weight-loss boot camp. Unlike the institute, boot camps do not typically combine weight-loss programs with equally intensive spa amenities, such as deep tissue or hot stone massages. The institute’s allegiance to comfort also extends to its menus. Don’t expect daily portions of organic gruel; the meals emphasize gourmet preparations of low-carb, low-fat and lean-protein dishes that include plenty of vegetables and fruit.

This is a good place to focus on combating serious medical issues, as various programs concentrate on efforts to quit smoking, manage stress or prevent diabetes. Educational sessions are also a key feature, with a wide range of classes, including those discussing nutrition, cancer prevention and controlling cravings.

Sonki Hong, a West Point graduate and five-time world champion of the Strend Fitness Challenge, directs the programs at Sonki Fitness ( in both Southern California and Hawaii. The Hawaii boot camp, in late April, is only one week long but packs an incredible number of workouts into such a brief period. It also offers a supportive environment, emphasizing that “unlike other boot camps there is no yelling or screaming.” Even better, the Hawaii location allows for spectacular — and aerobic-intensive — field trips, such as hiking, snosnorkeling and kayaking, plus opportunities for nights out shopping, clubbing and singing karaoke.

Though many of the programs at Camp La Jolla ( cater to children up to age 18, this California weight-loss mecca also offers several sessions devoted exclusively to adult clients: one for women 19-29, and another for “mature adults” 30 and up. Both adult programs feature four or more fitness classes per day and make use of the top-notch facilities at the neighboring University of California at San Diego, where activities include racquetball, Pilates and strength training.

The camp prides itself on its slow-and-steady approach the briefest adult program is three weeks, while the longest is a rather epic nine — with plenty of support post-program in the form off monthly newsletters, fitness DVDs and access to a 24-hour “trim line” for extra motivation.

Overwhelmed, overworked, overstressed women looking for an opportunity to rethink their fitness choices may want to check out Green Mountain at Fox Run (, a weight-loss program in pretty Ludlow, Vt. The female-only environment promises a chance to discuss issues, such as emotional eating and body image, that specifically affect women who grapple with weight difficulties while attending to their families and time-consuming professional commitments. Eating strategies are taught alongside weight-training techniques, and daily hikes make use of the property’s sprawling 26-acre grounds.

The New Life Hiking Spa also makes fabulous use of its Vermont location, sending program participants on hikes up nearby peaks and along the Appalachian and Long trails. This weight-loss spa includes plenty of time in the afternoon and evening for spa treatments such as facials and massages, plus informational sessions on everything from cooking techniques to the geology of the surrounding area. While hiking is the primary fitness focus here, other workouts are offered, too, with a daily morning stretching session as well as yoga and strength training. Of particular note: Unlike some other weight-loss spas, this retreat offers an opportunity for a quick trip, as brief as a two- to four-day “mini vacation” for the seriously time-crunched.

For a somewhat different take on the weight-loss experience, check out the Raj (, a Maharishi Ayurveda health spa in Fairfield, Iowa. Practitioners of Ayurveda, a 5,000-year-old medical tradition practiced chiefly in India, take a holistic approach to weight loss, analyzing the body for exposure to toxins and for general imbalances, any of which can result not just in weight gain but in a host of other medical ailments, from heart disease to depression to allergies.

The Maharishi Rejuvenation Therapy program lasts from five to 21 days and provides access to Ayurveda therapists and treatments, plus educational sessions on the Ayurvedic lifestyle and eating programs. Their highly lauded anti-aging program includes special anti-aging treatments, yoga sessions and cooking classes, all of which are intended to ensure that you’ll be able to make use of your newfound knowledge once you’ve returned home — with any luck, one size smaller.

Diane Vadino writes about travel, art and design from her base in Brooklyn. Her debut novel,”Smart Girls Like Me,” was published in October 2007.