I spent a week at a spa and gained weight! What the **** is going on?

Imagine staying at a beautiful health spa, hiking and exercising daily, and eating the carefully crafted cuisine you trust is healthy in every way. You step on the scale mid-week, or maybe even worse, weigh in when returning home to find the needle on the scale is now registering a higher number. That blissful spa glow has evaporated and something more like ‘what the…’  is on your lips. Wonder what’s going on? You’re not alone.  It’s a conversation I’ve had many times over the years with guests who are frustrated with weight loss, worried that the spa is overfeeding them and making them gain weight. ‘I’m being served too much food’, ‘the calorie counts are wrong’, and ‘why are you serving dessert’ are frequent comments I hear, but I’m here to tell you that self-sabotage and metabolic adaptations are much more likely to be responsible for a lack of weight loss or even weight gain associated with a spa stay.

First, let’s discuss metabolic adaptations. When you book a stay at a fitness resort, you expect to improve your fitness and lose weight. But your current body composition and fitness level are a big factor affecting how much weight you will lose and how much your fitness will improve—especially in a finite amount of time like a spa vacation. Metabolic adaptations need to occur to create the improvements you want to achieve.  For example, to tone up and get stronger or to improve your endurance, your muscles need to make more muscles cells—this is called an adaptation. When muscles undergo this adaptation, the process can increase your weight. This is because muscles cells weigh twice as much as fat cells. The good news is that muscles cells burn seven times more calories than fat cells and when you have enough muscle cells in your body, you will more easily lose weight. While it’s encouraging to move toward your desired weight, it’s often more important to change your body composition by making more muscle.

Body composition quite literally is what your body is composed of and describes how much muscle, bone and fat makes up your body. Changes in body composition occur as you become stronger, have more endurance and are more mobile. In general, to be stronger means you have developed more muscle fibers. Muscle fibers are created through a process that starts with micro tears in our muscles that are the result of exercise. These tears get repaired making additional muscle fibers and yielding a stronger, sometimes bigger muscle.  Having more muscle on your body usually means you are becoming leaner and fat is being burned while this metabolic adaptation is occurring. At times you can create muscle faster than you mobilize or lose fat. So, if you arrive at the spa with a high percentage of body fat, it may take a week or two before you realize weight loss. But don’t be discouraged, always take being leaner over weighing less! Scales never tell the entire story. If you are hiking 3 or more miles a day and taking more fitness classes and stretching every day during your spa getaway, you can rest assured, that your body will take care of making you leaner.

But let’s be sure you are not sabotaging the process. Destination spas well understand that they won’t be in business for long if the food they serve is not healthy, organic, plant centric and tasty. However, people vacation at spas for many reasons. Some to lose weight, some to recuperate and maybe even gain weight after surgery or illness, many to de-stress, learn new things, have fun, take an electronic break or just get pampered. But if weight loss is your goal, set a reasonable goal! Gone are the days of starvation to lose 10 pounds in a week. Research tells us this isn’t a healthy approach and may even cause damage to those with fatty liver, undiagnosed health conditions and certainly doesn’t create reproducible habits that create lifelong wellness. Healthy, sustainable weight loss during a spa stay is in the ball park of 2-5 pounds in a week. The best spas implement this research and hand pick experts to help teach the life skills needed to create lasting wellness, like Rancho La Puerta.

So where can you go wrong and gain weight? There are roughly 3 ways you can sabotage your weight loss goals at any destination spa.

#1 Deviating from the carefully crafted menu. Additions of healthy but calorically dense foods can add calories, in excess of your body’s needs. Are you getting extra nut butter, choosing multiple mini muffins or homemade tortillas when you should only have one, asking your server for an extra helping, or taking food back to your room for a late night snack? If so, you might be a saboteur.

#2 Over indulging in the pretty little extras. Are you eating more than one serving of the provided snacks or smoothies, are you drinking more than 6 ounces of wine at the wine bar, or having extra popcorn for the evening movie? While one of these indulgences might not make a dent in weight loss, if you double down on wine, or have a cup of guacamole and 20 chips, or 2 or 3 complementary smoothies on repeated days, you might be a saboteur.

#3 Getting creative. Leaving the property to sample local food and drink, buying sweet souvenirs you promptly eat, booking every hands-on cooking class where you eat the creations, noshing on chocolate or other smuggled-in snacks are all good examples of creating an elusive target of calorie consumption. Maybe down really, deep you’ve only come for the food? If so, you might be a saboteur!

To lose weight on your next spa excursion, tap into the science and stay on track. Eating whole unprocessed foods eliminates a lot of the calorie overload created by processed food consumption. However, there is still the principle that if you eat more food than your body can use, you will gain weight. It’s the old battle of calories in versus calories out. That still matters, even at a health spa.