Shrinking With Atkins At Auberge Mendocino
Dieting can be a lonely business which is why the five-day Atkins Retreat at the Auberge Mendocino in Little River, California seemed so appealing. A fine way to jump start a weight loss program, in the company of others focused on similar goals of weight reduction and the pursuit of a healthier lifestyle. Even better, I d be doing all this good stuff in beautiful surroundings the towering redwood forests and magnificent coastline of northern California in an atmosphere of serene tranquility (no cell towers, hence no cell phones).
"The group dynamic here only reinforces commitment – it adds the element of competition and the possibility of shame. Who wants to be the only one who doesn’t lose weight?"
The Auberge is about a three-hour drive from San Francisco, some of it quite lovely, and as the miles slipped by along winding mountain roads, it was easy to get into the retreat mindset.
Upon my arrival late Sunday afternoon, I was checked into a spacious and inviting suite that included a nicely decorated bedroom dominated by a handsome poster bed, a spacious living room/kitchenette combination, and a made-for-relaxing balcony. On the desk, I found my welcome basket, which held a copy of The Atkins Essentials, along with Dr. Atkins Carbohydrate Gram Counter, The Atkins Journal (where I would record my personal journey on this retreat, and a box of keto-strips (for ketosis testing). And just in case I had a sudden yen for something rich and sweet, there was also a chocolate Atkins shake, which I popped into the mini-fridge. I was glad to see the television set with VCR in the living room (I wasn t ready to leave all my usual distractions behind) and pleased to discover that there was no telephone, which meant that I d be making only absolutely necessary calls on the inn s telephone in the main house.
ONE LAST CHEAT
Our small group (though the inn had a full contingent of regular guests, there were just three other people on this retreat) met late Sunday afternoon to get acquainted. Innkeeper Richard Grabow, a follower of the Atkins regimen for more than 20 years, explained that we d be served breakfast and lunch daily, as well as one dinner at the inn. For our final night, we d be eating out at the nearby Little River Inn, which, Richard explained, was particularly Atkins-friendly. The menu there offers a number of low carb dishes, and the servers refrain from tempting Retreat guests with bread or other carb-rich items. Since the retreat would officially start on Monday morning, Richard said we would be free to either indulge in a final cheat or get started in the low-carb way of eating. I cheated, but only a little, with delicious fish (I ate only half) and chips (I ate only two) and a salad at the Little River Inn. Feeling reasonably virtuous, I ended my evening with a bit of television followed by a deep and restful sleep in my king-size poster bed.
Monday morning, our Reserved table was beautifully set with fresh tulips, as well as the fixings for the decaf coffee that would be our beverage of choice. (The fixings consisted of heavy cream, which has zero carbs, Splenda, and whipped cream made with a bit of Splenda and a touch of vanilla.) Eliminating caffeine is a part of the Atkins regimen; however Richard advised that should any of us get headaches that are often associated with caffeine withdrawal, we could make the process gradual by starting out with half regular coffee and half decaf. Breakfast, as it would be for the entire retreat, was a treat for the eyes and the palate: an omelet made with spinach and asparagus (total carb count, 4). Chef Karina was clearly going to be our secret weapon in the battle against excess weight. This is going to be a healthy Atkins diet, Richard told us. We are not going to be eating pounds of bacon or anything like that. Since there would be no desserts during the Induction phase of our diet, we turned our decaf into a treat by adding dollops of whipped cream.
After breakfast, our orientation continued with Richard and Ryane Snow, who would be our healthy lifestyle guru for the next few days. They explained that during this induction phase of our diet (the initial two-week period when carbs are most severely restricted) we would be going into ketosis. This is when the body begins to burn fat. Ryane pointed out an added bonus:: When you re in ketosis, you burn almost twice as many calories when you exercise. Better and better. Exercise, Richard told us, is the key to success with Atkins, as with any diet. Drinking plenty of water is important, too, as is keeping regular. Since some people get bound up during Induction, Richard had a supply of fiber supplements as well as vitamins on hand. Though you will be getting plenty of vegetables, he said, fruits for this period are severely limited, so it is very important to take your vitamins daily and to maintain your potassium levels.
The group dynamic is very important, Richard continued. It takes away temptation and reinforces commitment. That s important to me personally as well.
Committed and psyched, we set out for our morning walk along the headlands with Ryane, who knows a lot about a lot of things, including Chinese medicine, acupressure, and various alternative therapies. He s a perfect advertisement for the healthy lifestyle he endorses. At 62, he s lean and fit, a passionate hiker, a surfer, a diver (he can go to 40 feet without equipment), a lover of Nature. He was eager to share his knowledge of Mendocino s natural wonders. Conditions were perfect for our walk along the gorgeous rugged coastline. The sun was out, the sky was blue, the temperature moderate. Though we walked for almost two hours, stopping occasionally to admire a plant or a sea bird (Ryane has an encyclopedic knowledge of these), I was neither bored nor tired. Good company and good conversation kept those saboteurs of good intention at bay.
We brought healthy appetites to lunch, which, though beautifully arranged, was a bit of a shock: celery stuffed with tuna salad and some sliced cucumbers. I thought it might be an appetizer but it wasn t. Yet oddly enough when I finished the tasty tuna, I wasn t hungry. At home I would have snacked, but here it was easy to hold out, even though the Inn kept an abundant supply of baked goods and fruit for regular guests. The group dynamic not only reinforces commitment; it adds the element of competition and the possibility of shame. Who wants to be the only person who doesn t lose weight?
A BIT OF PAMPERING
To complement my diet, I had planned to visit a couple of area spas. When I arrived at the Sweetwater Spa, I felt as if I d turned back the clock to Mendocino s hippie past. This was as retro as a spa could be, with a big redwood hot tub and an atmosphere of peace and love. In a very simple treatment room, my therapist, Victoria, gave me a truly splendid massage which blended the rocking motion that is typical of Trager work to re-position muscles, acupressure, deep tissue work, holding, and Esalen, which is similar to Swedish massage. The difference, as I understand it, is that Swedish is for a specific therapeutic benefit, while Esalen reflects an attitude about touching, energy awareness, and spiritual healing that goes beyond physical manipulation. Characterized by long sweeping strokes, Esalen massage can be seen as a kind of moving medi
during which the therapist intuitively senses the client s needs When I enthusiastically expressed my appreciation of her work, Victoria said that a therapist would generally give more when a client is appreciative, rather than watch the clock when he or she is treated like a servant. Before I left, Victoria advised me that the ultimate treatment would be a synchronized massage, with two therapists working at once. That sounded sublime, something to plan in the future.
THE END OF A PERFECT DAY
Back at the inn, a brief rest, and then dinner: a delicious salad with chevre (goat) cheese and pecans, followed by salmon cakes (no filler, just egg to bind them) and mashed cauliflower (not quite mashed potatoes, but yummy) and braised chard (7 carbs). I finished the day feeling quite satisfied on a bit more than 15 carbs.
How delightful to find that I had dropped half a pound. I proudly reported this during a breakfast of eggs with celery and jicama (3 carbs). My group members were similarly pleased with their weight loss. Ryane spoke to us again about maintaining a healthy body, as he instructed us in the breathing technique used in the ancient Chinese art of Qi Gong.
During another terrific two-hour walk, this time along the Mendocino headlands (with stops to look for seals and interesting plant life), I didn t feel as if I were exercising, just having fun. Lunch was hearty: Swedish meatballs and another succulent salad (3 carbs). The afternoon s treat was an art tour that began with a visit to the Mendocino Art Center, where artists in every medium from fabric to ceramics work and show. From there we moved on to some pleasant browsing (and a bit of shopping) in area galleries and boutiques.
As I had learned that Murder She Wrote had been filmed in Mendocino, I stopped to photograph the stately white house that had been Jessica Fletcher s home. It seems that picturesque Mendocino County has been attracting film crews since the days of the silent movies. More recently, films like The Majestic and The Fugitive were made here.
In a single afternoon, I spotted a bright red Ferrari and a rusty old Ford van held together with clothesline and bearing a Free Tibet bumper sticker and that, I thought, was a good clue to what Mendocino is like today.
Since I wasn t very hungry, I accepted Richard s invitation to a simple supper of roll-ups: ham and cheese and roast beef over asparagus spears (about 4 carbs) and a movie. The local theater was showing Troy, and though it was redolent with the aroma of popcorn, I was still able to focus on Brad Pitt and the other principals in the Trojan War.
Disappointment. No weight loss. That s how diets go. Others reported better luck as we tucked into a dish of eggs baked with spinach and sausage (4 carbs). Today s walk in Russian Gulch State Park was a killer, almost five miles, much of it (steeply) uphill. I hadn t asked my body to do anything like this for years. To my great surprise (and to Ryane s, I think), I reached the dramatic waterfall that was to be our reward and easily made the walk back. I thought I d be ravenous, but I finished only about half my lunch of chicken salad over lettuce leaves with sliced cucumbers (3 carbs). Ryane gave us another Qi Gong lesson, demonstrating how to generate chi and maintain it.
I was ready for more pampering, at the Third Court Salon & Day Spa at the Little River Inn. Though small, this spa offers a fairly full menu of treatments, as well as hair and nail services. I enjoyed yet another excellent massage, followed by a meticulous facial that included steam, extractions, masks and serums. Given the demand for services generated by the Atkins retreats, owner Lynn Stampfl plans to add more treatment rooms, more pedicure chairs, a sauna, steam shower, and a wet room with Vichy shower.
Rested and relaxed, I adjourned to the inn for a salsa dancing lesson with Georgia Ann, who calls herself a poster girl for Atkins. Georgia Ann lost over 70 pounds some seven years ago and has managed to keep it off. She credits dancing with keeping her trim. I can t say there were any natural born dancers among us, but as we moved to the Latin beat, I could believe that this could be a good way to limber up and to burn calories.
Well all right, one pound down. I had earned the picture-perfect baked ham cups filled with poached eggs and spinach and lightly touched with melted Parmesan cheese. Now we had our routine down pat. Another five mile walk; this one a breeze along the fairly level historic Haul Road. Our pace was brisk we had, after all, planned a shopping trip before lunch.
One of the shops in nearby Fort Bragg was having a sale, and as when plunged into racks of reduced clothing, I imagined visions of smaller sizes dancing in our heads. I think we could all picture ourselves in smaller sizes.
Back at the Inn, Karina demonstrated how to make the cauliflower cream soup that would, with a side salad, be our lunch. As she browned the cauliflower in olive oil and butter, the kitchen was filled with a tantalizing fragrance. Who knew healthy food could be so good? The cauliflower was then dropped into chicken broth (left over from the chicken salad we had eaten earlier in the week), cooked until tender, then pureed and garnished (total lunch carbs, 3 ).
There was more to our time in Mendocino: talks about healthy living and products that were available to help us continue our weight loss; a demonstration by Ryane on the art of self-massage; serene moments of just smelling the roses. Dressed up and content, we assembled at the Little River Inn for our farewell dinner. We had a choice of salads as well as a choice of entrees. I happily tucked into my Caesar salad (no croutons) and my expertly prepared New York steak accompanied by well-prepared veggies.
After yet another of Karina s fine egg dishes and a final session with Ryane to reinforce our newly acquired anti-stress relaxation measures, it was time to pack up, to say good-bye to our partners in Atkins. As Karina had given us advice on how to make our diet food healthy and appealing, and as Ryane had taught us we could all do a little bit more by way of exercise, I was confident that I could keep up the good work I d started in Mendocino.
IF YOU GO
The Atkins Retreats will resume in September. The price for the 5-day retreat (7 day retreats are also available) is $775 per person, double occupancy, $922, single.
(Formerly Rachel s Inn)