For more than two decades, I’d driven by Hilton Head Health on my visits to the South Carolina barrier island and wondered if it was for me. It was once known primarily as an extended-stay weight loss resort, but several friends had told me it had undergone major changes. With more than a few pounds to drop and in need of a break from my less-than-healthy lifestyle, I had to find out for myself.
It was apparent walking in the door one Sunday afternoon that Hilton Head Health has transformed itself into an island wellness retreat where weight loss is just one component. With coastal décor and a welcoming reception desk and lounge area conducive to camaraderie and helpful consultations, it felt more like an upscale island resort than a torture chamber for shedding pounds.
For my four-day self-proclaimed “reset” stay, I opted for what’s called the “LivingWell” package on the resort’s list of wellness options. I was provided access to more than 50 fitness activities and exercise classes with varying levels of difficulty throughout the day, ranging from yoga and strength training to water aerobics and morning walks on the beach.
I’d always wanted to try water aerobics but had been too self-conscious to try one of the classes at my local Y because I knew half the people in the class. I loved the low-impact nature of the workout and how it put less stress on my lower back and beer belly. I averaged two pool workouts a day during my stay and left with a resolve to try the offerings at the Y when I returned home.
The program also included an educational component, offering classes on nutrition, motivation and healthy cooking. For an additional fee I took a cooking class that stressed the importance of not adding calories that didn’t add flavor. My wife and I frequently use the simple salmon recipes I learned.
One of the things I loved about my stay was the ability to pick and choose as many — or few — fitness and education offerings as I wanted to pursue. There was no pressure and my days were completely my own, which provided immediate “reset” benefits and the motivation and tools to pursue more control of my schedule and wellness once I left the resort.
Whether you’re on the wellness track or the weight loss track, food is a primary focus at Hilton Head Health. True restaurant serves fresh regional fare in moderate portions, although I admit to ordering two entrees on occasion without guilt due to the lower calories. Options include eggs Benedict, a colorful beet salad and shrimp and grits. A corner of the restaurant features an array of healthy snacks available throughout the day, including fresh fruits and vegetables. Warning: The freeze-dried Crispy Fruit snacks are addicting.
As an added bonus, Indigo Spa opened in 2015. Available at an additional expense, many of the treatments offer specific health goals, like the 110-minute Naturally Slimming Ritual, which includes a vigorous exfoliation for cellulite and varicose vein reduction, a lymphatic mask to reduce water tension and increase lymph flow, a scalp and face acupressure massage, and, finally, a relaxing full body massage — during which I promptly fell asleep.
Four days was just what I needed to help get me back on a healthy track, but packages are available for as long as a week, a month or longer. Packages specifically targeting weight loss are still available, too. Airport transportation from Savannah or Hilton Head is included, as is shared accommodations with private bedrooms and bathrooms in two- and three-bedroom villas. Private accommodations are available for an additional charge.
Of her first visit, Dunwoody resident Liz Gottung said, “I love Atlanta, but find it very difficult to unplug — just to be quiet and peaceful — let alone mindful and health-focused. I found (Hilton Head Health) to be everything I had hoped for, and more.” She’s already planning a return visit with her two sisters.
Count me in, too.
IF YOU GO
Hilton Head Health. 14 Valencia Road, Hilton Head Island, S.C. 866-880-7218, www.hiltonheadhealth.com.
OTHER WELLNESS RETREATS
Skyterra Wellness Retreat. Featuring multiple programs, varied lodging and farm-to-table, locally sourced cuisine. Just 20 or so guests permitted at a time. Lake Toxaway, N.C. 888-282-1657, www.skyterrawellness.com.
The Art of Living Retreat Center. Founded by spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, this retreat offers various programs, guided meditation, yoga, nature walks and treatments in the expanded Ayurveda-focused Shakara Spa. 639 Whispering Hills, Boone, N.C. 800-392-6870, www.artoflivingretreatcenter.org.
Pritikin Longevity Center + Spa. More than 100,000 people have gone to Pritikin over the years for healthy living education, activities, dining, spa treatments and more. 8755 NW 36th St., Miami. 888-254-1462, http://www.pritikin.com.