The price of thin: Weighing in on the Biggest Loser Resort at Fitness Ridge

The modest, unassuming buildings grouped together near Snow Canyon State Park in Utah, are not what most people imagine when they hear "#1 Most Popular Resort in America," but that's what a partnership with one of the most watched shows on TV can do for a place. However, what Biggest Loser Resort at Fitness Ridge lacks in first impressions, it makes up for in its mission.

Billed as a "compassionate" boot camp and blessed with a supersized endorsement from Biggest Loser, the little-resort-that-could offers viewers the chance to succeed at their own challenges. No cameras, team colors or $250,000 in prize money, but no one can vote you out either.

It's for those of us who have sat on the couch and wondered what it would be like to work with Jillian and Bob, face calculated temptations, physical challenges, make friends, er, alliances, and get weighed on a giant digital scale on national TV, okay, maybe not that last part. I am also pretty sure they don't force you to wear unflattering bike shorts and sport bra combos or go shirtless on national TV, so it's already less painful than the NBC version.



Danica Lo, editor of Racked.com and author of the book, How Not to Look Fat, visited the resort in Ivins, UT and spoke to WalletPop about her experience.

The self-described, New York City-girl who admits to a deficit of self-control and an aversion to exercise wrote in an article for the New York Post, "Guests will not be disappointed." Lo, herself, dropped eight pounds, 5% body fat and two inches from her waist in one week. When asked if the trainers yell like on TV, she laughed, "No, they were actually really nice. I never thought I would be the kind of person who would exercise six-hours a day without somebody yelling at me," said Lo, "but they didn't." However, when Lo failed to appear at a scheduled workout, trainers took notice. "They will just come ask where you are ... they'll do it really nicely, but they will come looking for you."

The daily schedule starts at 6 a.m. with a class or gym time, then breakfast, a hike, water aerobics, and lunch, followed by an hour of nutrition/cooking information, kick boxing, circuit training, stretching and dinner. After dinner, guests attend another hour of wellness education, such as "intuitive eating." Lo advises, "Take full advantage of the educational component." She still references the binder of information she received at the resort.

In addition to fitness and wellness, guests also learn how to get by on 1,200 calories a day, no caffeine, no alcohol. Lo said long term or repeat guests will sometimes sneak a coffee maker into their room, but there is no "contraband" permitted in public places. She remembers guest services manager, Denae Bunnell welcoming her group saying, "I will confiscate popcorn." Eeek!

Bunnell also told the newbies she once, "found a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup wrapper wedged between a set of free weights; the campus was put on lock down. Every room was searched." Lo thinks the maids squeal.

Despite the limits, Lo said she never felt hungry and she liked the food. That has something to do with the 5-star cooking. Executive chef, Cameron Payne, trained at Le Cordon Bleu, worked for Wolfgang Puck and was, most recently, billionaire, Steve Wynn's personal chef. Now, we're talking. Lo said during a nutrition lesson, one guest asked why everyone didn't feel famished. The answer: a carefully planned ratio of fat to protein.

Chef Payne also provides instructional information for the guests and Lo said he is careful to research common grocery stores such as Wal-Mart and other chains for healthy, organic ingredients that will be available for students upon their return home. The resort has compiled some of his recipes into a cookbook available for guests.

So what price, transformation? Currently, private accommodations, meaning a room all to your-very-own-self start at $1,995 for one week, or $7,200 (which works out to $1,800 per week) for four weeks. Double occupancy rooms start at $1,595 for one week, or $5,600 (equal to $1,400 per week) for four weeks. The longer you stay, the less you pay. The resort Website notes, "weeks do not have to be consecutive, you can purchase weeks at the multi-week rate and spread them out over time."

A stretch on your wallet? Lo, and countless commentators on Websites such as Spafinder.com, and Biggestloserresort.com, think it's worth every penny. Lo points out, what breaks down to essentially $226 per day includes the cost of a room, meals, nutrition classes and a personal trainer.

Still, before you go back to doing sit-ups alone on the floor of your room, I was thinking we should also compare the cost of liposuction and weight loss surgery.

According to the Consumer Guide to Plastic Surgery, liposuction "is one of the most difficult procedures for estimating cost." Okay, so let's talk ballpark. The cost of lipo is assessed in three parts: surgeon fees, anesthesia fees and facility fees which vary geographically. The consumer guide reports that, "The average cost to have liposuction performed in one area of the body is up to $4,000, in three areas is $6,000 and in five areas is $8,000 to $11,000. The cost is higher for larger body areas. For example, the average cost for the abdomen is $4,000 to $8,000, but the outer thigh is half as much." So basically, the slimming of one outer thigh is equivalent to one week at the resort in your own room with extras like spa and counseling services. I don't know about you, but my outer thigh is only the tip of the iceberg.

Statistics from the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (2007) reported costs on a national average for procedures such as gynecomastia (male breast reduction), $3,455, upper arm lift $3,864, lower body lift $8,043 and abdominoplasty (tummy tuck) $5,350. No five star chef included.

Going another route, the Consumer Guide for Bariatric Surgery puts the average cost of the complex gastric bypass procedure at $18,000 to $35,000, while the average cost for adjustable gastric banding with Lap-Band ranges from $17,000 to $30,000. The consumer guide also cautions, that post-procedure costs for this type of surgery will also incur, "additional fees for dietary plans, fitness regimen, behavioral modification, nutritional supplementation and body contouring surgeries to remove excess skin, lift sagging body areas and improve loose muscles or treat fat deposits." That's a lot of resort time.

Personally, this chicken gets a little queasy at the thought of knives and operating rooms. Commentator GoTerps08 wrote on Spafinder.com she felt the same way arriving at the Biggest Loser Resort, "I was very afraid walking through the doors but had the experience of a lifetime, made friends I will keep forever, did things I thought impossible and lost over 50 pounds in my time at adult summer camp."

Similarly, reviewer, Indianbride, wrote on Spafinder.com, "It's hard to imagine someone more nervous about arriving at this place than I was -- I had already done all the reading I could and spoken with more than one person at (Fitness Ridge) but none of that allayed my fears that I would be the most out of shape person there and that my six weeks would be spent in pain and hunger. Nothing could be further from the truth ... Leaving was bittersweet, but I accomplished what I came for, a jump start on a better life (20 pounds and many inches lost!)."

Beyond the scale and the measuring tape, however, the resort puts a premium on strength and stamina -- something no surgery can provide. Lo said that the trainers determine improvement in these areas utilizing the resort's signature, "Stop Sign Hike," a 4.9 mile uphill, 4.9 mile downhill trek that guests do on the first day of the week, and the last day. Lo said veterans aim to make it to the top in an hour, she got there in 1 hour, 16 minutes, "But to be honest," said Lo, "after the first half hour, I pretty much wanted to die ...The only thing that kept me going was being surrounded by dozens of people who were all doing exactly the same thing, feeling exactly the same way (crappy). Partly motivated by pride, partly by peer pressure, three hours and nine mile later, I felt awesome."

It's hard to put a price tag on that.


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