Hilton Head Health
By Irvina Lew
Pants split; buttons pop. An inner tube hangs over a waist belt. Whether it’s a first call for positive action or a perpetual problem, it doesn’t feel comfortable. For some, doctors test for pre-diabetes or prescribe cholesterol-lowering drugs. For others, extra weight has already contributed to chronic diseases.
Whether your goal is to lose a few pounds or many, the good news is that there’s a supportive getaway dedicated to weight loss, an easy hour’s drive from the Savannah International Airport (they provide transportation).
Hilton Health Health (H3) is dedicated to teaching you how to control your weight issues and enhance your health. H3 is a wellness retreat that is unabashedly open about being “A weight loss experience that’s good for mind, body and soul.” It’s an all-inclusive on Hilton Head Island with fitness facilities and resort amenities, including a pool on campus and nearby beach, golf and tennis venues, plus naturalist and water-sport activities.
Guests can choose the seven-day Jump Start program; a shorter-stay Living Well plan, or theme weeks focused for Golf or Yoga, Diabetes or Plant-based Eating or for Couples. Those with serious weight issues often participate in the four-week, Lose Well Program, a dedicated, counselor-led, small-group and more-structured program, during which camaraderie creates a strong support system.
The program is staffed with wellness educators, including Bob Wright, whose lectures inspired me, some years ago. Each might be a session in a class I’d call: Eat Well, Live Well 101. Practical topics are addressed, such as Breaking Up with Sugar, Portion Control, Mindful Eating and Restaurant Survival Strategies; there are take -home hand-outs and time for questions. I keep my hand-outs “handy,” though some basics are ingrained: “Always order sauces and dressings on the side!” On one, the striking cover page said:
“Poor diet is now the #1 cause of death and disability in the United States, exceeding smoking by quite a considerable margin.”
“Poor nutrition is now the single leading cause of poor health in the U. S.”
Even guests who don’t appear to need to lose weight speak highly of the healthy, satisfying meals included at H3.
Executive Chef Kara Williams showcases creative, wholesome dishes prepared with real-food, though not always organic, ingredients. Sustainable, local products from South Carolina purveyors include Frommers (granola) and Sprout Mamma (bread). Dishes are designed to maximize each guest’s suggested calorie count, between 1200-1600 daily, and the menu clearly indicates calories for each item and whether it meets Dairy Free, Gluten Free, Vegetarian or Vegan preferences. (The portion-sized menu items meet the American Heart Association, American Cancer Society and American Diabetes Association guidelines.)
Recognizable “plain” American foods are always available–salmon, chicken, filet mignon—along with interesting multi-ethnic dishes, including many that I don’t make at home. A case in point is the Thai Peanut Slaw prepared with a Thai Peanut Vinaigrette. (During her demonstration spa cooking class, Chef Williams, who also teaches one on one, told us about Tru-Nut powdered peanut butter which reduces the amount—and, subsequently the calories–of creamy peanut butter.)
A create-your-own section on the menu offers build-a-meal options that are also a take-away technique to replicate at home or in a restaurant. Choose: protein + sauce + starch + vegetables. My favorite? Grilled salmon + a balsamic glaze + roasted fingerling potatoes, cherry tomatoes, mushrooms and haricots verts; for about 300 calories!
I discovered how to make the H3 avocado toast without breaking the calorie bank: a poached egg on spinach, with sliced avocado and salsa served on one half piece of whole wheat toast.
Along with three proper meals, Fit Bites are recommended twice a day and there’s an entire buffet station adjacent to the dining room stocked with snacks, as an example of what folks could do at home! Along with whole and cut fruit and veggies, there were numerous portion-controlled packages of healthy store-bought snacks: Oikos yogurt, Musselman’s natural applesauce, peanut butter hummus, nuts, raisins and dried fruit.
Because movement is an essential element, there are fifty fitness options, weekly, and many guests follow an exercise routine. I walked to and from my apartment and participated in morning walks on a pristine beach, a class to learn how to use fitness bands, the recommended 15-30-minute Thermal Walk after lunch, and back-to-back aqua-aerobics sessions in the palm-bedecked pool.
One of the highlights of my stay was a private trip to the supermarket with Registered Dietitian Elizabeth Huggins, MESS.RD.LE.CDE, who pointed out some healthy choices: Horizon organic low-fat milk, Amy’s Black Bean burrito, Coleman natural bacon, fresh packaged veggies for slaw. Best, she introduced me to a valuable shopping application for my phone, FOODUCATE. From a picture, it rates foods and recommends those that are healthier alternatives.
H3 felt familiar to me a decade after two prior visits. At gated Shipyard Plantation, moss-draped, live oaks line residential streets and towering pines shade walking paths around the multi-dwelling complexes. (Mine was a comfortable, corner, two-bedroom, three-bath duplex with a fully-outfitted kitchen, dining area, living room and two decks; one overlooked a golf course and pond.)
At the resort, bike-filled racks await outside the gracious front porch; smiling concierges greet, inside. I noticed impressive physical upgrades and improvements: a glass pavilion in the new dining room; a wide corridor leads to a lounge; a dedicated, demonstration kitchen; and, a landscaped courtyard.
The best addition is the recently-built, stand-alone serene Indigo Spa, where I savored an Arnica and hot towel massage. (Investment plans continue; H3 is buying some of the rental condominium units and updating them. And, the rumor-mill suggests a future guest lodge.)
H3 is the epitome of a low-key and casual retreat, a healthy haven to return to, again and again. It’s one part Wellness 101 and one part vacation-camp.