Juliette Sivertsen spends some time reflecting poolside at Resolution Retreats, Lake Karapiro. Photo / Supplied
Carbs are bad. Carbs are good. Eat breakfast. Skip breakfast. Do a detox. Detox is a myth. Watch your calories. Don’t count calories. Don’t diet. Don’t give in to temptation.
Sound familiar? These are just a fraction of the conflicting pieces of diet advice I, and many others, have been fed through the years. Is it any wonder we are all so confused about nutrition? So when the chance arose to stay at Resolution Retreats for a long weekend, I jumped on the opportunity to reset my health.
The Lake Karapiro complex is a women-only health and wellness retreat, with options for three-day stays right up to 21-day weight loss retreats. Guests stay on site in a luxury chalet and can attend daily fitness and yoga classes, health education workshops and have all meals and snacks provided. But it’s also a caffeine-free and alcohol-free environment. There’s only herbal tea on offer, and wine glasses are filled with a cold herbal tea brew mixed with soda mix, aka “retreat wine”.
I consider smuggling in some contraband to start a side hustle selling instant coffee sachets to the caffeine addicts wandering around with foggy brains. But I decide to commit 100 per cent to the retreat, eat only the food and drink they give me, and attend all the classes and fitness sessions. I want a reset – and that means fully engaging with the programme.
My chalet is spacious and beautifully appointed with a garden outlook and a large spa bath in the bathroom. There’s a goodie bag awaiting me on arrival with healthy items such as kombucha, herbal teas, a snack pack of nuts and an eye mask. There’s also a mildly intimidating 12-week “accountability journal” to put all my learnings into action after the retreat finishes.
I’m joined by nearly 30 other women who have all chosen to be here for different reasons, but with one shared goal – a health reset. Some need a break from family life, others are feeling the effects of burnout, and Covid lockdown weight gain.
Each day, we start with a morning fitness class before breakfast, such as a HIIT session or pool fitness. The classes are fun and inclusive, with options for all fitness and mobility levels. The mid-morning session is a health workshop, where we sit down with one of the facilitators and discuss nutrition, fitness, gut health, reading food labels and understanding serving sizes for each food group. Afternoons are for yoga and cooking demonstrations.
Resolution Retreats’ founder Joelene Ranby leads one of the first workshops. She comes across as positive, bubbly and driven, as if she was born that way. But she reveals her background was one of eating copious amounts of sugary and calorie-laden food, before embarking on her health journey to become the fit and strong ball of intelligent energy that now stands in front of us.
From her observations, she says Kiwi women have a particular problem – we seem to suffer high levels of burnout. She’s noticed a significant difference between us and Australian women, who she says seem to take better care of their overall wellbeing and “keep themselves above the ambulance-at-the-bottom-of-the-cliff level”.
To help us take charge of our health and prevent burnout, we learn about the four pillars of wellbeing, or the “wheel of wellness” – nutrition, sleep, movement and happiness. All four are interconnected and if one is faltering, the others can suffer too. By the same token, strengthening some areas can help with the others. Nutrition affects motivation, so by tweaking our diet, we might find the energy to move and exercise. Exercise can help us sleep better. Better sleep can lift our mood, which can lead to better diet choices.
In this room of busy women juggling careers and family life, most of us have forgotten to take care of ourselves lately. “I like arts and crafts, but I guess I only ever do what my kids can do,” one woman shares. It’s a sentiment shared by many others – the things that give us joy are often pushed down the priority list, especially in the case of raising children.
Joelene encourages us to find something we’re passionate about to give us a bit of joy. “We need a bit of sparkleness in our life,” she says.
It’s a good reminder to think about the good things in life, and hobbies we can access as part of our wellbeing toolbox. It’s the third time in as many weeks I’ve come across someone explaining the importance of “finding your flow”, so I take it as a sign to start thinking seriously about what activities give me a sense of inner joy.
Throughout the stay, we feast on delicious meals, rivalling anything that I can come up with at home. The meals are designed by a nutritionist, perfectly portioned. A fish curry one night, a chicken and mushroom casserole the next. A healthy eggs benedict for breakfast, a homemade pizza for lunch.
One participant is a diabetic, so she gets extra servings of carbohydrates with her evening meal. She shows me an app which tracks her insulin levels, via a bluetooth connection to a patch on her arm. It feels like we’re eating healthily on retreat – but Rose Maree’s app shows the proof is in the (sugar-free) pudding – her levels are significantly more stable while on retreat, than before she arrived.
I make use of the downtime before and after lunch as without my usual morning coffee, I feel a lot sleepier than usual. I’m not the only one. On day three, one of the women is nowhere to be seen. Donetta’s caffeine withdrawal has got the better of her and she takes time to rest. But that’s okay, that’s her choice and no one’s judging her for it. Because while this is a health retreat, nothing is compulsory. It’s my choice if I want to have a nap at 10am. It’s my choice if I want to sit in the spa rather than do a HIIT workout. It’s my choice if I want to smuggle in sachets of instant coffee just to get me through. Being empowered to make choices can help you make the right choices in future.
We also learn about the habit loop and how to break up with bad habits. The impressive part of it is the practical tips rather than motivation talks, and hearing actual steps and real-life knowledge from facilitators who know what they’re talking about and understand different lifestyles.
Each evening there is a cooking demonstration before dinner and we have the chance to learn how to make fermented foods to help protect our gut.
Casey Mackwell is our facilitator for the gut health workshop and shows us how to make sauerkraut. You can buy fancy sauerkraut in the supermarket for around $14, but it’s cheap as chips to make – it’s just cabbage and salt, fermented over about a month. “Caress your cabbage,” Casey tells us as she hauls up a volunteer to demonstrate how to squeeze all the moisture out of the cabbage.
Casey goes through so much of the fermented goods, she and a friend regularly hold “kraut day”, where each of them brings at least 20 cabbages for a bulk sauerkraut-making experience.
Cost-effective for sure, but I’m still not quite convinced I love sauerkraut so much as to want to spend a day with my hands massaging cabbages. But we are shown other fermented foods such as yoghurt, miso and tempeh, which are also good for our gut.
Over the weekend I indulge in a 30-minute back and leg massage, a 60-minute facial, and a 60-minute back body scrub and massage at the retreat’s on-site spa. I warn the therapist I’ll probably fall asleep during my facial. Sure enough, about 10 minutes into it, the warm weighted blanket and aromatherapy oils overpower my brain. I sleep-snort myself awake, giggle and embarrassingly apologise to my therapist, before falling back asleep again, eventually emerging from the dimly lit room utterly relaxed.
It’s great to learn all these tips and tricks but what really counts is how we choose to live when we return home. One of the most helpful workshops is about meal planning and how to save time during the week. We’re encouraged to prepare for the obstacles. Plan in advance an “emergency dinner” and plan ahead for the Friday nights you might want a wine and takeaways on the couch.
On my return, I make a week’s worth of bliss balls and buy a pack of recommended nut bars for my morning and afternoon snacks. The extra snacks mean I’m not chewing my arm off on my way home from work and reaching for something unhealthy to tide me over until dinner. I chop up a bunch of carrot sticks and put them in a container, covered with a damp paper towel to keep them fresh. I make the chicken casserole recipe from the retreat and freeze a portion as an emergency dinner for when I’d otherwise feel like takeaways. I notice these changes mean I’m eating nutritious meals and snacks, and am not even remotely tempted to open UberEats.
When I return to the office, I realise I’ve become one of those annoying self-proclaimed health gurus who wants to share their newfound knowledge with anyone who will listen -including those who don’t. But my decaf flat white-drinking editor casts a side eye on my first morning back.
“I see you’ve already had coffee,” she says. Damn straight I have. There are some habits I choose to uphold. After all, it’s about progress, not perfection.