Weight loss camps?

Dear Alice,

I am interested in finding a place to go to lose weight that costs no money. I have heard of weight loss camps but they cost too much. The ideal situation for me would be to be able to work (physical labor would be nice because of the exercise, kill two birds with one stone) and also to have healthy meals provided. A two month or more duration would be ideal — the weight loss camps I have heard about are, in my opinion, too short to have lasting effects.

I have been putting off my life for nine years now because I am not satisfied with the way I look or feel. I am twenty-three-years-old and desperate at this point because I have tried everything, including many therapists. My life is passing me by but I only seem to care less as time goes on. Thanks for your help.

— Weight conscious

Dear Weight conscious,

Feeling like life is passing you by or “putting off” your life can be a discouraging feeling for anyone. Here’s something to consider: If you lose all the weight you want to lose, what would your life look like? What would you be doing that you aren’t currently doing? Can you begin to do some of these things now? Following your heart and doing things you truly love today may help you feel better about tomorrow. And, that just might provide you with more motivation to accomplish your weight loss goals.

Now, let’s talk more about your specific question. Unfortunately, free weight loss camps are hard to come by, and may not even exist. However, if you're willing to think outside the box a little, you may be able to find a short-term physically active job that can help get you moving. For example, you could look into a program such as WWOOF, which places people who want to volunteer on organic farms with small organic farmers around the world. In addition to requiring volunteers to contribute physical labor, many of these opportunities provide one or more meals per day of healthy, farm-fresh foods for their working volunteers. And besides being a great work out, these programs offer a great opportunity for adventure!

Now back to the more traditional residential weight loss programs. Some are helpful, whereas others are simply moneymaking ventures. A sound weight loss program addresses three key issues: controlling calorie intake, changing problematic food habits, and increasing physical activity. Specifically, look for the following characteristics in a weight loss program:

  • The program's diet plan should meet nutritional needs, even though you are eating fewer calories. This means following guidelines like those at MyPlate.gov, which emphasize healthy and balanced eating.
  • The program should stress gradual, rather than rapid, weight loss. Look for a loss of 1 to 2 pounds per week.
  • The program's plan should be adaptable to habits and tastes. No rigid rituals should be required.
  • The program's plan should minimize hunger and fatigue while ideally supplying at least 1500 kilocalories a day for men and 1200 for women. Any lower calorie regimens should provide either fortified foods or a vitamin and mineral supplement.
  • The program doesn't have to be expensive to be helpful to you.
  • The program should help reshape lifestyle and problem eating habits to make weight loss and, later, maintenance possible.
  • The program should improve overall health. It should emphasize regular physical activity, proper rest, stress reduction, and other healthy lifestyle changes.

You can also make changes on your own to incorporate physical activity and healthier eating into your everyday life. Some tips are:

  • Plan out your meals in advance. Be sure to include a variety of foods (like whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and lean protein) in each meal. Planning in advance will help you to avoid any impulsive, less healthy choices.
  • Start a food journal. Do you frequently crave a fatty or sugary snack around the same time each day? Do you tend to skip meals, and then overeat later on? Keeping track of what you eat and how much may help you identify where you could make healthier choices.
  • Slowly initiate physical activity. Try starting with a 10-15 minute walk a few times a week and gradually work your way up to 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise on most days.
  • Work in physical activity throughout the day. Using a slightly farther away parking space, bus stop, or subway station; taking the stairs when possible; and stretching or walking around the office as a short break from work are all possibilities.
  • Enlist the help of friends and family. Have a regular weeknight tennis match with a friend. Practice cooking healthy with your family.

For more tips on exercise and healthier eating, check out the Nutrition and Physical Activity section in the Go Ask Alice! archives. You may want to speak with a nutritionist or, contact a registered dietitian in your area for a weight loss camp or program recommendation that will work for you. These providers can help you find affordable, convenient suggestions for successful weight loss.

Good luck!

Last updated Jul 06, 2015
Originally published Sep 01, 1994

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