Byline: Jamie Sotonoff By Jamie Sotonoff
If you want to spend a week at The Biggest Loser Resort Fitness Ridge, near St. George, Utah, the earliest dates they have available are in July.
That's how popular the "Biggest Loser" resorts (another one opened last October in Malibu, Calif.), have become, thanks to the popular prime-time weight loss show on NBC it's named after where obese contestants transform into slim, healthy people through diet and exercise.
These types of resorts, camps and programs are growing in popularity as obesity rates remain high among both adults and children in the U.S. and families want to do something to jump-start a healthy, new lifestyle.
There certainly are a lot of places to do this, for children and adults.
While the Biggest Loser ranches are geared toward adults, parents are allowed to bring children over the age of 14 with them, said Reservations Manager Trevor Fenton, noting that Ron Morelli from Season 7 and his teenage son, Max, were there recently.
"When you have someone -- a family member or someone who's close to you -- that you can relate to, it's so much better of a process," Fenton said. "They can relate and they can help push you. They've seen you at your best and worst, and they know when you're making up excuses."
Former Biggest Loser contestants occasionally show up at the ranches, especially the Malibu location where Season 9 contestant Sam Poueu leads hikes and the show's trainers, Bob Harper and Jillian Michaels, are known to pop in, Fenton said.
On the show, the focus is on the sweat-filled workouts. While there are 2 1/2-hour hikes each day, there are also a wide variety of classes and services that focus on education, nutrition and other important wellness topics.
"We work you out for four to five hours every day ... and you're getting great education from our life coaches, chefs, personal trainers, nutritionist, meditation teachers and masseuses," he said. "We're not a fad diet. This is for a lifetime. You don't have someone who is exclusively on your back who is training you. It's you against yourself."
Another popular weight loss destination spot which has grown in popularity thanks to television are the Wellspring Camps. Geared for ages 11-18, the camps are where the "Too Fat for 15" show is filmed for the Style Channel. The closest one to Chicago is in Platteville, Wis.
Demand for their camps is skyrocketing, and Wellspring's call volume has doubled in the past two years, said Dan Kirschenbaum, Wellspring's vice president of clinical services and a Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago.
Kirschenbaum said Wellspring's goal is not to force people to work out until they nearly collapse or severely limit their calorie intake every day, but rather to convince them to commit to a healthy lifestyle.
For example, mealtime at Wellspring offers a huge variety of healthy foods, like fat-free egg salad, soups, lean proteins and fruits. But guests are free to eat as much as they want, he said.
They also receive cognitive behavior therapy counseling as
part of the camp to help them develop self-regulatory skills and stress management.
"It's not the weight loss per se, but the sense that 'I can do this' that's very powerful," Kirschenbaum said. "Parents come in for a few days near the end of the session, and self-monitor alongside their kids and do the workshops with them ... and we've had parents who will come at the end of six or nine weeks and they won't recognize their kids."
While resorts and camps can be wonderful tools to help children and families lose weight and develop healthier habits, there are dozens of smaller programs at nearly every suburban park district, hospital and YMCA, and the services are often a fraction of the cost.
The Fun with Fitness class at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, for example, puts a family focus on its classes, which are geared toward grades 2 through high school. …