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Slim Pickin's

Saturday was different. I was on a pre-beach mission after all. I had to get my bathroom scale to level off and then start a march downward, instead of continuing the upward creep it had been on since the holidays. The spa was my starting gate.

I began with the 7 a.m. power walk and then breakfast -- a spinach and low-fat cheese omelet, oatmeal and fruit. Delicious, but at 345 calories, it was not quite the lumberjack special. Next was stretch class; Latin dance aerobics class, where we did the merengue and mambo; a sports class with basketball, tennis and soccer; and an aquatic karate class with a taekwondo instructor. And that was all before lunch. Other guests skipped the morning classes for a three-mile hike along the Delaware River.


Deerfield Spa fitness director Miriam Stevens demonstrates workout techniques. (Rob Upton - For The Washington Post)

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I won't say I wasn't hungry by mid-morning. But I was distracted and not anywhere near my kitchen or the food-stuffed drawers of my office. I could handle this. By 12:30 p.m., though, my turkey burger lunch sure was a welcome sight. And it was perfect to sit down and be served a calorie-counted meal and not have to think, while I was hungry, about what to eat. At Deerfield, you set your own menu.

At dinner Friday night, I had filled out a checklist for the next day's meals. That was actually fun. I took a little pencil and sheet of paper from a holder on the table and, using a separate menu with the calorie counts of all the available foods, started adding up my food choices. The spa will serve you whatever you want. But I decided to keep the calorie count at a diet level of about 1,300 a day. Breakfast choices could be eggs, cold or hot cereal, fruit. Lunch offered any of six sandwiches, a green salad or the special of the day.

While I was mulling, my waiter delivered dinner, addressing me by name. Had we met? I wasn't at an assigned table, but he had deduced who I was because he knew who everyone else was. With so few guests, the personal touch is apparent.

As I ate my dinner, I mixed and matched and scribbled to get the next day's calories to add up to a very reasonable 1,245 for three meals. All dinners at the spa are 500 calories unless you add the optional white or sweet potato, which is going to cost you in calories. Many of the women -- there was only one man and he came with his wife -- had been to other spas where there had been buffet meals for breakfast and lunch. They were grateful for the restricted menu feature. You really don't want an all-you-can-put-on-your-plate buffet at a weight loss spa.

Most of the guests wanted to lose more than five to 10 pounds eventually and their time at the spa was an energizer for their efforts and a support system. Most of them were middle-aged or older.

I plowed on, taking classes every hour through Saturday afternoon. I went from strength training to Pilates to intermediate yoga in the exercise studio, where the sun was pouring in through the windows. At one point the Pilates instructor demonstrated an abs move and asked everyone, "Do you feel that?" One woman answered, "Yes, that and everything else I've done today."

Deerfield can be whatever guests want it to be. Some do the crazy exercise marathon I was doing. Others do few, if any, classes. They take time to unwind in the cozy lounges. Our retro evening activity on Saturday was bingo, with prizes such as shower gels and soaps. Much as I like bingo, I opted for another massage to reward my muscles. I was kind of sorry, hearing how much fun people seemed to have had.

The spa has a loyal following. One woman in her seventies has been coming nearly every year since it opened. My assigned roommate, soon to be 60, comes every spring and fall for rejuvenation. A trim 23-year-old, getting married the next weekend, was treating herself to a bachelorette fling. She and I ended up with about 10 others in a belly dancing class Sunday morning, getting tangled in the borrowed veils we swirled around us. Belly dancing seems like an excellent skill to have on a honeymoon. Her new husband doesn't have to know that it's also a great abdominal workout.


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