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The Staycation, the healthful road not taken

Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 5, 2010

If you flip on a reality-TV show about weight loss, you can expect to see an exercise montage and get a helpful nutrition tidbit or two. But if you ever try to emulate the participants' success at home, you'll quickly realize the cameras have forgotten to depict one critical thing: reality.

Sure, people who leave their home and the stresses of daily life, and are given the services of a full-time team of diet and fitness experts, will slim down. It's the same formula used at Canyon Ranch and other similarly pricey wellness retreats frequented by celebs.

But say you're not ready to become a reality "star" and don't have much dough. It's not a problem if you have a spare week of vacation time, says registered dietician Felicia Stoler, host of TLC's reality show "Honey We're Killing the Kids." Don't head to the beach, where you're more likely to burn your skin than calories, she says. Instead, she encourages her clients in New Jersey to spend seven days focusing on their health.

It's a twist on the staycation, the idea of using free time to savor your home town. Instead of sightseeing, you'll explore how to build more physical activity into your daily life and figure out smarter ways to shop for groceries and plan meals. It's unlikely you'll lose 10 pounds in a week like they do on TV. But by getting a jump-start on an exercise routine in your own neighborhood and cooking in your own kitchen, you're setting yourself up to continue these behaviors even when real life kicks in again.

If you're not dropping $100 or more a night on a hotel room, you can probably afford visits from a pro each day: a personal trainer, a chef, a nutritionist, a psychologist, a masseuse. Those services might seem extravagant, but they won't be pampering as much as pushing you toward healthier habits, and helping you work through obstacles.

The key is remembering that you need to make these changes part of your regular routine, says physician Arthur Frank, founder and co-director of the George Washington University Weight Management Program. "A week of working out is essentially useless unless you can continue it," he says.

And without a real itinerary, you could fall into the trap of snacking to alleviate boredom. "Most people do well much of the day until it becomes unstructured," Frank says.

These ideas should keep you occupied. Unlike other vacations that end with you feeling bloated and bleary-eyed, when this week is up, "you'll have this glow," Stoler says.

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