Losing it in the Loire Valley: How mum and daughter survived a weight-loss boot camp

Sitting around a grand table at the opulent Chateau Milly in the French Loire valley, the scene was set for a lavish banquet.

The chef emerged and gracefully presented the evening meal. Except that there were no regional cheeses, no freshly baked baguettes and certainly no wine. Instead, a beautifully decorated – yet undeniably small – portion of fish and salad appeared. And a large glass of water.

I had arrived with my mother that afternoon at NuBeginnings’ weightloss boot camp – and now it seemed the regime had officially begun.

We were to eat slowly, to chew thoroughly, to place the cutlery down after every mouthful, and to always leave something on the plate.

Chateau Milly, Loire ValleyGrandeur: The opulent Chateau Milly, in the French Loire valley, was the base for the week’s boot camp

We had signed up for a week’s stay at the French site – an exclusive version of the successful Devon residency – which promises unparalleled luxury, small groups and an adaptable programme.

NuBeginnings is the brainchild of Victoria Wills, who has apparently tried every diet going and visited more boot camps then she cares to mention. Having quit her six-figure management consultancy job she has devised a programme which combines exercise, holistic therapies and a strictly low GI diet. Armed with hiking boots and trainers, my mother and I were expecting to be put through our paces.

So just how did the two generations cope with a week of fresh air, exercise and fat-free French food? And did we manage to shift those stubborn extra pounds?

Mel’s verdict:

While I eat pretty well and enjoy working out, I have some entrenched habits that I just can’t shift: I haven’t eaten breakfast in a decade, I go long periods between meals, and have a secret love of artificial sweeteners and salt.

Most afternoons, as my blood sugar levels slump, my solution is a sweetener-laced cappuccino. It had in fact become my treasured sixth food group.

With the average weightloss at the camp touted as 10lbs, I was prepared for hard graft. At my weigh-in, with my healthy BMI, I was warned that I would probably lose less than the average.

I was handed my heart-beat monitor and watch, which, over the week would show whether I could push myself harder. I could sense a challenge.

BoxingPutting me through my paces: Trainer Ryan introduces Melanie to boxing

Michael, one of the personal trainers, took us through the exercise schedule. One pound of fat is 3,500 calories he explained. Therefore to shift 10lbs we needed to burn 35,000 calories. That would mean getting on a bike and doing high intensity spinning for 58 hours solid.

I didn’t need to look at my monitor: my heart beat had already started to rise.

To accelerate this we had to increase our resistance training, which, although it burns fewer calories than cardiovascular exercise, forces the body to work harder afterwards – and pushes up the metabolic rate. Combined with three main meals a day and two snacks, we were assured this was achievable.

The most noticeable thing about the schedule for the week was the variation. Morning class was at 8am – tai chi, qui gong, yoga, pilates, followed by five hours of varying classes.

The exercise classes finished with a therapeutic session of psychotherapy, hypnotherapy or a deep tissue massage.

Aside from immediate detox and weight-loss, the programme aims to help people increase their well-being and change their relationship with food long-term.

So, scattered through the week were lectures and discussions on nutrition and ‘mindful eating’.

I had just about resisted the temptation to pack food supplies in my suitcase, but I must admit I was expecting to be hungry. Aside from the scheduled meal times, the kitchen was locked and herbal tea was the only accessible option. My rebellion on Friday night was mixing a ginseng teabag with an elderberry one

But the food was a lovely surprise, with resident chef Stuart taking obvious pride in his colourful dishes. Aside from initial caffeine cravings I can honestly say I wasn’t hungry once.

The most noticeable thing about the schedule for the week was its variety: Morning classes of tai chi, qui gong, yoga or pilates were followed by therapeutic sessions of psychotherapy, hypnotherapy or massageThe most noticeable thing about the schedule for the week was its variety: Morning classes of tai chi, qui gong, yoga or pilates were followed by therapeutic sessions of psychotherapy, hypnotherapy or massage

The programme’s major asset is its staff. There were three personal trainers, each with slightly different skills. Michael had an incredible eye for detail and an in-depth knowledge of the body. He spotted my running injury (which I was in denial about) within minutes, and incorporated some exercises into my routines to help.

Ryan introduced me to boxing, which I loved, and was incredibly encouraging. In my ‘last chance workout’ when I thought my legs would give way, he pushed me on.

Nathan, a specialist in martial arts and Eastern disciplines, gave us great meditation sessions every morning – a lovely way to start the day.

But, after all that sweating did I lose any weight? Despite being told I should expect to lose less than average, I still managed to drop 11lbs. And two weeks on I am enjoying the benefits of having regulated my eating.

My love affair with sweeteners ended in Paris when I threw them in the bin. NuBeginnings is at the higher end of the price bracket – pound (lb) for pound (£) it is pricey. However it aims for more than just a quick fix.

The controlled environment allowed me to really detox, reboot and reconfigure.

Mum’s verdict:

Having moaned at Christmas to my daughter that I wanted to lose a stone, she went ahead and booked us in to a boot camp.

Stuart's muffins

I must admit, I was worried by visions of bunk beds, army gear and heavy logs. While she likes running about, at 62 years old, I have long grown bored of monotonous high-impact exercises.

Although I’m pretty fit, I never quite regained my figure after having my third, fourth and fifth child in my forties. My concern now are less aesthetic and more health-orientated.

Driving up to the grand chateau and seeing the expansive grounds, I sighed with relief. My room was gorgeous: antique furniture, a luxurious bed and a picturesque view of horses roaming about in the fields.

My ensuite was kitted with Elemis products, and the immediate temptation was to have a long bath and a pamper. After a warm welcome by Victoria and her partner James, we sat by the roaring fire to discuss the week, and my anxieties dissipated.

Striding out: Hiking was one of the highlights of the week for Mel’s mother, right, while she also enjoyed meeting the chef Stuart
(pictured left with THOSE muffins) and his wholesome low-GI meals

The food was a treat, but without a personal chef at home and mouths to feed I was worried about how I’d stick with it. One evening the chef Stuart gave us a demonstration, and ran me through easy ways to improve my daily cooking. One highlight for me was the hikes. Although a tad daunted by the prospect of walking for five hours,  equipped with supplies we powered through the Loire countryside. Drinking hot soup in the forest tipped the experience from painful to pleasurable.

Hiking was a highlight

When he began to prepare low GI kiwi muffins for the midweek treat, smiles broke out. We watched them rise in the oven and watched them cool on the rack. As time passed it dawned on us that this was as close as we would get.

Stuart took a lot of persuasion to let us share a small one four ways. ‘Don’t tell management,’ he whispered.

My worries at not being able to keep up, or getting shouted out were unfounded. The trainers adapted the pace and kept things fresh. An hour and a half of circuit training would never normally appeal, but doing it outdoors, with the boys motivating me, was uplifting.

The range of the programme means that you get to try new things – I loved the boxing and found the therapy sessions insightful. I wasn’t expecting to feel pampered, but I did feel spoilt with all the attention.

As for weight, I managed to lose 6lbs and since returning have lost another 5lbs. A far cry from indulgent cava-fuelled city breaks, this was a guilt-free week that provided me with a different approach to an old problem.

Travel Facts

A one-week stay at NuBeginnings France starts at £2,495. Prices at the Devon-based branch starts at £2,295. For more information, visit NuBeginnings France

ThEurostar from Kings Cross to Paris starts at £69. The train to Chatellerault costs £100 return.

The nearby airports of Tours and Poitiers are also served by Ryanair.

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