Spa Food: My Weekend-Long Attempt at Clean Eating

Three days at Canyon Ranch

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Flickr/Karl Cossio@N03/

A few weeks ago, my friend and I decided to go for a weekend detox. After a holiday season of endless parties and birthdays, our bodies felt bloated and depleted. Entirely too much fried party appetizers, cocktails, and salty/sugary treats had run havoc with our systems, and we needed to start fresh.

We were familiar with Canyon Ranch, in The Berkshires of Massachusetts, a beautiful estate in Lenox (its flagship location is in Tucson, Arizona). It’s the sort of facility a starlet like Lindsay Lohan may attend to deal with “exhaustion.” For three days we’d have limited dairy, refined sugar, and salt—and no alcohol.

At first, the concept of giving up my wine was way harder for me to stomach than any of the food options. I was excited—lock me in a wellness resort with only healthy food options and endless meditation and yoga for a few days. Maybe I’ll develop a few good habits! Or, at least, take a break from my favorite bad ones.

We know that the ideology of eating right is to not diet. Dieting doesn’t work. We’ve all done them—I did incredibly well on South Beach Diet’s good fat/good carb plan once upon a time—but then ultimately, you reach your goal, stop your diet, and end up exactly where you started out. The key is lifestyle changes, versus self-deprivation, and the meals at Canyon Ranch were about eating healthy but attractive cooking…but simply eating less. The portions were laughably small, but we were allowed to have endless fresh veggies from the salad bar. We were being schooled in making good decisions. For me, this was a hard nut to swallow. (Nuts, by the way, are good for you, but at Canyon Ranch, they are super-limited—those calories load up, fast!)

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I remember once watching Oprah with my mom, around the time Oprah lost a ton of weight. I lamented to my mom: “How did she do that?” My mom responded, sagely, that if we had the money for a personal chef creating healthy gourmet foods, we could, too. At Canyon Ranch, it was if said personal chef was in my home kitchen. All of our meals were made with little or no butter, oil, salt or sugar. You may be able to score a veggie burger, but it’ll be cheese-free, on thin, cracker-like sprouted bread, and don’t even dream of there being a fry in sight. My friend asked the waiter for mayo. I almost dropped my ice water at the tension that followed.

(For the record, he did deliver. Fresh mayo made on the premises, no less.)

Because of the small portion sizes, after the first meal, my friend Bryce and I started to stockpile sides and appetizers. Yes, we had access to local roasted mushrooms in black truffle oil with fresh dill—but what they don’t reveal (until the, well, reveal) is that you are only getting about three mushrooms. Same for if you choose the grilled artichoke. Enjoy your artichoke. Singular. Even more frightening, each and every dish you order—from that single artichoke to the tiny piece of steamed fish as your amuse-bouche—comes with a scary string of nutrition data after it on the menu. Yes, I now know exactly how much fat and carbs and sodium are in a grilled artichoke. And an egg white. And in a tiny supplement of goat cheese.

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The low point of my initial dinner was probably when I ordered the parsnip bisque— delicious, with crispy sage and crushed hazelnut—and it was delivered in a teacup. A half-filled one, at that.

Frequent small portions are difficult to swallow. (Actually, they are easy to swallow; I was famished.) But it was fascinating to see people in the dining room, popping in for meals between back-to-back fitness classes. I wasn’t about that. You take away my sugar, you take away my ambition. While Bryce took a try at circuit training, I vowed to meet her for lunch after meditation.

I may have indeed been the Lindsay Lohan of Canyon Ranch—rebel all the way, without any toxins or alcohol.

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I went into the weekend thinking that lacking my nightly glass of wine would be the issue. Could I feasibly swap wine and martinis for green juice and mineral water? Could I forego lattes for herbal tea? Ultimately, I discovered that wasn’t the difficult part. The meals were light and simple and small, but when paired with the salad bar, ultimately pretty well balanced. I did miss salt though, severely. As someone who never considered herself “into” salt, I realized that everywhere I have eaten, maybe forever, had been routinely oversalting food and I didn’t even realize.

By the time we left the weekend, Bryce had a healthy eating and fitness plan, and I was texting my friend back in Brooklyn, making plans to meet for margaritas and nacho fries that night upon my return. If we were in a luxe game of Survivor, I absolutely was thrown off the island. Bryce would have survived until the next episode.

But my weekend of clean eating was not a failure. I did learn that while my body wasn’t ready for full-on clean eating, it absolutely needed to take some time for restorative yoga and relaxation. And while my life once again involves wine and sugar, I’ve taken some lessons away: food needs salt to have taste, but does it need as much salt as I have been using? Probably not. Whole grains simply taste better, and if you add tons of sparkling water and fresh veggies to every meal, you just end up eating less of the other stuff. So, maybe I’m eating cleaner, thanks to Canyon Ranch. But I’m still a whole lot of dirty!

Aly Walansky is a lifestyles writer based in New York City. Her greatest loves include her shih tsu, soap operas, and extra dirty martinis. Follow her on twitter at @AlyWalansky.

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