Fear of the flab

Updated: Apr 30 2006, 05:35am hrs
Joe Roberts owns a demanding import and export business in Miami, but in March he took time off to travel to a diet centre and learn how to eat less, exercise more and control his weight.

Theres no question I overeat, he said. At his wifes urging, Roberts, who is 5-foot-11-inch and weighs 262 pounds, paid $2,250 and lodging costs for a five-day programme at the Duke Diet and Fitness Center in Durham, North Carolina, to jump-start his education in the ways of a leaner, more active life. He lost eight pounds there and has lost five pounds since then.

At one time, his presence at a diet centre would have been a rarity; health resorts have historically been the province of women. But now the fear of flab has arrived for many men, too. As long as they can pay the substantial fee, men who want to trim their waistlines can begin the process at a health spa with no worries about seeming unmanly. They can even talk publicly about their experiences afterward.

About half of our customers are now men, said Marika Olsen, a spokeswoman for the Pritikin Longevity Center and Spa in Aventura, Florida. The cost for a week ranges from about $3,000 to $5,000, depending on the room and the season. In the past, many men attended when prodded by their wives. Now we are seeing a dramatic increase in the number of men who are coming on their own, Olsen said.

Stephen Arnold, a physicist from New York, is one of them, and proud of it. He paid about $5,000 last Christmas to spend a week at the Pritikin Center, where he lowered both his blood pressure and his weight. I lost 8 pounds, he said, and its stayed off.

A week at Pritikin was more like boot camp than a spa treatment, he said. The emphasis was on the serious unisex business of physical fitness and sensible eating habits. His daily routine included exercises, yoga and sessions on the treadmill in the mornings, and classes in the afternoon in, among other things, nutrition and cooking. Since attending the programme, he has changed the way he eats, adding fruits and vegetables and avoiding fatty fast foods. And he intends to return. Ive already made a reservation for next Christmas, he said.

Shedding weight is one thing; keeping it off can be quite another. Many visitors to health spas are return customers who hope that a second or third trip will get them back on the diet wagon after they have fallen off.

Russell E Burke, a New York art dealer, has been to the Pritikin Center three times. One can become a recidivist, he said. When I feel my weight is creeping up, I return. This year, he spent three weeks there, exercising vigorously and taking classes. He kept up with his business by using his cell phone, laptop and the Internet in his room.

Gary Marino, a partner in a Boston production company, took a week off to go to Hilton Head in February. Marino, who had struggled with obesity his whole life, lost 160 pounds in the last four years. Then I hit a plateau, he said, and was unable to shed the last 45 pounds until he visited the spa. He lost 10 pounds during his visit, and has lost 10 more since. He expects to return to Hilton Head. Its a lifelong process, he said of dieting. You hit periods when you need to get re-motivated.

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