I didn't think it was possible to be so simultaneously scared and excited about a holiday. I definitely couldn't wait to have a break by the sea in sunny Devon, but the fact that I'd be staying at a boot camp and having to do hours of exercise every day was quite daunting, especially as I had been doing absolutely zero workouts for a long time up. NuBeginnings is a luxury boot camp founded by Victoria Wills in 2008. By following exactly what NuBeginnings teaches about food and exercise Victoria has lost half her body weight and is an amazing advert for the boot camp. It's designed to kick-start a weight loss, or the desire to get fitter, but it's also to set you on the path to getting healthy with no gimmicks or fad diets. Having to get off my arse and move it for a whole seven days made me feel anxious, but it being a luxury boot camp was an encouragement, and I literally gasped when I saw my lovely room with a range of Elemis products, and a soft, fluffy bathrobe (all bedrooms are private with an en-suite bathroom, none of this staying in dorms and sharing one loo that you get at some boot camps). It's such a beautiful house with gorgeous views over Ilfracombe and the sea. But then I saw the timetable for the week ahead that had been laid out on the bed (in the place where chocolates would be if this were a hotel) and I gasped in anguish this time.
I honestly felt like I couldn't do all this. I was told it's normal to be overwhelmed at the start, and you'll be pleased to know that this isn't a story of quitting and running away in the night; by the end of the week you look back and realise nothing is impossible if you work at it. Which isn't to say I found it all a breeze. The Saturday morning activities are about finding your fitness level, and when we had to do a (very) steep hill walk up onto the Torrs I really struggled. I was overtaken by old people (the ladyshame), and was told I'd have my own hiking guide for all the week's hikes as I was in a league of tragic fitness-ability all of my own. They didn't really say this was the reason, though I knew it was, and to be fair it's actually an amazing thing about NuBeginnings that they go out of their way to help you work at your level all week by arranging the support you need.
Being gym-shy I thought I'd find the hikes the most enjoyable part of the timetable. How wrong could I be! They were really tough, and I was pushed to my limit doing so many steep hills in each session. The two things that got me through each hike were: my amazing hiking guide, Jess, who I chatted with non-stop, and the stunning scenery everywhere we went. You don't get views like this (above) in London. Jess wore a Fitbit, and told me that on the Sunday hike alone that we had done 17,000 steps and the uphill equivalent of going up 34 flights of stairs. It's no wonder that these hikes are a big feature of the NuBeginnings programme; they challenge you, they keep you doing cardio exercise for four hours at a time (you wouldn't be able to do that in a gym, unless you were some kind of pro-athlete or masochist), and they contribute to a drastic change in your weight and fitness levels by the end of the week. I can't tell you how good it felt to complete a hike, such a soaring sense of relief and achievement, and there were full body massages (including my aching feet) to look forward to.
As a fairly fussy eater I was a bit apprehensive about the food. But NuBeginnings asks you for a list of everything you don't like eating, and as silly as I felt firing off an email with about ten things on it, it's a brilliant thing they ask of residents. You're going to be eating a lot less than normal, and it's very low-carb, and totally gluten-free and sugar-free. So it would be the absolute utter worst to be faced with a plate of things you hate when you're ravenous. I'm surprised to say that there wasn't one single dish I didn't like all week, they were all amazing, and stunning to look at (hover over each photo to see what it is). By the way, I'm vegetarian, so if you're not, don't worry you will get fish, prawns and chicken!
When I was at Paddington station, about to take my train to Devon, I was really hungry. I hadn't eaten anything because I'd woken up still full from this amazing event the night before (and a bit hungover), but looking around the station there were only bagels, baguettes and burgers, and I thought I shouldn't arrive full of carbs. I bitterly regretted this decision as it meant starting my NuBeginnings experience on minus-zero calories, and I had to ask for some food on arrival. Good start to a weightloss camp, Sarah – blagging some food! I was given an apple, and tried not to be too disappointed by the ten quinoa pasta twirls we were given for dinner (top food picture). I'm not going to lie, that first evening, and the second one were really hard, and I went to bed both nights with stomach cramps. I think it was all such a shock to my body – the lack of food and the intense exercise, and for some reason I couldn't stop knocking back huge glasses of water. It was all a different story by Sunday night, and there was some kind of shift in my metabolism. From that moment on the portions were even leaving me feeling full, and a couple of times I didn't feel hungry enough to have the healthy snacks we were given in between the three main meals. It just goes to show that NuBeginnings gives you exactly what you need for fuel (delicious, enjoyable fuel!), and this makes you get a sense of what size dishes you should be eating back home. Annnnd – I learnt the hard way that I should be more organised with eating regularly and not getting to the point where I'm so starving I'll eat anything (and everything).
I should mention how comfortable and cosy the NuBeginnings house is.
I think it's a credit to the team that you're made to feel right at home straight away and throughout the week. Everyone is incredibly friendly, they'll chat with you if you want to chat, and leave you alone if you need to just lie down on your bed and listen to the seagulls… as I did several times. The gym space (above) was hardly used as the fantastic weather meant we were working out in the garden, or off on walks to Ilfracombe's harbour to see Damien Hirst's famous Verity statue. I loved yoga and pilates classes in the gym though, and feeling that sun coming through the windows as I stretched.
Some of the classes that I had been dreading (especially circuits) turned out to not be so bad, and the harder something was, the more amazing I felt when I completed it. I found myself getting in to the boxing and a fast-paced walk we went on along an old railway track. The week is all about trying different types of exercise to see what you might like carrying on with back home. When I looked back over each day I thought, I can't believe I did that much! At the end of the week my sense of achievement was sky-high, a total change from the start of the week when I felt like I wouldn't be able to do anything and was anxious about it all. I had only one strop when we went to the beach at Woolacombe to workout and had to run up a steep sand dune three times. I could barely move my legs through the soft sand, and was even sinking backwards. After some grumbling I managed one and a half times, and was told that I'd pushed myself as hard as I could, and that's all that was asked of me.
During the week we had two personal trainers, Adam and Kieran, who were amazing at pushing us but also at keeping our spirits up by being really funny and chatty, and giving us loads of support, encouragement and advice (Kieran kindly let me interview him for this blog post on tips for starting a fitness programme or improving your current one). It was great to meet so many different fitness teachers, and I loved Molly who taught us some pilates and said how important she thinks quality of exercise is over quantity. She was quite spiritual, as was Steve who took us for an intriguing class that was a mixture of Tai Chi, Kung Fu and meditation. I love that both Kieran and Molly have YouTube channels so I can carry on following their teaching. We had a fitness class from Adam (above) to better understand the science of metabolism, learnt about mindful eating (and had to put it into practice at each meal) and we had two nutrition classes from a qualified nutritionist – including a brilliant practical session on juicing and making nut milk (below).
We also had a cooking lesson from Dave, the amazing chef, where he showed us how easy it is to use a few simple, fresh ingredients to make dishes like his Thai Green Curry. He also showed us how to make gluten-free, sugar-free muffins and we could not wait for those to come out of the oven. We only got a quarter of one each though. Sad face.
At the end of the week everyone is given a goody bag of NuBeginnings merch, a very useful food journal, and a recipe pack of all these yummy things Dave had made. You also set some realistic goals for yourself, because obviously no one is going to carry on doing this much exercise in their everyday life. On the final morning before returning to London I found out I'd lost 12lbs, and an amazing three inches from my waist. The stats are great, but you really feel inspired by the whole week, not just the end result, and I have noticed such a change in me. I feel the need to move more, and I actively seek fitness challenges like walking up the stairs at tube stations (if they're not too gigantic), and doing workout DVDs and YouTube fitness videos more. I've also tried some of the recipes, and made some good choices at blogger events, including leaving half my macaroni at this event. I truly miss the discipline of NuBeginnings though, and having all my meals made for me – nothing I can do about the latter, but I'm going to make myself a physical activity timetable and stick to it.
Other things I'll miss about NuBeginnings:
* Having fresh strawberries from the on-site vegetable garden everyday
* Having people just do everything for you when you're so knackered – they'll unpack your rucksack for you after a hike, your bed is freshly made everyday, someone knocks for you each morning to make sure you're up, and you just leave your empty tea cups in the lounge when you're finished.
* All the lovely staff, especially husband and wife team, Dave and Jenny who run things and both have exciting stories to tell.
* Having a bath everyday and really appreciating it, and then having a massage, and sometimes having another bath later as well.
* The stunning fresh flower arrangements that are everywhere in the house, including in the bedrooms.
* Getting to try alternative treatments such as NLP and hypnotherapy.
* Being so near to the sea and getting to see so much natural beauty on coastal walks, and on hikes across the moors – despite the walks being tough.
I would recommend NuBeginnings to anyone. It's a testament to how well it works and how good it makes you feel that they have a lot of repeat visitors; one member of our group was there for his twelfth time! I felt like I couldn't do it at the start, but now I feel like I would definitely go back. It's funny how achievement can change your whole mindset. On the way back to London I felt like I had been through some kind of time portal where everything had gone slowly and then fast, and I'd come out feeling younger, fitter, and more relaxed. Of course being in such a beautiful, luxurious place with great food, and massages, and nice people eases the feeling of being so out of your comfort zone. But the week is all about challenging yourself and setting your own goals, no matter how much weight you want to lose, or not lose, and what you came to work on (some people, for example, workout regularly anyway but come for relaxation). This is a holiday with a difference, it's completely life-changing and a way to drastically re-set and re-start, I'm so glad I did it. I'm going to share my weightloss journey here in my health section, so if you can relate and want to share your journey too, or you just want to see how I get on, make sure you check back in.
NuBeginnings has programmes running almost every week of the year, check the website for different price plans. You can also order a free e-book and weightloss tips from the website with no obligation. I was offered a complimentary place in return for this review.