Sweat Equity

An all-inclusive luxury resort provides an antidote to holiday weight gain—and tools to manage health and wellbeing all year long

By Leslie A. Westbrook

Yoga on the lawn at Carlsbad’s Park Hyatt Aviara Resort, home to VeraVia


on’t you just hate that old pant zipper trick? The one where it won’t… quite… zip up? Much to my dismay, I recently gained five pounds, and I feared adding to the scale/my girth over the winter holidays. Tempting platters of cheese, crackers, and cookies would soon be waved under my nose, but I was hoping to release my gain to the universe. Or at least hold my own. So, right after Thanksgiving, I made a quick visit to a wellness camp to get a jumpstart on any weight-related New Year’s resolutions. VeraVia (Latin for “true path”) proved to be an amazing, effective “fitness, health, and well-being” retreat, located just a couple hours away in North County San Diego’s Carlsbad.

Wellness encompasses the mind, body, and spirit – VeraVia’s holistic approach addresses all three with medical assessments and meetings with various experts in their fields, including a naturopathic doctor, fitness experts, and a nutritionist, topped off with fitness classes, yoga, meditation, and fresh, organic cuisine. Redefining each client’s relationship to food (including mental and psychological levels) and providing tools and strategies for the prevention of diseases and sports injury while getting fit is all part of the program. Everything is truly personalized, with the goal of helping guests achieve their “optimal self” via training and new skills that can be used for the rest of their lives.

I didn’t know quite what to expect during my brief yet effective stay, as I would not receive my itinerary until the day of my arrival. A warm welcome in the grand lobby of the Park Hyatt Aviara Resort by two of VeraVia’s terrific team members, Adrienne and Jacqueline, included a tour of the facilities that would be my home for the next three nights. In addition to a spacious guestroom, there were inviting pools, a Jacuzzi, and a fitness center and spa. A review of my daily itinerary revealed a full schedule ahead, with days beginning at 6 or 7 a.m. and ending with dinner at 6 p.m.

My first evening was spent over a lovely dinner with another female guest who had also just checked into the program hoping to not only lose weight, but also de-stress. No bread, no butter or olive oil or salt on the table. No honey for her tea. But there was anti-inflammatory turmeric and pepper and chia seeds: the benefits would be explained later by VeraVia’s nutritionist. Each meal began with a “shot” of apple cider vinegar to stimulate digestion and balance blood sugar.

Dinner was a lovely salad and an entrée of halibut served over a puree of celery root, with two stalks of jumbo asparagus. No need to hold the dessert. There wasn’t any! Two other guests were in residence, a Californian businessman and a New Yorker who works in the stressful financial sector. All four of us were committed to losing weight and getting fitter. I had enrolled in VeraVia’s three-day Express package; the other’s stays ranged from one week to one month or longer. And so far, they had each “released” a pound a day.

The first day of my itinerary went something like this: 7:30 a.m. start with orientation and fitness assessments. Erkan, my wonderful fitness guru, told me my goal was to practice not holding my breath and to exhale when exerting energy. This was to be remembered during all our fitness classes, from core to weights to yoga. My fitness “assessment” included squats, a mile on a treadmill, and pushups. We were all at different levels, with me being the slow poke in the group. Lunch was chicken salad with grapes and blueberries; dinner was fish, kale, and lentils.

Dr.Derek, the house naturopath, spoke to us about genetics in his Foundations of Health workshop. “Genes are not your fate,” he said, which was encouraging, citing epigenetics. A behavioral health workshop, led by Natasha, was informative, and Megan Lewis, director of the behavioral health program, told me during a private session that the longer a guest stays, “the deeper she goes.” Nutritionist Cat (who designed all our tasty meals) imparted great information and advice during our one-on-one consultation, as well as great tips to help with my insomnia—including staying off the computer for an hour-and-a-half before going to bed and unplugging my Wi-Fi router.

On the second day, a highlight was an early morning four-and-a-half-mile hike that included a challenging climb up Mount Calavera, a 22 million-year-old volcanic plug, one of just three in Southern California. I never in 22 million years imagined I could accomplish this feat: the equivalent of 34 stories, 28 of them at an 80 percent angle. Thanks to the gentle guidance, encouragement, and helping hands from hiking guides Evan and Erkan, five of us scaled to the top, where one colleague’s phone app revealed our accomplishment. Rewarded with sweeping views, we shared our sense of accomplishment at overcoming not only physical, but emotional fears. Did I mention that breakfast (after our hike) consisted of scrambled egg whites and asparagus followed by smoked salmon with apple on gluten-free bread with goat cheese?

VeraVia Founders are Wyatt Chapman, an award-winning architect who oversaw a $4.2 billion dollar company, and his wife, Melissa Chapman, who owns and runs a huge antiques showroom in downtown San Diego. The couple went seeking help for their own stress and health issues at various “boot camps” where they would lose weight but return to old habits once they got home.

“There was shame. We had no behavioral change, nor a medical component,” Melissa admitted. So the couple “dreamt up a magical place,“

Melissa told me. “We wanted to be in an elegant place, get results, have medical and educational components… and we wanted it to be fun!”

They created VeraVia two years ago, to fill in the gaps and provide a really important aspect that helps accountability when guests leave the VeraVia program: an online alumni portal and follow-up emails and phone calls with the staff to stay on track.

Groups are intentionally kept small (usually no more than five guests at a time) and programs are tailored to each individual. Despite being costly, approximately $1,000 per day, it is a good value considering all the personal attention in classes, private meetings with the behavioral therapist, nutritionist, and others, all meals, and luxury accommodations, not to mention the follow-up and life skills gained when you leave.

I just checked in for the VeraVia Express program to get a kick-start on my end of the year/new year fitness and health program, and to acquire new tools to take home with me. But I gained more than that. I “released” a pound the first day, and continued to do so even when I got home. At the time of this writing (the height of holiday season temptations), I not only ”released” the five pounds I’d recently gained, but felt like pushing myself harder in my fitness regime. Best of all? I made a really nice new friend, Cassie, with whom I trade texts and support as we chase our respective fitness goals, an unexpected bonus to VeraVia’s great program.

For information on VeraVia, an all-inclusive luxury weight loss resort,
go to or call 1.800.527.1936.

The luxury hotel overlooks the Pacific and features an 18-hole Arnold Palmer-designed golf course, as well as this 3,200-square-foot swimming pool.

Guests work with an in-house nutritionist to establish long-term eating plans. At the resort, meals feature nutrient-dense foods that support the detoxification process.


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