The contestants on "The Biggest Loser" are just that — players in a reality show game who are subjected to harsh workouts, screeching coaches and weigh-ins on national television. The role is not for everyone, not even for everyone desperate to lose weight.
There is, however, the possibility of an alternative performance; we'll call it "Biggest Loser" lite. The setting? The hills above Malibu.
The Biggest Loser Resort is definitely a resort, with lots of wood and glass in the main building nestled among tall evergreens, a hot tub, delicious spa food served by waiters and other amenities. But it's not too lite. Wake-up is at 6 a.m. for stretching, followed by breakfast, a mountain hike, workouts and classes until dinner at 6 p.m. Sessions are not considered optional.
Some people stay for weeks. Some are sent by their employers or nudged by a spouse or a child. It works as a "girlfriend retreat" without all the temptations of, say, Cabo, and it's more rigorous than many spas.
Judy Opperman of Scottsdale, Ariz., spent a week at the resort in February and returned in November, thanks to a Groupon discount. "Here they push you, they get you outside your comfort zone."
She was considering talking to her husband about stretching her stay to two weeks. "It's one of the hardest things to do, to take the time for yourself," she said.
Virginia Vierra, 64, of Fontana said that when her scale tipped 300 pounds, she determined that she would move from "waiting to die to ready to live." She's lost more than 20 pounds and given up the scooter she had been using to get around.
The information about nutrition, portion control and physical activity is hardly news to Ann Sura. She's a physician in Lake Tahoe and talks about them all the time with her patients. "It's so different to implement for myself," Sura said.
"I did a ton of research, looking for something to rekindle my forgotten love of working out and healthy eating," Sura said. "They hold you accountable. If you're not in class, they go find out why."
Behind the heated outdoor pool are two big gyms, one full of treadmills and stationary bikes, the other for weights and such, and a field for outdoor workouts. Class topics include nutrition, cooking, stretching, goal-setting. The atmosphere is more like a fitness studio than a reality show, and some people barely break a sweat. No one gets kicked out for failing to lose enough weight. The TV show provides the foundation for the program, but the resorts — Malibu is one of four that have opened since 2009 — are privately owned.
There's lots of practical advice during a one-week stay, such as: If you've had a few kids, don't set a goal of fitting into your high school clothes.
"You guys need to go home and pick one thing to focus on, one thing to change," says Micaela Gruber, the resort's program director. "You need to be accountable to yourself, to let other people know how serious you are."
But what about the food?
The meal plan is based on 1,500 calories a day, taken from government recommendations to make half the plate produce, a quarter protein and a quarter carbohydrates. There's also a salad bar and dessert at dinner. A recent lunch was delicious: parsnip soup, crab salad sandwiches with bacon on toast and vegetables — for a total of 384 calories.
The Biggest Loser Resort
Where: 327 Latigo Canyon Road, Malibu; also in Ivins, Utah; Chicago; and Niagara, N.Y.
Cost: $2,995 per week for a private room, $2,895 for a semiprivate room, $2,295 for a "town" program for people who don't stay overnight. Discounts for stays of more than three weeks. Spa and salon services, including massage and acupuncture, are extra. Insurance doesn't pay the costs at present.
Information: (877) 825-8878; www.biggestloserresort.com