Most clients attending a weight loss retreat might expect to some form of food deprivation, even if the surroundings and treatments are five-star. However, the regime at Healthouse Las Dunas near Marbella, Spain has taken a very different approach, with a gourmet menu created by a Michelin-star chef and a schedule where guests eat five times a day.
The resort, which offers 55 suites, the 3,000sq m (32,290sq ft) Naturhouse Spa and the 319sq m (3,430sq ft) Ekilum Spa, opened in May 2014 and has already seen some impressive results among guests, 85 per cent of whom come for weight loss.
“Our guests lose an average of five kilos a week, and we’ve had a high amount (80 per cent) of repeat visits in a little over a year of operation.” says Healthouse director Raul Huerga.
A large part of this success comes down to Healthouse’s decision to partner with renowned Basque chef Andoni Luis Aduriz who set up the two-Michelin star Mugaritz – rated sixth best restaurant in the world.
Aside from his accomplishments in haute cuisine, Aduriz has long had an interest in health and nutrition, having consulted on various health-related projects, including the national Senifood project to research the macro-nutrient profile of menus. So the partnership, says Huerga, “turned out to be a perfect one”.
The extensive menu for Healthouse’s eight programmes – including those for detox, anti-stress and anti-smoking – was in full-time development for two months with a team of 54 of Aduriz’s chefs.
Restricting calories not taste
The meals at Healthouse contain no added salt or sugar, no high-fat dairy, there’s no flour in the sauces or starchy carbohydrates served and yet guests are able to dine on appealing dishes like grilled vegetables with sea urchin, lobster salad and caviar, cannelloni with a special béchamel, and Catalane cream.
Huerga says: “For the weight loss regime guests will either be on an intensive 900 calories per day or 1,300 calories, both of which involve a normal breakfast, a mid morning snack, a four-course lunch, mid afternoon snack and four-course dinner. The entire calorie count for dinner, for example, would be less than one cheeseburger.”
For other programmes, like anti-smoking, guests might be eating up to 2,500 calories a day depending upon their individual nutritional requirements.
Huerga says that each day, not more than one teaspoon of olive oil goes into a guest’s food on the weight loss programme, in addition to the naturally-occurring healthy fats in the organic produce such as chicken and fish.
“Our team of 11 chefs spend a lot of time on preparation. Some of our dishes take up to 72 hours to prepare under a slow reduction method, where we extract the unwanted calories like excess fat, keep the best nutritional content of the food and concentrate the flavour.”
Sauces are thickened with kuzu, which derives from a Japanese plant, and is a naturally gluten-free starch, while desserts may be sweetened with low-sugar fruits such as berries and inulin, a naturally occurring polysaccharide. Herbs from the resort’s garden also feature strongly.
Having set up the launch menu, Aduriz is still very much a hands-on consultant – creating around 50-60 dishes for each programme, for every season. The idea is that no one will eat the same dish twice.
Food education is so central to the programme, that Healthouse operates a genuine, open kitchen policy, where guests can wander in at any time of the day and see what the chefs are doing.
There’s also a cookery class every two days, complete with take-home menus and even a cocktail making class that involves teas instead of alcohol. Local shopping tours are also included, so guests learn how to food shop for a healthier lifestyle.
Huerga says: “The focus is not so much about reducing food here but about creating lifelong healthy habits.”
While the food is naturally a major part of the programme, Healthouse guests also undergo a series of tests and assessments overseen by an endocrinologist and GP. A psychologist is on hand too, to explore reasons why the guest perhaps cannot lose weight or stop smoking, and finally a nutritionist who devises a bespoke eating plan for their stay.
The spa offers therapeutic treatments such as shiatsu, reiki, deep tissue massage and seaweed baths, as well as individualised treatments according to the programme. For the Anti-Ageing package, for example, there’s a focus on regenerative treatments for skin tone, and cellulite and wrinkle reduction, while for Anti-Stress there’s floatation therapy.
“Within two days, we know exactly what a guest needs and how we can help them,” says Huerga.“We’re very proud of our results so far. When you reduce weight you reduce a lot of problems associated with diabetes [and other illnesses]. The pharmaceutical industry isn’t happy with that, but we know this approach works.”
Another factor in the longer-term success of Healthouse will no doubt be the post-retreat support offered to all guests. Each will receive a weekly check-up call, and many will be linked up to a local Naturhouse diet and supplement shop – part of a global network of over 2000 franchise shops managed by Healthouse’s parent company Grupo Kiluva.
Huerga says that while guests were initially around 70 per cent Spanish – perhaps down to the association with Naturhouse which is well established brand in Spain – there’s now a wider spread of nationalities, including many from Britain and France.
Healthouse clearly sees a future in what it terms ‘gastro-healthy’ cuisine, and Huerga reveals that the company is already in discussions with Aduriz to open a chain of Healthouse restaurants, starting with the major Spanish cities of Madrid and Barcelona.
He concludes: “These plans are in the very early stages, and we will need to see how well the concept is received before we consider expansion.
“We are also currently searching for a new site for the second Healthouse, which is to be located in Miami Beach, Florida and will hopefully be open to the US market by next year.”