Uncovered
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A visit to FitFarms, the residential weight-loss and fitness retreat, proving to Emily Gravenor that spending a week exercising, sweating and eating ‘birdseed', can pay off – in more ways than one.

There is one thing that surprised me most about spending five day at a fitness retreat, it wasn't the pounds that we all shed, the new muscles or the detox glow. It was the emotional side to it, and camaraderie, as you all go on this intense, physically-demanding journey together. I certainly didn't expect to be welling up when the results of a stranger's hard work came through on our final weigh-in day.

Having said that, I looked in the mirror on the morning of my departure and saw a former self from about 10 years ago, when I was enjoying the kind of health that comes only from youth, or a prolonged period when someone else is in charge of your diet and exercise. I couldn't believe this change had taken place over just four days.

Having gone along as a relatively-healthy journalist, I naively thought I might not gain that much from FitFarms. I was wrong. It certainly mentally and physically tough at times, but not because we were being put through a horrendous schedule – this is a holistic retreat with a busy fitness plan, but no camouflage gear to be seen, and a diet of around 1,400 calories per day. You also stay in very pleasant accommodation – in our case a cluster of stone holiday cottages in the countryside near Matlock, in the Peak District. It was more because I'm s used to the idea of doing a small amount of exercise, then rewarding myself, over and above the call of duty. Here, I had moments where the accumulation of exercise left my muscles aching so much that I was staggering around our shared house in the manner of Ozzy Osbourne. The stairs were a particular challenge at times, when an overdose of squats meant that my thigh muscles were spend beyond use – and the day I forgot to take a waterproof on a four hour walk in the rain was a definite low.

However, our daily itinerary was one of fun and jollity, sort of. It consisted of getting to the fitness studio (in a beautiful stone chapel) at 6.30am for our first hour of aerobic exercise, followed by breakfast, two more hour-long sessions, either exercise or nutrition workshops, followed by lunch, more exercise, then dinner, and, of course, some more exercise. We also had mid-morning, mid afternoon and mid-evening snacks (nuts and seeds, which soon became referred to as ‘birdseed'), to keep our energy levels going. The exercise ended around 9pm, as did our ability to stay awake. Cue herbal teas all round and sleeping the sleep of champions.

The controlled diet was a particular worry for me – I'm a fan of a big portion – but the catering team did an excellent job of making meals that were low in calories yet appealing, varied and tasty. Having said that, I'll never forget he day when they told us to expect an evening treat of jelly. Rarely, in the history of mankind, has jelly been so eagerly anticipated. We stretched, jogged, lifted, kicked, squatted, jumped, leaped and sweated, holding dear an image of sweet, naughty jelly in our minds. Those lovely opts of wobbly re jelly were a perfect vision - right up until the point they'd been mixed with ‘birdseed'. “Even in the jelly...?” we whispered, incredulously.

The nutritionists knew what was best for us, though – it was all part of a careful plan, and the exercise programme was, too. This was a real chance to experience all sorts of new activities, and our sessions included hikes, belly-dancing, trampolining, badminton, spinning, resistance classes, circuits, aerobics, street dance, kickboxing, hula-hooping and cycling. It was made clear that there is always some exercise that you can do, no matter what your physical limitations might be, and the enthusiasm of the instructors was encouraging. This extends beyond the stay, too, with a support network designed to keep the healthy process going.

I'd happily go again, just to recreate that glow of health and self-confidence hat I walked away with. Not to mention the new friends.

FitFarms is the longest-running fitness retreat and weight-loss camp in the UK and has three separate retreats in Derbyshire, Somerset and Dorset. FitFarms continually attracts praise from critics and customers for its friendly and effective holistic retreats.