NEW YORK (MainStreet) — On day two of my recent VeraVia wellness retreat, I sat staring at my salmon crostini topped with pomegranate seeds, one question sticking in my mind:
Why can't I eat this way every day?
Not only did eating such healthy food taste better, it made me feel better about myself and made me feel better throughout the day.
Which is exactly VeraVia's goal — to get its participants to change their ways. Those changes are not just about eating healthier, but also exercising more and living more well-balanced lives.
To help participants achieve such lifestyle changes, the new Carlsbad, Calif.-based luxury wellness program does what few other such retreats do: offers more than just education about healthy eating and exercise, instead providing an integrated approach to overall well-being that includes pairing visitors with a naturopathic doctor, human movement specialist, exercise physiologist, nutritionist and behavior health psychologist.
The goal of all of this attention is to help participants change old thought patterns, eating habits and lifestyle choices, enabling them to go home and continue the healthy approaches taught at VeraVia.
"We wanted to create a program that helps people create lifelong changes. Not just a fitness boot camp," says VeraVia's president and chief executive, Wyatt Chapman
Opened in 2013, VeraVia has been called a forerunner of a niche developing in the wellness industry to address increasing demand — executive wellness, or "executive reboot" programs.
Canyon Ranch, in Lenox, Mass.; Rancho La Puerta, in Tecate, Mexico; and Pritikin in Miami are other such wellness retreats with programs aimed at attracting and rebooting the often busy and unhealthy lifestyles of the executive crowd.
More and more, high-powered executives and companies are putting an emphasis on the importance of work/life balance and a commitment to health.
"We get a lot of people who are used to success, but at the expense of their health and well being," Chapman says. "A lot of the executives who come here are not here for just weight loss, they want to reset and reboot. They come because something in their lives has to change."
To help make that happen VeraVia provides participants with everything from grocery shopping tours and restaurant ordering coaching to motivational and educational workshops, behavioral modification workshops and after-care follow-up coaching.
"We offer more one-on-one sessions than any other program out there," Chapman says. "We want to teach you how to manage your most important asset — your health and well-being."
Eric Lieb, a digital advertising sales executive who had grown used to long hours and an increasingly unhealthy lifestyle, lost 12 pounds in just four days at VeraVia. More importantly, Lieb says, the program, with its 6 a.m. hikes each day and nutrition counseling, among other things, helped him reconnect with healthy habits that had fallen by the wayside amid a busy career.
"It kick-started me back into the passions I had," says Lieb, who had always enjoyed mountain biking and skiing before life got too hectic with work. "With the career, I was kind of falling off the wagon."
"Because there is a physical component, mental component and an educational component to the program, it really gives you all the things you need to be successful," Lieb says. "The moral of the story — I feel substantially better. I have more energy, mentally and physically."
Stays at VeraVia range from four days to four weeks. The program is open to anyone, but the price tag — $7,200 a week — is clearly aimed at a well-heeled crowd.
The good news is that the healthy mentality CEOs and other executives adopt at such retreats appears to be showing up in the workplace to be shared with employees.
U.S. companies are increasingly offering more in-house programs to help their employees achieve health goals and work life balance.
First Green Bank in Florida is one such example.
"It trickles down from the top," begins Robbie Gossett, executive assistant to the bank's chief executive, Ken LaRoe. "Ken sometimes has a stressful day and will go out for a run or go on the treadmill. It definitely is something that is common. And he is the leader of our group, and people emulate the example he sets. If we see him taking off in the middle of day for a run, we know that's a good thing."
At First Green the wellness initiatives LaRoe has put in place at the bank's various locations include in-house gyms for employees and a $500 wellness allowance per employee.
The bank also has a program called The Biggest Winner (after the Biggest Loser television program) that offers staff help and rewards for losing weight, including a cash prize at year's end to whoever has lost the most and access to a personal trainer for anyone who needs weight-loss pointers.
"When he started the bank, Ken felt that being a green bank meant not only caring for the planet, but also taking care of ourselves, and he adopted a very holistic and well-rounded approach to having a healthy, productive staff," Gossett says. "Ken himself has always been a very health-oriented person and has tried to influence everybody."
SB Architects is another company that takes the health of its employees seriously and has adopted an increasing range of programs to encourage a healthier work/life balance.
"The partners all agreed that the combination of international travel to support the business and the day-to-day stress of work had meant that we sort of put our own personal fitness on a back burner. So we decided as a group to give ourselves permission to hire a trainer and join a gym and, during the day, to find an hour where you can focus on being physically fit and mentally fit, and that worked out great for us," partner Bruce Wright says. "And from that, we thought, the best we can do as a leadership team is to bring that ethos to the office, and we agreed to dedicate a certain portion of week to health and wellness."
That has grown to include weekly noon workouts in the office with a trainer who comes in to lead stretching, yoga and fitness classes.
The firm has also brought in people to talk about diet and lifestyle balance and recently ordered a few spinning bikes that will be available to employees.
"We've seen a dramatic response, a lot of personal gains in fitness and mental well-being," Wright says. "It really helps cut down on sick days, and people feel better and there is a lot of camaraderie during the fitness classes. It's a good time, during which the traditional hierarchy doesn't apply."
"In the fast-paced world where you have cellphones and digital media, the workplace doesn't have the traditional 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. boundaries anymore," Wright says. "You have people answering emails at all times of day or night. So in turn we are more flexible about having programs that reward that kind of commitment."
— By Mia Taylor for MainStreet