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Should You Spend Thousands on This Growing Travel Trend?

Flying to Italy to lose weight might seem counterintuitive but at this weight loss retreat, that's exactly what's on offer.

Picture this: you’re whisked away to a beautiful location. Delicious food and drink are planned to your exact preferences. There are swimming pools. Rolling mountains with vineyards and orchards. Each morning you wake up to a curated activity. A thermal bath. A guided hike through a forest. An intense sauna session or an exercise class with a personal trainer. Now imagine that after visiting that paradise, resetting from the day-to-day grind, and basking in the lap of luxury, you return home physically fitter than you were before. Maybe even in the best shape of your life.

That’s the premise behind the Weight Loss Vacation package from Dolce Vita Hotel Preidlhof, a five-star luxury resort in Northern Italy. The package is part of a growing trend in the 71 billion dollar diet industry. Dozens of weight loss retreats have popped up across the globe, each claiming to kickstart a body transformation or help clients drop unwanted pounds.

While the goals of these programs are all basically the same, the framing and techniques vary. Some take a militaristic boot camp approach. Others have a focus on sports, while locations like Preidlhof exist as high-end spas (a variation made clear in the marketing). There are fit farms and health retreats. An Australian program bills itself as an adult fat camp.

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The cultural obsession with weight loss and avoiding being labeled “fat” can be troublesome for some people, leading to obsessive behaviors and mental health challenges. Still, for those wanting to make body changes, weight loss retreats have an obvious appeal. A person is thrown into an environment completely outside their everyday norms. They’re given many tools to succeed with nutritionists, trainers, and customized plans based on their fitness goals. It can feel like dieting with cheat codes. 

But that feeling comes at a steep price. Weekly rates for weight loss retreats can run thousands of dollars. And while people may see initial changes during their programs, without developing consistent sustainable habits, many patients end up regaining weight when they return home. It’s the same reason many Biggest Loser competitors struggle after leaving the confines of the program.

Working as a wellness journalist, I’ve learned time and time again that jumping headfirst into an intense fitness routine rarely leads to lasting changes. Still, on a personal level, it’s hard to deny the enticing prospect and potential results of a weight loss retreat. When an offer from Preidlhof ended up in my inbox—fly to Italy and write about our week-long weight loss vacation package—the only answer was to say yes.

What It’s Like on an Italian Weight Loss Retreat

Preidlhof is located in Naturns, about a four-hour drive from Venice, situated in the Italian Alps near the Austrian border. The picturesque landscape is topped only by the resort’s amenities. Preidlhof has five different pools, a five-floor sauna tower, its own apple orchard, a pig farm, multiple gyms, and a full-service spa.

Upon arrival, the jovial staff walked me through campus and show me to my room. There, we ran down the itinerary of my “Lighten Up” program. While this was happening, I was served a breadstick wrapped with uncured bacon from the resort’s pigs. The portion was minuscule but decidedly outside of a weight loss retreat diet. Savoring the flavor,  I briefly wondered if traveling to Italy with the intention of losing weight was a bad idea.

The next morning, Preidlhof’s physician took my height and I stood on a scale that looked like an off-brand Star Wars droid. It whizzed and burred as info about my body arrived on a menacing interface. The phrase “over fat” lit up next to a series of graphs and some Italian words I didn’t understand.

Afterward, the doctor ran more tests, and we assessed the charts. I have problems with my parasympathetic nervous system. It could be impacting my energy levels and ability to use food as fuel. My stress levels also seem abnormally high. It’s all good information to know, but “over fat was the only thing I really took away from the session. Ostensibly weight loss is the reason I’m here, but before the scale told me so, I would not have considered myself “over fat.” Not lean exactly, but certainly not over fat.

I exited the doctor’s office and stopped at the resort patio for an espresso. The drink had a hint of fresh lemon picked from the property’s trees. While sipping the coffee, I looked at the mountains. This was the most beautiful place I’ve ever been—and I felt strange about my body.

From the onset, the staff was clear about my week-long retreat: While I may make some changes, dramatic results in that short time period weren’t likely. Instead, the purpose of the shorter retreat was to reset and bring new tools into the future.

The centerpiece of day three was a class on mindful eating. Over the course of an hour, we ate a single apple. We were asked to consider eating an activity unto itself, rather than something we do while distracted by phones, music, television, or even conversation. With each bite of the apple, we made notes on its firmness, acidity, sweetness, shape, and size. At first, the experience was frustrating. An apple is an apple, what more is there to say? But gradually by forcing myself to pay more attention I did start to pick up subtle flavors and textures I hadn’t noticed before. I also noted how my body was reacting to the food in a way that doesn’t happen when I absent-mindedly eat while checking emails.

My diet for the retreat consisted of vegan meals—mostly soup—for breakfast and lunch, followed by a seven-course wellness tasting menu each night. At dinner, I attempted to put my new mindful eating skills into practice. The first course on the first evening was gazpacho served in a champagne flute. I looked around the dining room. The majority of patrons at Preidlhof were not on a weight loss retreat. They were there on spa packages or romantic getaways. Their first course was house-made gnocchi. I sipped the champagne flute and tried to be mindful. The main taste in my mouth was jealousy.

Towards the middle of my stay at the resort, I’d settled into a routine. In the morning, I had a high-protein breakfast, then explored a mountain, navigating upwards and trying not to scare the wild goats along the paths. After that, there was a half-hour of laps on the rooftop infinity pool, then lunch. From there. I had massages and spa treatments—one day I am wrapped in mud that heats then hardens like armor, another I am twisted and turned to loosen my muscles—then came an exercise class or meditation session if I wasn’t too worn out. I’d read until dinner, eat, then spend the evening in the sauna tower, navigating between extreme heat and a cold plunge until my body and mind feel rested.

Deciding if a Weight Loss Retreat Is Right for You

The program is a perfect blend of free time and structure. The Sound of Music meets The Godfather setting of Naturns adds to the reset intention of the retreat. But the specter of fat loss looms heavily over the whole experience.

If you’re of a certain disposition and spend too much time in fitness/wellness spaces, you run the risk of constantly thinking about your weight and shape. The classes and meditations at Preidlhof are trying to combat that mentality, pushing a more intuitive approach to eating and exercise. What can we learn by actually listening to our body’s wants and needs? How do we address those needs with intention? How can that lifestyle change play into our fitness goals? I paid attention during the classes. I tried to be present, to enjoy the beautiful setting and the luxury of getting an experience like this. Still, each activity is painted by the knowledge that I’ll be on the scale again at the end of the week.

At the final weigh-in, I dropped five and a half pounds. The doctor noted that the number is aggressive, almost too much to lose in a week, but with the specialty diet and level of movement, it felt appropriate. It’s a big result, and aside from eyeing up my neighbors’ food and a bit of existential reckoning, the program felt like a dream. Yet despite the lost pounds, the Star Wars scale still told me I’m “over fat.” It was humbling even with the success. 

Graham Isador

That night, in addition to my multi-course wellness dinner, I ordered a selection of cheeses. They’re sourced from local farms, flavorful to the point that nearly brought me to tears.

Later I decided to attend a special show on the fourth floor of the sauna tower. Upon arrival, I was greeted by two dozen naked Europeans sitting and sweating in the heat. A staff member let me know that this was a nude area, something that I hadn’t been aware of but had quickly surmised. If I wanted to stay, I’d have to get undressed. I thought for a moment, hesitated, then dropped my shorts.

A few minutes later, a fully clothed woman arrived in the sauna and began speaking in German. After her monologue, she turned on “The Circle of Life” song from The Lion King. She danced to the music, waving a towel above her head to circulate the heat. The naked Europeans clapped in tune, flesh glistening with sweat. We were all just bodies, enjoying the moment, clapping along to a Disney song.