Self Care, Mindful Eating, and the Green Mountain Way

UPDATE: This contest is now closed. However Green Mountain has extended the 20% discount through July 31. This gives you some time to consider if you want to (and can) invest in a stay there. Just call 1-800-448-8106 and mention that you heard about the discount here at Already Pretty if you decide you’d like to use the discount. (Not to be combined with any other offers.)

When I was in sixth grade, my then-boyfriend turned to me and said “Tom and all those guys say you’re really big, but it doesn’t matter to me.” And instead of hearing the part about his acceptance of me, all I heard was that people thought I was fat. This was absolutely news to me, as I’d never thought about my size, weight, or shape in any way before that moment. Never considered that other people were looking at me and judging me. It was an absolute revelation. And although I give him credit for trying to soften the blow and explain that he could care less, it still changed me. For the worse.

I don’t believe that single incident to be the sole source of my body image woes, but it set off some alarm bells and alerted me to ideas about body size and shape that I hadn’t previously pondered. And when I realized that I was bigger than my peers and that they knew it, I decided to change my body. And diets were all I could see.

So I started dieting around age 12, and continued on and off for around 16 years. And I lost some weight on a few of those diets, and gained most of it back over time. And I learned a little about nutrition and eating by implementing various diet plans, but I also learned about equating hunger and deprivation with accomplishment, about the anxiety produced by strict eating rules and the consequential rebellious eating, about dividing foods into “good” and “bad” categories. I dieted on and off for 16 years and I believe that it did me more harm than good.

So when the folks at Green Mountain at Fox Run contacted me about visiting their facility, I was intrigued. I’d first heard about Green Mountain via Medicinal Marzipan, a dedicated body image blogger and supporter of self-love for all bodies of all sizes. Mara’s endorsement meant a lot to me, so I did a bit of my own research, and agreed to visit.*

Green Mountain is an all-women’s health retreat in Vermont that takes a body-loving, non-diet approach to help women repair their relationships with food, their bodies, and themselves. They’ve been teaching the tenets of self love and mindful eating for more than 40 years and garnered a stellar reputation in the process. The program has nutrition and fitness components, but perhaps more importantly, the Green Mountain staff helps women end their struggles with eating and weight by working with them to identify issues around emotional and binge eating, change the self-defeating cycle of body hatred, and address stress management (one of the most important predictors of successful long-term health).

To me, that all sounded amazing but also a bit daunting. The first time I heard someone talk about having a “relationship with food,” I chuckled. People don’t have relationships with inanimate objects! Bah! Woo-woo nonsense! But over time I came to see that food and eating are among the most charged things that humans deal with on a daily basis. How we handle food and eating influences how we feel about our own judgment and self-control, how other people may view us, how our bodies function and feel, and what may happen to those bodies long-term. I don’t talk about food here on the blog because I just don’t know that much about it, and I’ll admit to being nervous about exploring my own relationship with food. I swore off diets almost seven years ago, but that doesn’t mean I’ve done much to understand my eating patterns. I don’t diet but I still struggle to eat healthy and feel satisfied, I still continually eat foods that don’t agree with me, and I still eat little during the week and loads on the weekends.

I learned so much at Green Mountain, and I want to share it all with you. But before I dig into some of the granular details, I want to share the most life-altering thing that I learned: Feeding your body is integral to self care. We eat for so many reasons. Food and eating are woven into our social structure and our emotional lives, which is marvelous and good. But if we lose sight of food as fuel, if we treat food as reward or punishment only, if we fail to provide our bodies with adequate and satisfying nourishment, we are missing a key piece of the self-care puzzle. How we feed ourselves impacts how we feel about ourselves.

The Green Mountain program is very focused on self care, and one of the first things I heard from Program Director Barbara Meyer, PhD, was that many women give away all their care-taking energy to others and reserve none for themselves. Over the course of my week there, nutritionists, fitness experts, psychologists, chefs, and staff all over the building drove home ideas of self care and nurturing. On the surface is food, eating, fitness, wellness, but underneath is body image, respect, and self care.

And what’s amazing is that they meet you right where you are. Exercise and fitness classes are all tailored to fit those with physical challenges, injuries, or specific needs. “Your pace is THE pace,” was a phrase I heard over and over again, and it helped participants feel valued, included, and motivated. Nutrition classes acknowledge that lifelong dieters already have loads of information about food, calories, fat, strategic eating, and related topics. But these classes offered eye-opening information about the importance of real satiety, of choosing whole foods over manufactured diet foods, of listening to what your body is asking for, of feeding yourself well. Body image and behavior classes delved into the seldom-asked questions surrounding eating: Why do we eat when we do? How do we make our food-related choices? What has years of functioning under the deprivation-based diet mentality done to our emotional cores? How can we be mindful when we do eat, and enjoy the experience to the fullest? Do we know what being hungry feels like? How else could we help ourselves feel supported, nourished, and whole?

No diet I’ve ever tried gave me this kind of insight.

Green Mountain will help any woman find her way to a healthier self. Weight loss, fitness, and related buzz words litter their website, and given the amount of activity engaged and (truly delicious) healthy food consumed, weight loss is a likely byproduct of a stay there. But having interviewed the owners and staff extensively, I can assure you that their main goal is to help the women who have come to Green Mountain feel better about themselves, to learn to care for and love their bodies regardless of size or shape. These folks know that focus on weight loss, scales, and numbers can often lead to impatience, disappointment, and even returning to cycles of bingeing and dieting. They want the women who have invested time, money, and trust in these retreats to leave their facility equipped with knowledge, renewed dedication to self care, and solid tools for healthy living outside the bubble of the Green Mountain world.

Now that I’ve waxed poetic for a billion words, allow me to tell you what a stay at Green Mountain is like. First off, it’s in Vermont. So, ya know, gorgeous.

The building is the same one they’ve used for the past 40 years, and the exterior looks a bit dated. But the rooms are clean, modern and lovely. This is what my room looked like:

Every week, participants get a schedule of classes and activities. The schedule is packed but varied, and during nearly all time slots you can choose between two possible options, frequently a nutrition or behavior class versus a physical activity class. All meals and snacks are included, and you are encouraged to eat only provided food in the group dining areas to increase mindfulness. The food portions are smaller than what you’d get at a typical restaurant, but bear in mind that most restaurants over-serve. The meals are tasty and satisfying, but healthy snacks are also available for nearly the entire day.

The first week of programming is designed to impart the basics of the Green Mountain philosophy: Healthy and sane nutrition, an understanding of the emotional and psychological reasons behind eating, and the fundamentals of do-able movement and fitness. You can opt out of any class at any time to sleep, hike in the beautiful surrounding woods, or meet one-on-one with professional staff for guidance or counseling. Although programming runs on a four-week cycle, you can opt to stay for as little as one week.

Which brings me to the unfortunate downside: Green Mountain is expensive. Especially if you’re considering a multi-week stay. There is a scholarship program and the Green Mountain blog is an amazing resource for those not inclined to visit, but funding a retreat on your own may be challenging. The cost covers meals, lodging, materials, intensive programming, and select one-on-one sessions with professional staff. For those who have struggled for ages and need an intensive, personal, carefully designed program that will help them heal from years of self-loathing, this program will feel worth the investment. All the participants I spoke with felt they’d spent wisely, and knew that what they learned about themselves during their time at Green Mountain would impact their lives forever.

That said, I am thrilled to have partnered with Green Mountain in two ways: The organization has very generously offered to give Already Pretty readers 20% off booking fees if you arrange for your retreat between now and June 30, 2012. Call 1-800-448-8106 and mention that you heard about the discount here at Already Pretty.

I am also excited to be partnering with Green Mountain to give away a week’s stay at the retreat center to one of you amazing readers. Please read the terms carefully before you consider entering. We are giving away:

  • A one-week stay in a private accommodation at Green Mountain at Fox Run.
  • Valid between now and July 1, 2013. (SEE UPDATE ABOVE.)
  • Approval of requested dates contingent upon availability.
  • Travel is NOT included. Please review this information about getting to Green Mountain. It is in a somewhat remote location.
  • This giveaway is open to all readers, including international, but again, you are responsible for your own travel costs.

In order to enter, you must:

  • Like Green Mountain on Facebook
  • Sign up for their e-newsletter (scroll to box at right that says “Sign up for our Weight, Women & Wellness newsletter”)
  • E-mail me. Tell me why you think you would benefit from a stay at Green Mountain and/or what excites you about this program. You must e-mail me to qualify. Comments on this post will not qualify you for entry.

I will select a winner at random on June 27 and notify the winner privately via e-mail.

Body image and self image crises can stem from infinite sources. But for anyone whose poor body image may be tied to eating and food, Green Mountain at Fox Run is a supportive, safe, loving environment in which to puzzle out and begin to work on those issues. I honestly can’t imagine a better program for those who struggle to feel good about eating, movement, and their own beautiful bodies.

I learned so much about my own behaviors, needs, and patterns during my week there and can say for certain that I’m changed forever. There’s no guilt or nagging as I move through my life post-retreat, no scolding voices in my head telling me what I can and cannot eat, do, and want. I feel enlightened and empowered, excited and well-equipped to think about my body, my eating habits, and my commitment to wellness in an entirely new way. This program is absolutely incredible, I’m honored to have had the chance to experience it. I encourage you to check it out if you feel like you might benefit from the Green Mountain way.

**Disclosure: Green Mountain at Fox Run funded my travel and stay at their facility. They did not pay me to write this post, and all opinions contained herein are entirely my own.

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  • Hey, that’s my head in the first photo, all the way to the right! I sure miss those views and the nurturing atmosphere of GMFR! I’m glad you got to experience it for yourself.

  • CW

    After reading about the feelings of self-acceptance, peace, and control over your daily choices you describe as benefits of attending this retreat, I realized how blessed I am that I already feel that way. I think we are all accustomed to assuming our own “normal” is the same as our peers, so I had no idea I had attained such a valuable gift. Thank you.

  • Dee

    First off I saw the gorgeous photos with the green mountains and I thought “That must be Vermont!”. Because my parents are from Vermont I have vacationed there my whole life (summers mostly) but never lived there full time. Anyway, the Green Mountain program sounds wonderful, with the Vermont backdrop, it would be life changing! (and I even know where Ludlow is!) I am definitely going to enter to try to win a weeks stay… it is very pricey. Sally, when did you go – just recently? Thanks so much for sharing this with us.

    • Sal

      It’s gorgeous, isn’t it Dee? Yes, I was there in mid-May.

  • I’m SO glad that you loved it there!! I just adored Green Mountain at Fox Run – and found that I had some huge personal break throughs when I quieted the noise in my body and mind long enough to listen. Thanks for the link 😉

  • Thank you for posting about this topic in such a thoughtful way. I’ve realised in the last week that I need/want to lose a lot of weight that I’ve put on gradually, without really noticing it. But I’m wary of losing the peace and acceptance that I have for my body, what it does and can do, and how well it serves me. I’ve been thinking a lot about how I can continue to have a positive mindset, and focus a bit more on nourishing myself and exercising for fun/energy/strength, rather than falling into some of the negative habits can come with weight-loss plans. I’ll definitely be checking out the Green Mountain blog!

  • What makes me so sad is how crucial something like this is to our health care system yet how unavailable it is to the common patient. I remember seeing a nutritionist here at school about portion sizes and healthy eating as a PCOS patient, and in the 20 minute appointment, her main point was that I should stop cooking farmer’s market meals and instead I should eat Lean Cuisines. Portion size, you know.

    This sort of preventative care and healthy living will pay rich rewards in years to come….why don’t more people see it this way? And when you start to take into account the mental and physiological benefits….? This is a no-brainer.

    • Molly

      I know this wasn’t your overall point, but holy crap, that experience with the nutritionist is disheartening. I’m glad you weren’t susceptible to her advice.

  • muireann

    Ooof. It’s fantastic that you got to experience this, but those prices are extraordinary. They might be in line with what spas charge, but the population of people who can afford to go to spas regularly is very small; it makes me curious who their regular patient population might be. (If they were replying to my comment, they might well observe: “Not being willing to spend the money is another example of women not putting their own needs first.” But there are plenty of women who in at this economic moment might want to spend that money, but can’t afford to.)

    • Sal

      I’ve asked the Green Mountain staff to check in on comments, so I’ll let them respond. Knowing that many readers would feel similarly, I asked them to offer a discount and the did so generously!

    • I saved for 18 months to go, & I’m sure glad I did!

      • Lisa

        Hi Muireann,

        Green Mountain is a full-immersion retreat for women who struggle with overeating and their weight. Our participants have told us the investment is worth the impact Green Mountain has on their lives, though we we understand that the costs can still be prohibitive. Just to be clear, our program includes accommodations and all meals; nutrition, fitness, body image, stress management and emotional eating classes; access to our world-class staff of fitness specialists, dietitians, psychologists and chefs; the community support of like-minded women; and extensive program materials. To make our program as accessible as possible for women who need our help, we offer promotions several times per year and also have a scholarship program. These have enabled many women to participate in our program who may not have been able to otherwise.
        Lisa
        Green Mountain at Fox Run

  • Sal

    Thanks for the comments, all, and I just had to swing by to say that every single one of the e-mail entries I’ve received thus far has moved me to tears. It’s been a very teary morning here at AP Central.

    If I had a million dollars, I’d happily fund every single contest entrant myself. Maybe I’ll go pick up a Powerball ticket this afternoon …

  • Wendy

    What beautiful photographs. I have added Vermont to my “places I really must visit one day” list.

  • Bubu

    Sounds incredible – but for those who can’t get to Green Mountain (for geographic, financial or other reasons) there are a couple of really great books that get into a lot of these issues:
    Women, Food and God by Geneen Roth
    Intuitive Eating by Tribole and Rosch
    (both on Amazon). Roth leads workshops that really delve into emotional eating and what’s going on, but this book takes it to a whole other level. Life-changing. Intuitive Eating is more of a “how to” get away from the dieting mentality and back to honoring one’s hunger and fullness cues, and taking pleasure and eating.

    • Sal

      I’d bet my life that Rosie Molinary’s workshops are stellar, too, and know for a fact that her books are!

      Thanks for these resources, Bubu. Intuitive eating is a practice that is discussed a LOT at Green Mountain.

  • LaChina

    Great post, I would love to visit someday. A book that helped me was Overcoming Overeating. The concept is that if you legalize foods, you’ll be less inclined to over eat.

  • Hi, Sally,

    Just wanted to stop by and say that we are thrilled you got so much out of your stay at Green Mountain. It was a pleasure having you here.

    Also wanted to second the recommendations for the books mentioned above. We’ve long promoted Geneen Roth’s books and I loved Women, Food & God. Intuitive Eating is a wonderful book also; we’ve always referred to the process as mindful eating; Evelyn & Elyse coined the term intuitive eating when they first published their book in the 90s, and today it also goes by a few other names, too, including attuned eating and conscious eating. Ultimately, they all have a very similar focus — helping people tune in and listen to their bodies for guidance in eating. Overcoming Overeating was the forerunner of them all. I recently interviewed Carol Munter, the co-author. She started her program around the same time Green Mountain was founded. It’s so thrilling to see the non-diet movement finally — after 40 years! — gaining some momentum.

  • Sunnymay

    I believe that getting out of your everyday environment releases you from a comfort zone that you’ve cocooned and sheltered your dreams in. Being in a different zone gives you the opportunity to hear things in ways that may resonate better. Going on a retreat or a spa visit gets to your core and shapes your thoughts and possibilities open up. I’ve been on a few retreats and enhoy the spa treatments and good food, laughs and hoenst talk in the fillowhips with others.