Fat camp is where the pudgy kid in the 70s and 80s went to sweat out some calories and dream of cheesecake, right? That definition may be accurate for 1980s comedy movies, but it’s a new century, and it seems everyone is looking for ways to reach fitness goals and drop pounds. Across the country, weight loss camps and clinics are recruiting participants, and many people are walking away energized and positive about physical goals.
What is a Weight Loss Camp
The term weight loss camp refers to a wide range of fitness and weight-management programs offered across the country. From thrice-weekly boot camp workout programs to week-long adventures that get you up-close-and personal with fitness goals, today’s weight loss programs aren’t your standard fat farm. Every camp targets a different audience and meets a different need, but there are some things most good weight loss camps have in common.
- Weight loss camps involve exercise. Whether participants take long backpacking day trips or hit the gym for group aerobics, attendance at a camp is likely to involve a lot of movement and more than a little bit of sweat.
- The best fitness camps pay attention to total body health, which means they teach a combination of nutrition, exercise, and stress relief activities, among other things.
- Fat camps concentrate on helping participants turn bad fitness and eating habits into good choices, so you can expect to see healthy, delicious meals that are low in fat and calories and high in taste.
- Whether you attend a local program or travel for an overnight or weekly stay, any good weight loss program sends you packing with a better understanding of how to maintain good choices on your home turf. Expect lectures, seminars, or workshops that address healthier lifestyle choices.
- No matter what type of weight loss camp you attend, success depends on your willingness to participate and give your highest level of effort.
Read about the 5 Best Weight Loss Camps in the US.
Who Can Attend a Weight Loss Camp?
Almost anyone can attend a fat camp, but it’s important to pay attention to the purpose of the camp before making reservations. Someone who has been out of shape for years shouldn’t drop into a high-impact camp for body-builders, especially without consulting a physician, for example. In fact, it’s best to consult your physician if you have any questions about whether you should attend a weight loss or fitness program.
Read about the best ways to lose weight for women over 40.
Fat camps exist for individuals of any age or capability level. Some camps specialize in helping women with losing weight after pregnancy. Other camps are targeted toward teens who want to learn how to manage their weight; still others are designed for elementary or middle school children who are already struggling with obesity. There are coed camps, camps limited to either men or women, and camps that are built around themes, such as survival, or adventures, such as mountain climbing or hiking.
Read about the 4 Best Weight Loss Camps for Kids in the US.
Choosing the Right Fat Camp
To choose the right type of weight loss camp, first conduct an inventory of your current level of fitness, your eating habits, your fitness goals, and your health goals. Ask yourself the following questions, and record the answers in a notebook to help you make a decision about fat camps.
- What is your current aerobic capability? How far can you run? How long can you sustain a consistent aerobic activity?
- Would you classify your eating habits as poor, occasionally healthy, usually health, or always healthy?
- How much weight do you want to lose at weight loss camp?
- Do you have other fitness goals, such as improving endurance or muscle tone?
- Can you travel for the camp?
- Can you take off work or take time away from your life to attend the camp?
- What is your budget for the camp?
- Do you plan to use insurance or other financial programs to help cover the cost of the camp?
One you’re armed with these answers, you’re ready to start researching weight loss programs and camps. Current fitness levels and eating habits shouldn’t limit your choices, but should define them. One 31-year-old Texas woman joined a local boot-camp style weight loss program. She originally weighed 280 pounds and could only run approximately 400 feet without stopping. After several months in the program, she ran a 10k race! Success is about finding a program that meets your needs, supports your goals, and works with your budget.
Choose from camp types that include:
- Performance-based camps that concentrate on physical fitness
- Co-ed programs
- Gender specific program
- Age-specific programs
- Camps that specialize in organic foods and treatments
- Luxury camps with a spa-like feel
- Holistic camps that deliver mind, body, and emotional wellness
- Medically supervised programs for rapid weight loss
- Long-term camps that last several weeks or months
Weight Loss Camp Myths
Sometimes, it seems the Internet was designed solely to spread questionable weight loss and fitness information that derails your progress. Fat camps are no exception to the rule, and there’s plenty of misinformation available. Here are several common myths about weight loss camps.
- Weight loss camp is like boot camp in the military. Though there are some programs that style themselves as boot camps, they are usually weight loss and fitness programs attended a few hours a week locally. Weight loss camps sometimes involve strenuous effort of the type seen on shows like “The Biggest Loser,” but they are nothing like military book camps. Residents stay in pleasant, if not posh, settings, and are pampered with good food and other luxuries when they aren’t exercising.
- You have to be fit to attend. The entire point of weight loss camp is to jump start fitness for individuals who need it most. There aren’t high prerequisites to enter weight loss camps, though some of the more strenuous programs may require a fair bill of health from a physician or some basic physical capabilities.
- You’ll starve at weight loss camp. Starvation is a good way not to lose weight, because your body goes into conservation mode. Although you may feel hungry the first few days at weight loss camp, especially if your body is accustomed to diets high in fat, sugars, and carbs, you will definitely be getting plenty of nutrition, and meals are usually hearty, even if they are low in calories.
- I’ll reach my target goal in one stay of camp. Unless your target is to lose a dozen pounds or so, this is definitely a myth. Even under the most extreme circumstances in a medical environment, individuals usually only drop up to 50 pounds in a short stint at weight loss camp. The goal of camp isn’t to reach your final goal but to reboot your entire system, begin new habits, and learn how to make it to your goal in the weeks or months following the camp.
- Weight loss camps are spas, and spas are for the rich.The cost of some weight loss camps are about what you might spend on a week-long vacation, except you come away with souvenirs that are valuable for the rest of your life. Almost anyone can afford a weight loss camp, especially with the options and financial aid available today.
Read about 3 Amazing & Cheap Weight Loss Camps for Adults
Alternatives to weight loss camps
You don’t have to go away to camp to lose weight. Some of the benefits of weight loss camp are that you are removed from daily surroundings that fuel poor eating and fitness choices and that you are surrounded by supporting individuals, many who are on the same path as you are. It’s impossible to recreate that environment completely in your home, but there are alternatives to fat camp that let you lose weight and gain fitness. Read about Alternatives to Weight Loss Camps for Kids and Teens.
- Join a gym. Don’t just join, but get active and involved in a nearby gym. Choose a gym with programs that interest and excite you so you’ll be more willing to go. Participate in group aerobics exercises or spin classes and get to know the people around you. Though it isn’t the same camaraderie you’d experience in a weight loss camp, friends at the gym offer support and help you push through tough workouts. They can also hold you accountable, so you’re less likely to skip necessary workouts.
- Get on a meal program. Download one of hundreds of meal programs available online. Set up a kitchen calendar or white board where you create the meal plan for each week. Even if you can’t get family on board with the plan, take the time to prepare special, healthy meals for yourself. The extra few minutes in the kitchen each day will be worth it when you see your results in the mirror or on the scale.
- Set a goal. Set challenging weight loss and fitness goals for yourself and keep track of progress. Use apps like RunKeeper and MyFitnessPal to track your eating and exercising habits.
- Decide on a challenge. One of the reasons weight loss camps work is because they are a dramatic action involving a specific challenge. Set a dramatic, but realistic, challenge for yourself. Perhaps you’ll run a 5k race in three months or hike a mountain during the summer. The challenge should be something that’s fun and exciting.
Read more about the Reasons to go to Weight Loss Camp.
How to prepare for weight loss camps
Appropriate preparation for camps depends on the type of camp you’re attending. Some camps are targeted to individuals with a current level of fitness; for example the camp might require that you are able to walk or hike up to nine miles in a day. If you aren’t able to meet the requirements of the camp, choose another camp. If you can meet the requirements, maintain your current fitness level through exercise in the weeks leading up to the camp
Other steps to take prior to leaving for fat camp include:
- Complete any necessary paperwork and get signatures from your physician where necessary.
- Read any literature provided by the camp several weeks before your start date. The camp may provide a list of items you’ll need, so allow time for a shopping trip or two if necessary.
- Eat healthy meals in the weeks leading up to camp. Starving yourself means you’ll enter camp low on energy, reducing both results and enjoyment. Gorging on junk food in a last blaze of chocolate and potato chips could cause digestive issues right before camp and will make the change to smaller portions and healthier foods harder.
- Don’t schedule anything strenuous in the days before you leave for camp, and get a good night’s sleep the night before. Arriving rested and ready to rock means you’re more likely to meet goals.
- Pack for camp the day before so you aren’t faced with last-minute stressors. Making weight loss camp an enjoyable experience means you’ll associate the things you learn with a positive time in your life. That association increases the chance you can continue healthy eating and exercise when you come home.
Read 5 Tips if You’re Trying to Lose Weight But Always Hungry
What To Expect at Weight Loss Camp
Expectations are different for each weight loss camp. If you don’t like surprises, read through all the literature provided by the facility. You’ll likely find a daily itinerary that gives you a good idea of what you’ll do each day. If no information is provided, don’t hesitate to call the facility and ask questions if you’re someone who needs to know what you’re walking into. Your comfort level with the weight loss camp is an important part of success, so most staff members will be happy to answer your questions. Despite all these considerations weight loss camps are still one of the quickest ways to lose weight.
A Possible Day at Fat Camp
Based on reviews and itineraries from a number of weight loss camps, a possible day at adult fat camp might include:
- Getting up as early as 6 a.m. and going to bed by 9:00 or 10:00 p.m. at the latest. Many weight loss camps schedule activities during the daylight hours and end formal schedules after dinner. Some programs offer social activities or lectures in the evenings.
- A low-calorie diet. The lowest a program can offer without medical supervision is 1,200 calories a day. Many programs don’t allow alcohol or caffeine, which important to know if you’re a coffee regular.
- Several hours of exercise. Despite common beliefs, most weight loss camps aren’t all exercise all-the-time. Many programs use a rotational approach with up to three hours of exercise each day. Exercise alternates between low impact activities such as swimming and higher impact aerobics, jogging, and walking. Many programs also include strength and circuit training for comprehensive fitness.
- Educational opportunities. Programs offer classes on nutrition, health management, triggers such as emotional eating, fitness, and meal planning.
- Group discussions. Some programs offer group time where individuals discuss goals and issues and show support for each other.
- Very little down time. Since many programs are only a week in length, itineraries are designed to get the most in without injuring anyone. Rest time is reserved for late evenings or when participants are sleeping.
What Do You Eat At Weight Loss Camp?
Unless you’re attending a medical weight loss camp designed for rapid weight loss, the food you eat is less restricted than you might think. Most camps provide three low calorie meals as well as one or two snacks during the day. Meal lists from some of the country’s top fat camps aren’t the expected what’s what of diet foods. Instead, menus include things like sandwiches and wraps, hearty salads and soups, meatloaf, and salmon. Obviously, there are plenty of fruits and veggies on the menu, but some camps even provide low calorie desserts at some meals. The goal of feeding campers at weight loss resorts and camps isn’t to create bitterness or be excessively restrictive. The goal is to set the tone for eating healthy in the real world.
Costs and Insurance for Weight Loss Camp
The cost of the Biggest Loser themed weight loss camp is around $2,000 per person, and the program lasts one week. Other programs range from $1,700 to $2,500 per week on average, though luxury or specialty programs can cost as much as $1,000 per day.
Payment arrangements and options exist in some cases to reduce the out-of-pocket costs associated with a fat camp. According to Wellspring Camps, a company that runs international weight loss programs, some options for reducing the hit your wallet takes when you enroll in fat camp include loans, insurance, and tax deductions.
- According to the IRS, obesity is a medical condition that warrants treatment. Some weight loss camps are certified providers, which means you could deduct the amount you spend on weight loss treatment at the end of the year. Reducing your taxable income could decrease your tax bill or increase your refund.
- Because there is a move to classify obesity as a medical condition, some insurance companies will pay toward weight loss treatment under specific conditions. It’s more likely you’ll be able to make payment toward a weight loss camp from a health spending or flexible spending account. These are savings accounts you fund through the year with pre-tax deductions and then use on non-covered medical expenses. Before you plan to finance your camp using insurance or pre-tax dollars, read your benefits statements carefully to ensure your plan or employer allows one of the methods.
- Some camps provide in-house loans to cover all or part of the expense. Depending on how the loan is funded, the application process may not impact your credit score. Before you apply for a loan, make sure you understand all the terms and how the loan will be reported to credit agencies.
Find out about the best weight loss camps in New York.
Life After Weight Loss Camp
As important as a weight loss camp may be in jump starting your journey to better health and a goal weight, life after camp is more essential.
Success Rates for Weight Loss Camp
There aren’t a lot of published statistics or studies on the success rates of weight loss camps in general, and anecdotal evidence seems to indicate a wide range of personal success for individuals who attend camps. One woman reported that the camp she attended wasn’t strenuous enough and all the exercises were optional. She only lost eight pounds over two weeks and left the camp half way through the month she planned to stay. Another woman reported losing 12 pounds during a two-week stay at the same camp and being happy with her progress.
Individuals who have a good understanding of their own goals and the type of camp they are attending often come away feeling energized and successful. Most lose some amount of weight, gain confidence and knowledge necessary to manage future weight loss, and jump start an active lifestyle that supports continued success.
Read our comparison of the Wellspring Weight Loss Camp and the Biggest Loser Resort.
What to Eat and Do
Most weight loss camps provide literature and education to help individuals integrate the health-conscious camp lifestyle into home life. You might be tempted to stop at the first pizza joint when traveling home from the camp, and a single slice of extra cheese with pepperoni certainly won’t hurt you. If you can’t stop at a moderate portion size, though, it’s best not to tempt yourself and risk ruining your achievements for the week.
Instead, begin by incorporating meal plans and information from the weight loss camp into your diet. Stick to low calorie, high nutrient foods when possible, and fortify your diet with leafy greens such as spinach, kale, and broccoli. Add citrus fruits to boost immunity, lean meats and lentils for protein and energy, and whole grains for digestive health. Make one major healthy food decision each week, such as cutting out all soda or limiting yourself to a single dessert.
Fitness doesn’t come through diet alone, so get up and get out. Join a gym, dig the treadmill out from under the pile of clothes, or start walking every day. You don’t need to spend a lot to make fitness games. Download an app that tracks your footsteps every day and get into a competition with yourself to see how many steps you can take or stairs you can climb. Whatever you do, don’t stop—use the momentum gained during weight loss camp to propel yourself to success.
To answer Diane:
I totally get what you’re saying, Diane.
Cheapest place I know of but have never been is Rancho Cortez in Texas, a dude ranch for weight loss. You can work your way through the program for a $100/day discount. This may be a great option for you.
Maybe it’s the link I can’t post. It keeps getting rejected. See if this works…
Rancho Cortez is an excellent option – and can be a LOT cheaper than some of these other places. I’d recommend them.
Also take a look at Weight Crafters in Tampa, if you’re trying to burn pounds fast. WC’s prices are fairly close to RC’s, but it’s on the beach, and more of a dedicated weight loss program instead of a dude ranch.
BTW – the link is definitely the problem. I’ve had that happen to me on GuideDoc as well. Comments without any links in them seem to work fine every time…
Hi Tammy, Alex,
You are correct – our spam controls may (but not always) block comments with URLs. Fraudulent comments are so common nowadays so our restrictions have to be quite stringent. For context, we’ve received and blocked over 16k fake comments in the last several months!
I live in Orlando & had no idea about Weight Crafters. Thank you!
This is actually a really good overview. It’s similar to the one that I got last year from Fit Farm in Nashville before going there… ( just google ‘fit farm 6 questions you should ask’ and the first thing that comes up is their guide, which normally you have to leave your information to get) in case it helps anyone, I found it helpful when I was doing my online research at the time…
Thank you for the kind feedback, Veronica!
Very informative article. For those looking for a structured and highly effective program at creating lasting life-style changes, I would suggest looking into Unite Fitness Retreat in Utah. A life-changing program.
Thanks Marisa for this weight loss camp guide and describe the ways to choose right weight loss camp. Myths you mentioned in this post are also very informative for those who want to join weight loss resorts. Last year I was also on fitness vacations in Canada, I joined weight loss resort at Whistler named Whistler Fitness Vacations (https://www.whistlerfitnessvacations.com). I found a lot of difference in my weight within 3 weeks. Their diet plans were also very healthy. Luxury accommodation at very affordable price.
Why can’t I post in this site after making 2 other posts?
Hi Tammy, as pointed above, you may not able to post a comment because it includes a link. Unfortunately, we have to put very strict spam controls on GuideDoc, since it is a target of 1000s of fraudulent comments. Please let me know if you’re able to post a comment without a link.