"I spent the week at an ultra-tough celebrity fitness retreat – and this is what I learnt"

·14 min read
Photo credit: Marina Petti - Getty Images
Photo credit: Marina Petti - Getty Images

There’s a chihuahua on my lap, he’s wearing a pink leopard print coat and breathing softly. Underneath my chair there’s a box, which may or may not contain a rubber chicken. I’m being asked how many postboxes there are in India. Oh and I’m wearing a red felt hat on my head. In the shape of a lobster.

When I signed up to go to celebrity favourite ‘holistic lifestyle transformation retreat’, The Body Camp, this really was not what I expected. But hey, there are over 155,000 postboxes in India and The Body Camp, it turns out, is a lot more than just plant-based meals and push-ups.

Housed on a site in Sencelles, in Mallorca (about a 25-minute drive from Palma, and down a winding drive containing, mysteriously, an assortment of lifesize dinosaur models) there was something instantly calming about arriving at The Body Camp. Yes, even with the dinosaurs (and a deserved raging hangover from a wild night out in Palma the night before). The website insisted that this was not a rehab, and as I tried to smile my way out of vomiting, even at 6pm that night, I did worry that they’d turn me away before the week had even begun.

I agreed to accompany two friends to The Body Camp because a) after lockdown my ‘chat’ mostly comprised of saying to people ‘I just need a reset, you know’ while skipping a pre-booked yoga class to order Deliveroo again and b) I have this strange need to say ‘yes’ to things that terrify me.

Photo credit: Marina Petti - Getty Images
Photo credit: Marina Petti - Getty Images

And the thought of being away for seven days, with 15 strangers, taking part in group workouts while also having all of my meals planned for me, was incredibly scary. I was bullied in school, particularly during PE lessons and, like many who experienced similar, it’s left me somewhat scarred when it comes to certain types of exercise. I flinch when PT’s shout ‘in an encouraging way’ and I avoid anything ‘team’ related like (shudder) volleyball or even classes that involve pairing up. As, despite working out consistently for the past eight years, I still consider myself slow, clunky and unfit. Those IRL bullies of my teens have now been replaced by my own inner ones, who tend to goad me much worse than they ever did.

So when I arrived one Friday evening in April this year (all programmes begin on a Friday night and end the following Friday, unless you choose to stay on for a fortnight) I was not only hungover, but anticipating the worst week of my life. My feelings of inadequacy were mounting, especially as I also arrived with a limp; I’d sprained my ankle the week before and it was so painful I couldn’t even climb the stairs to my room (thankfully they kindly swapped me to one on the ground floor.)

There were 18 of us in total, all staying on camp housed within the white-washed Mallorcan villa. You can choose to be in a shared room (where there’s single beds and a shared bathroom, usually you’re housed with three other people), or at the other end there are large terraced suites, some with balconies.

Because of my gammy ankle (bonus) we were upgraded to a private room, shared between me and a friend, which I was grateful for as (more on this later) you spend a lot of time with strangers throughout the week so it’s good to have your own space to retreat to as well.

The villa also has an outdoor swimming pool, indoor gym, outdoor workout area (with boxing bag and TRX), a shared living space with television (there aren’t TVs in your rooms) and a group dining area with space to eat both in or outdoors. It was in this group dining area we congregated in that first night, awkwardly making conversation about what we expected and who had done something like this before. There was a huge mix of fitness abilities, from the woman who hadn’t worked out in two years to the man who actually enjoyed scrambling up rocks barefoot and – much to the envy of my friends back home – there was also an actual celebrity within our midst.

The team at Body Camp is fairly small – there’s Rick, Head Trainer, famous (amongst those who’ve ever been to one of these retreats) for his frosted mullet and obsession with all things 80s. Anthony, Body Camp Trainer, whose USP (I soon learned they’re quite into USPs at Body Camp) is a variety of patterned bucket hats, many sent to him by past guests. Smiley Ben Whale, Nutritional Head Chef, who, along with his team, are responsible for the menu we’d eat all week (all plant based and sugar free… and no, you’re not allowed alcohol) and Kate, the Founder.

From the outset they insist that we’re all part of a family now, and then give us (some) insight into what’s happening for the rest of the week. As they like to keep things a surprise, each night a white board is put up with the schedule for the following day and food wise you can give your preferences/allergies and Ben and his team will work around them, as well as choosing what portion size you want.

There’s a choice between a smaller portion for if you want to lose weight, a middle portion for those who just want to maintain and a larger one for those who want to bulk out. I went for the middle one considering the fact I wanted to be liked, and I get incredibly grumpy and mean when hungry. There’s also a tea station where you can help yourself to herbal teas (coffee is only served in the morning) and, while I often find herbal teas to be massively disappointing (they never taste of the thing they say they are, just a pathetic watered down version of them) the ‘strawberry cheesecake’ tea soon became one of my day’s highlights (probably down to the fact there’s no sugar in the diet, so everything swiftly tastes sweeter as your tastebuds adjust.)

The week itself

Before arriving in Mallorca, my main worry was the workouts. I had visions of being left behind, laughed at and having to partake in punishment burpees in front of a group of people, all of whom – in my nightmares – looked like my old PE teachers. I knew, as it was a ‘holistic’ transformation, it wouldn’t be all workouts but the other stuff didn’t worry me.

I’ve always found meeting new people and making friends to be easy (and enjoyable, to sound incredibly earnest, people are just so interesting and cool) and I do meditate/do yoga etc etc. I’m also a chronic oversharer and happy to open up about my life to strangers – whether they like it or not.

But, in reality, I found that the things I suspected would be easy, weren’t. And vice versa. The workouts, of which there were around three each day – two generally in the morning and one in the afternoon – were a mix of HIIT, boxing and weights, with loads of actually friendly encouragement thrown in. Plus, they're designed so you could do them in your own time and no one was left behind. They were also mostly set to 80s music which was at times motivating, and at other times, incredibly frustrating.

About halfway through the week I may have thrown a small tantrum which involved me yelling “if I have to hear Eye Of The Tiger once more I’m leaving.” (more on that later.) There’s no form of physical measurement such as weighing yourself (thank God) but on the first day you do a series of exercises, such as push ups and sit ups, within a minute and on the last you do the same to see how much stronger and fitter you’ve become. You’re also encouraged to do laps around the ground, and you can use the gym whenever you want – with the option to add on personal training. They worked around my sore ankle, with adjustments to the regular programme – and I noticed throughout the week it getting a lot stronger.

Then there’s the workouts for your mind. These ranged from more simple stuff, like goal setting, to delving a little deeper into yourself. On our first full day I wandered into the yoga studio for “relationships” in which, in pairs, with strangers, we answered questions from prompt cards which included “how do you think your childhood has impacted you?” at which I suddenly found myself torrentially sobbing, clutching a very overused tissue.

I’m conflicted about these parts of the programme, as I’m all for the idea of the week being holistic, as I truly believe health is all encompassing – you could have a six-pack, be able to run marathons each weekend and do fifty pull-ups but if you’re not happy within yourself, then I’d argue you’re not healthy.

But, as someone who has extensively researched (and experienced first hand) the damage that ‘bad’ therapy can do to a person, I’d worry about people coming along to The Body Camp and it bringing up a large amount of emotions that perhaps the team wouldn’t feel quite qualified enough to deal with.

Photo credit: Marina Petti - Getty Images
Photo credit: Marina Petti - Getty Images

After that first day I decided I wasn’t in the correct mindset to go too far into my own psyche and adopted an approach where I tried to work on the more lighter aspect of myself that need improvement, e.g: how bad I am with money, rather than the deeper parts, e.g: buried trauma from losing my mum as a teenager.

It wasn’t all self-reflection and sit-ups 24 hours a day though. There was plenty of scheduled free time, alongside group activities such as a quiz night. There was also two hikes (which I didn’t make it on due to my ankle) with visits to local villages to shop and wander (but not, as I may have been tempted to do, hunt down cheese and wine.)

I say that, but actually, the food itself was really nice. I’m vegetarian and was raised by parents who adored their local health food shop, so it wasn’t too much of an adjustment diet wise, the meals were just way nicer than anything I could cook at home.

Breakfast tended to be either a smoothie bowl or scrambled tofu and veg (there were eggs for those who wanted them), and lunch and dinner was a combo of bean and vegetable rich curries and soups, and at one point we even had a sort of fake lasagne thing made of mushrooms which my stomach is now grumbling thinking of but which I find absolutely impossible to describe. (Sorry Ben, I don’t think I’m doing your genius justice here)

Snacks (served morning and afternoon) were either a smoothie or a health food ball, and if you got hungry (I found I rarely did) Ben and his team were always there to make you something (mostly chopped veg and nice dips.) We also began each day with a juice ‘shot’, with a different person each day nominated to give a toast.

Yep, there was a lot of bonding with the group. Alongside speaking to each other in the mindful parts of the programme, each meal time we were assigned where you sat, something which I think would be really helpful if you went on your own, as it’s so easy to get to know the group. Everyone was really lovely but I did find, by the end of each day, I was happy to get back to my room and read my book as the combo of working out that much and being ‘on’ and engaging with people I didn’t know that well was really tiring. And that’s coming from someone who considers themselves very extroverted.

What did I learn about myself?

Very early on in the week, I nicknamed The Body Camp my ‘structured breakdown’ as, on the first three days, I found – when I wasn’t distracted by timing battle ropes to Journey’s ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ – I mostly wanted to curl up in a small ball and cry. When I told my friends back home this, many of them insisted I should just leave. What was harder to describe was that feeling was almost a good one.

The Body Camp, not necessarily in the mindful sessions themselves, but more in the time between them, brought up what you needed to address… Everyone I went with had at least one or two big, much-needed cries about the things causing them stress at home that they’d been avoiding thinking about. This could be down to the question raised within those mindful sessions playing on our minds later, the detox from sugar and alcohol, or the fact that being in Body Camp really was a huge escape from our hectic lives, with the majority of decisions planned for us.

My biggest cry came after one of the workouts, where my ankle was causing me pain and I suddenly had a flash back to how I felt as a teenager in PE. The very thing I’d been dreading before arriving. But once it was all out I realised how unneccesarily harsh I am to myself, and my body. I continually call myself weak and unfit, but this week showed me that the opposite is true. Rick, in particular, was incredibly kind to me – often singling me out as an example to the group as to how well I was at pushing myself. But, another valuable fitness lesson also came from my sore ankle and that was an ability to recognise when to stop and rest, as a chronic people pleaser it was hard for me to, but over the week I managed, choosing to go on the rower or do some boxing instead, which tended to hurt my foot less.

By the end, after pushing through the hard moments, I found myself feeling as, if not more, euphoric than I have been on any wild night out. I felt clear-headed, so energetic and so confident in myself that I stayed and did sober karaoke to celebrate the week coming to a close. Dancing around that little living space with people who had been strangers just five days before really is one of those moments I think about a lot, feeling so proud of myself for doing something so scary and not only coming through it, but relishing it as well. Also, as someone whose holidays tend to either consist of week-long festivals or seeing an all-inclusive as a challenge to make my money back, it was the greatest feeling to return home feeling better than I did when I left.

Have I kept it up?

In short, no. But it was never my intention to go to The Body Camp and then overhaul my entire life afterwards. I also think unless I could afford to pay for Ben to move to London and become my own personal chef it would be really hard to keep up such a regimented diet. I’ve maintained working out two or three times a week (which I was doing before) and despite banging on about it for a few weeks after, I’ve not installed a TRX in my garden and I found the strawberry cheesecake tea to be impossible to find here.

Sometimes, after a week of little sleep, too much partying and surviving on cheesy pasta, I can think back to how incredible I felt leaving Body Camp and chastise myself for ‘failing.’ But a lifestyle like that isn’t sustainable (and I don’t think the camp or those running it expect us to carry on exactly like that afterwards). Nor do I think, full-time, it would be particularly healthy.

A lot of what brings us enjoyment in life is thinking ‘fuck it’ and indulging in something we know might not nourish us, but will make us happy. It’s accepting that it’s OK to be tired, grumpy or sad, and that we can’t be our ‘very best selves’ and live a ‘that girl’ routine daily. I learned a lot about myself that week but I’d say the very top is that I’m absolutely fine as I am, and I need to start accepting that rather than constantly seeking out and self-improving myself as if I’m a computer in need of a reboot. I function just fine.

Prices at The Body Camp start at £1,850 per person - as well as the location in Mallorca that Catriona visited, they have a site in Ibiza

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