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Florida's Pritikin Longevity Center & Spa,

An Inner Adventure

Story and Photos by

Steve Giordano

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Chuck and Maria Barbrow from Aurora, IL, on his third visit in 17 years

The U.S. food industry produces 3,800 calories of food per day per person. Except for loggers and cowboys, this is twice what anybody needs. But apparently we eat it all anyway. We consume three pounds of sugar per week per person, three-quarters of it hidden in food. The consumption of corn syrup has increased 500 percent in 30 years.

We're fat! Obesity has increased dramatically with the increase in sugar, protein and carbohydrate consumption.

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Chuck and Maria Barbrow getting into the swing of things on the treadmill

The Pritikin Program for health and longevity can solve this problem, if only we would pay attention and do what they say: eat but 1,200 to 1,600 calories a day to lose weight (three regular meals and two snacks), exercise aerobically for 45 minutes at least six days of every seven, do some weight training three days a week for strength and some yoga or stretching exercises three days a week for flexibility. For walkers, the recommended goal is a minimum of 10,000 steps per day, about five miles. That's 30 miles per week.

The food is the tricky part: aim for 10-20 percent fat, 10 percent protein and the rest is all complex carbohydrates. The more complex, the better, and the less caloric density, the better. A pound of broccoli, for instance, has only 130 calories (that's raw and unbuttered, of course) but a pound of chocolate chip cookies has 2,140 calories.

There is a residential Pritikin Longevity Center & Spa located at the Doral Golf Resort in South Florida where people regularly attend sessions of one week or longer. Over 70,000 people have visited the Pritikin Centers to lose weight, to prevent health issues from occurring, and to improve their health. Many more have read the ten books on the Pritikin Program. The Pritikin Diet is naturally low in fat, emphasizing fruits, grains, vegetables, and some lean animal protein. The London Business Times described the Pritikin Approach as "arguably the most effective diet, exercise, and lifestyle change program in the world."

I decided to take the adventure for one week and this is my report. To avoid suspense, yes, I lost weight - five pounds. Most people lose more.

Sitting around the dinner table the first night, our concerns for what might be a tough week ahead turned the talk to great human feats. Things like running marathons, breaking the 6-minute mile, the Army Ranger's 72-hour endurance test - where the first charge is to run, but you don't know for how long. The Boeing guy from DC has heard about guys so spaced they try to put quarters in trees to get a Coke and want to check into the motel they "see" in the middle of the swamp.

The first morning they draw your blood & urine, well, you draw your own urine. After the "product testing," you've got a base line to measure your progress against. One guy at breakfast (hey, I'm ready to put a quarter in a tree if that's what it takes to get a cup of coffee, but I'm told they'll give me an aspirin for the caffeine headache that's due any time now) has all sorts of numbers to reel off. His pedometer counts his steps, this is his sixth week here, three to go, he's losing 12.5 pounds a week, and his fervent wish, his motivation for being here actually, is to drop enough weight and become strong enough by football season back home, that he'll be able to run along the sidelines to follow the plays and to show his old coach that "it can be done."

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The other Steve at the table, looking pretty good for someone here to salvage his health, says he comes here once a year for a kick-start to keep his motivation up for another year. He actually avoids restaurants entirely for his first few months back home. He says after a week or two here with no salt, no oil, and, damn, no coffee, that the first touch to the tongue of any fast food shows you convincingly what bad food it really is. That first french fry, the first salted potato chip, almost makes your stomach churn, he says. You'd think that would turn anybody off from having a second, but he says the salt and oil are addicting, that the old ad that says, "Bet you can't have just one," is really true.

Leaving the breakfast table together, I notice it's not even 8:30 yet. "That's the other thing," Steve says. "You think you need all this sleep, so you go to bed early for the busy day ahead, and damn if you're not wide awake and raring to go at 5 a.m. This diet is really good on your system and you just don't need all the sleep you used to."

All the experiences - the exercise, the lectures, the food - are so well focused on personal gains it would be hard to not become infected by it all.

I did my cardio workout on an exercise bicycle. I liked it, but couldn't get my heart rate into my target heart rate zone. I guess my lungs and heart are way ahead of the rest of me.

Then it was stretch & abdominals class, where I was astonished to learn we did 200 crunches - lots of different types that add right up. I'm passing on aerobics today, but I'll go to machine weights before the Diseases of Affluence class. This afternoon is Pilates and an osteoporosis lecture.

Back on schedule the next day, I had my blood draw, breakfast, treadmill and yoga all done by 9:15 a.m. Later I went to the mall with the kids and sprung free for a Starbucks.

Kids program

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Kids learning tennis skills in the Pritikin Family Program

Speaking of kids, the center repeated its popular Pritikin Family Program last summer and will again this summer June 19 - July 3, 2004. Of the children who accompanied their parents last year, 95% did not want to. But by the end of their stay, none of them wanted to leave, and all of them said they wanted to return this year . Apparently they all had fun. In the process, some of their cholesterol levels dropped 100 points and many lost 10 pounds or more
The program offers a combination of age-appropriate education, low-fat dining, menus and cooking tips, and structured exercise. This is an immersion program where the whole family learns healthy lifestyle changes that are supposed to last a lifetime. In the one- or two-week program, Pritikin creates a camp-like atmosphere where the kids, ages 9 and up, play get-moving fitness games, wear chef's hats for hands-on cooking classes, and attend kid-friendly workshops on nutrition. On field trips, the children learn how to make good choices at fast food restaurants and food courts.

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Kids in the Pritikin Family Program learn that healthy eating is possible at a shopping mall food court.

The faculty is comprised of Pritikin's doctors, dietitians, and exercise physiologists as well as guest faculty including Dr. Susan Spear, Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, Columbia University and New York Presbyterian, specialist in adolescent medicine, and television personality Dr. Ruth Peters, NBC Today Show's expert on child and family psychology.

For maximum benefit, a stay of one to three weeks is recommended. Room rates depend on length of stay. The rate for children in the program is $1,800 for the first week, $1,200 for the second week, $1,100 for the third week, and $1,000 for the fourth week. Maximum 2 children per room with 2 parents, or 3 children per room with 1 parent.

For reservations and rate information, call the Pritikin Longevity Center & Spa at (800) 327-4914 or visit the website at www.pritikin.com.

Chuck & Maria Barbrow

Over the years, more than 75,000 people have participated in the full Pritikin program, many more than once. Chuck Barbrow from Aurora, IL is on his third visit in 17 years. At age 64, he figures this is a tune-up, a badly needed one. His wife Maria, age 46, is here to support him, but her medical evaluation turned up some early stage osteoarthritis that can be helped with tailored exercise and a special vitamin pack with calcium.

"The food is edible now," says Chuck. "It wasn't back then, 16 years ago at the Pritikin center in Santa Monica. Back then they set you up for failure when you went home.

I went there in trouble. After less than one minute on the treadmill, they pulled me off and laid me down. 'We can't do anything for you here,' they said." Chuck answered that they had to keep him, whatever the conditions and waivers he'd have to sign. They finally agreed to keep him, but insisted he wear a blood pressure cuff all the time. By the fourth week he was actually running on the treadmill. After the program, Chuck kept on the diet religiously for one year, and lost 65 pounds. He has continued the exercise to the present day, but once again he's on lots of medications and doesn't like it.

"I maintained the exercise all these years, but I have diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. I'd like to see my three grandchildren graduate, since I'm paying for their college. I have a young wife, a good life, and I don't want to check out.

"It's a much better program now. They prepare you better for the real world. I have a frustration with traditional medicine, whose answer is to take another pill, and then get the side effects. I cut a blood pressure medication in half after one week here this time."

Chuck feels on the mend again, and says, "My doctor isn't going to like that I cut my blood pressure medication in half. . ."

The food plan

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In the Pritikin Family Program, kids learn how to be their own snack chefs.

Pritikin suggests a plant-based diet with an emphasis on foods that are minimally processed. The plan is to eat lots and lots of vegetables and three to four servings of fresh fruit daily. When it comes to carbohydrate-containing foods, starches and grains in their most natural state are recommended. Examples are white and sweet potatoes, whole grain cereals, beans and peas, and winter squashes. Refined sweeteners of all types are restricted. Seafood is the preferred choice of animal protein since it contains omega 3 fatty acids and the least amount of saturated fat. Poultry, without the skin, is the next best choice, followed by lean red meat. The serving size is limited to 3 1/2 - 4 ounces per day.

Sodium intake is limited to 1600 mg per day maximum. Excess sodium can increase appetite, aggravate high blood pressure and accelerate bone loss, especially in the presence of a diet high in animal protein.

The meal plan is limited to the fat that occurs naturally in foods. The daily intake is approximately ten percent of the total calories with no more than 100 mg of cholesterol daily. Although the program limits fat, there is an adequate supply of essential fatty acids to support health. For individuals who are in their recommended weight range, there are a variety of healthy fats, such as unsalted nuts and seeds that can be used in small amounts. On the other hand, processed foods containing hydrogenated oils or trans-fatty acids found in baked goods and margarines are eliminated.

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For more information, visit the Pritikin Website, call 800.327.4914 or Email info@pritikin.com

The children's program includes:
2 lectures per day
2 cooking workshops per day
2 activity sessions, 1-1/2 hours each (tennis, swimming, beach volleyball, etc.)
All meals, prepared on-site by the Executive Chef and the culinary team
Evening movies
Deluxe hotel accommodations with access to all resort amenities.
Comprehensive medical evaluation

Sample Daily Menu (for all guests)
Oatmeal, Barley or Assorted Cold Cereals with Raisins (optional)
Florida Grapefruit or Banana
Skim Milk or Soy Milk
Yogurt, Cottage Cheese, or Yogurt Cheese

Morning Snack:
Vegetable Crudités
Pico de Gallo or Salsa
Harvest Vegetable Soup or
Golden Split Pea Soup

Garden Salad Bar
Grilled Vegetable Summer Pizza
Steamed Cauliflower
Julienne of Zucchini
Fresh Tropical Fruit Cup

Afternoon Snack:
French Onion Soup or
Artichoke Salad

Garden Salad Bar
Salmon Paella
Sliced Baked Plantain
Onion Basket Stuffed with Carrots and Spinach
Steamed Fresh Asparagus
Chardonnay Poached Pear

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