It’s surprising what can be achieved in two days. Or, to be more specific, what lifestyle changes can be inspired while on a health retreat that lasts just 44 hours. Starting at 6pm on a Friday night, the newly introduced Health Retreat at the Hilton in Sydney marks the beginning of a weekend that can, quite literally, change your life. During a stay in the ridiculously luxurious surrounds, participants get to focus on not just their physical health, through cooking classes and nutrition talks, but the quality of their sleep and the efficacy of their exercise habits – if they exist at all.
The retreat is led by nutritionist Zoe Bingley-Pullin, a Cordon Bleu-trained chef whose passion for food led her to create a cookbook full of foods that nourish the body and satiate the tongue, and personal trainer Jerome Boadu, who also manages the LivingWell gym, downstairs at the Hilton.
The two were brought together by the hotel to create a retreat experience and to inspire guests who wanted time to focus on their health. “Hilton Sydney wanted to provide a different take on a typical spa weekend or meditation retreat,” says Bingley-Pullin. “This is more holistic.”
Indeed, the weekend touches on so many topics, I was amazed at the amount of information I was able to take away with me. Initially, I had viewed the retreat as a bit of a refresher course that would remind me why I needed to focus on my fitness a little more and perhaps provide a renewed inspiration for yoga, and it did both of these things. What I wasn’t expecting was to gain so many fresh ideas for the kitchen.
I was already a convert to eating organically and I knew my diet was pretty good but I realised I was in for a treat when one of the first meals we sat down to was lamb backstrap with African millet salad. Millet! Why had I not experimented with this handy little grain before? (In truth I had seen it in recipes but was daunted by it’s ultra-healthy reputation.) Millet is a nifty little all-rounder, I found out, that is a great source of protein, fibre, some B-vitamins and an amino acid called methionine. It’s also great for those who need to lower their cholesterol. Combine it with some fresh herbs and spices, currents and pistachio nuts and you have an easy-to-prepare salad with fabulous flavours.
My next nutritional treat came on Saturday during the lunchtime cooking class where we tasted a sample of oat and amaranth muesli. Now here was something completely new to me! Amaranth is a rare grain that contains large amounts of essential amino acids – more than rice, wheat or rye – making it an excellent source of protein. Regular consumption of amaranth is ideal for those with hypertension or high cholesterol. Made into a ridiculously tasty muesli, it’s also a great start to the day.
Next up was the quinoa salad to accompany the citrus marinated salmon. Again, quinoa was a grain I had been curious to try but was unsure where to start. The demonstration, led by Bingley-Pullin, was the perfect introduction and instantly I was hooked. Not even half-way through the retreat and already I had three new, fresh ideas I wanted to try in my own kitchen.
Later, during a one-on-one nutrition session with Bingley-Pullin I created a list of eight changes I could make to improve my diet, which included eating healthy mid-morning and mid-afternoon snacks to maintain a steady blood sugar level throughout the day. And here I was thinking I had no new challenges to face in my diet!
The challenges I was definitely expecting came during the gym session on Saturday morning and the boot camp on Sunday morning. I must confess to dreading the latter, especially after waking up with extraordinarily sore muscles after the previous day’s full-body workout, but any trepidation was forgotten as I revelled in the chance to jog through a nearly empty city CBD, Hyde Park and down to Lady Macquarie’s chair. Led by former rugby player Mo Sojajo, boot camp places an emphasis on team building and games that give you a great workout without you realising it. I was able to participate, even with my low-level of fitness, while those who trained at weekly boot camps were stretched to their limits.
Wisely, I had planned for my massage to occur after boot camp and emerged feeling energised, refreshed and enthused about what I had learned during my stay. The goal, as Bingley-Pullin says, is for participants to leave “feeling relaxed and rejuvenated, ready to put into place some handy diet and fitness tips that will improve their overall health and wellbeing.” Something that even the most knowledgeable of health nuts will be able to do.
The writer stayed as a guest of the Hilton.
The writer stayed as a guest of the Hilton.