During the 1980s and early 1990s, the National Institute of Fitness was the place to lose weight and feel great. Owners Marc and Vicki Sorenson compiled an impressive track record at the Southern Utah resort for helping people shape up and overcome health issues such as diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. NIF's sensible approach included hiking in red rock canyons, exercise classes, hearty meals of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and daily seminars from Marc Sorenson, who has a doctorate from Brigham Young University in education with a health emphasis.
The Sorensons decided to sell their spa in 1994, and the property eventually became the Red Mountain Resort.
Over the years, the couple pursued other interests and organized some fitness retreats.
"But we missed making people well," said Marc Sorenson. "We had some fun at our ranch in Nevada, and taking cruises and traveling in Europe. But when people come to you daily and tell you that you saved their lives, you miss it and want to do it again."
And now they're back. The National Institute of Health and Fitness opened its doors in June as part of the Zermatt and The Homestead resorts in Midway. Guests can enjoy healthy meals, exercise and health classes; hiking the scenic Wasatch foothills, playing tennis, swimming laps in a heated pool, or relaxing in the geothermal waters of The Crater, a natural spring on the Homestead property.
"This is a working spa, not a bunch of ladies sitting around waiting to be pampered," is how Diane Richman of Beverly Hills, Calif., a resort guest in August, described it. "If you're going to lose weight and feel healthy, this is the place to go."
Steve Eddington, managing partner of Zermatt and The Homestead, said the NIHF is considered a "primary pillar" to both resorts. "We want to create destination locations, and this is a cornerstone to helping us accomplish it. We are in one of the most natural wellness areas in the world."
Marc Sorenson said he and Vicki had considered a few different offers in the St. George area, "But then Steve and his wife came and visited with us in St. George, and asked if we could do the same magic as we did before at NIF."
Vicki Sorenson said she immediately fell in love with the European-style ambience of Zermatt, with its alpine setting. The Homestead, with its old-fashioned charm, recently underwent a renovation of all its guest rooms.
"We felt very prompted to come here," said Vicki Sorenson. "There are legends that the Native Americans once called this the Valley of the Healing Hearts, and we have seen health miracles with our guests every week, with people who were able to get off insulin or see their high blood pressure drop, or relief from fibromyalgia. In this industry, there are a lot of copycats but we are the originals. Nobody's been able to touch what we've done."
According to The NIHF website, guests may lose four to nine pounds per week, depending on their individual metabolism and commitment to the program.
The NIHF program starts at $999 per week (double occupancy, for a four-week stay). This includes a hotel room and all meals, classes and exercise instruction. Comparably, the Biggest Loser Resort at Fitness Ridge starts at around $2,000 per week and Red Mountain Essential Retreat is $230 per day. For those who want to splurge on pampering treatments, Zermatt's in-hotel spa offers an array of massages, facials, pedicures and other treatments, for a separate fee.
"That way, we can keep the cost low for people who really need to be here to make some lifestyle changes," said Vicki Sorenson.
Diet programs have come and gone over the years. Atkins. Low-carb. Paleo. The Zone.
But Marc Sorenson, who keeps abreast of the latest research, maintains faith in the low-fat, plant-based diet that was used successfully for over ten years at the old NIF.
"We use the same nutrition program we used before, about 99 percent vegetarian, no animal products except a little fish for those who want it," he said. "We're not quite as strict as we were; we've found we do need Omega-3 fatty acids in the diet. But we believe fat is the cause of diabetes, not sugar. Diabetes studies have shown that a high-carb, low-fat diet is beneficial. But we don't serve junk carbs. We use all whole grains, whole fruits and vegetables, and no refined sugars except a little dehydrated cane juice with a little apple juice for sweetener."
As to the other diet theories, "There are a lot of ways to lose weight. Atkins may be effective, but high protein diets are apt to ruin your kidneys. We are not carnivores. We have no fangs and claws, so I don't think our bodies are developed to eat a lot of meat. Small amounts are probably OK. I choose not to eat red meat; I do eat a tiny bit of fish. We get plenty of protein in our diet already."
The daily calorie count is around 1,200 to 1,500, but the focus is on the type of nutrient-dense foods, not the amount of calories, said Marc Sorenson.
Breakfast may consist of a green smoothie, whole wheat and applesauce waffles, and hot brown rice cereal. On a recent day in August, lunch was a Shepherd's Pie filled with mushrooms, walnuts, carrots, celery and onions. Its savory flavor came from red pepper flakes, cumin and Bragg's Aminos, a liquid protein concentrate derived from soybeans, that contains amino acids. The flavor is akin to soy sauce, said Joey Pesner, the resort's executive chef.
Another favorite entrée is vegetarian lasagna, made with either whole wheat noodles or thin strips of zucchini, eggplant, mushrooms, spinach, sunflower seeds and vegan pasta sauce. Dessert might be a chocolate mousse with the healthy stealth ingredients of avocado and prunes.
Guests help themselves to a salad bar at every lunch and dinner. A curious item amid the usual veggies is diced nopal, or prickly pear cactus pads (spines removed!). Sorenson said research indicates that nopal helps regulate blood sugar levels, a boon for diabetics.
Chef Pesner said Zermatt and the Homestead plan to build a greenhouse, "So we can have fresh picked vegetables all year. We will be using geothermal water to keep the soil temperature warm. I think it will be fun."
NIHF hosts healthy cooking classes so that guests can continue with the eating plan when they go home.
A new component to the wellness program is "safe sun." During his NIF days, Marc Sorenson wondered if the sunshine of Utah's Dixie played a role in enhancing the health of his guests. Since then, he published his research in a book, titled "Vitamin D3 and Solar Power To Enhance Health," about healthful effects of sunlight, which is needed to synthesize vitamin D in the body. He has lectured on the topic at seminars all around the world.
"We have been frightened out of the sun by the dermatologists, and many people are vitamin D deficient," he said.
"But we say, never bake, never burn," added Vicki Sorenson. "We go according to skin type. It may be only a few minutes a day. For people who can't tan, sitting under a beach umbrella and getting reflective light may be enough."
They are also using the same exercise principles espoused at the old NIF, with hikes and workouts based on the person's current fitness level.
"Until a person gets in shape, there's the chance of bringing on a stroke or heart attack with anaerobic training," said Marc Sorenson. "I worry when I see something like 'The Biggest Loser' on TV, with trainers screaming in someone's face to do other things they shouldn't be doing. We get our guests hiking some steep hills, but not right away."
Although Heber Valley's can't offer Southern Utah's year-round hiking in Snow and Zion canyons, its cooler climate can be an advantage, said Marc Sorenson.
"In the summer in St. George, you had to get up early to beat the heat," he said. "Here we have a million miles of adventure hiking, and the Uintas are very close. In the winter we can play in the snow, with cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. We also have a fully equipped gym with treadmills that overlook the mountains. There's an indoor track seven minutes away, and we will be building our own indoor track."
Guests can also enjoy Zumba, yoga, Pilates, weight-training and other indoor fitness classes any time of year.
The new program in Midway has already attracted "regulars" from the old NIF, such as Emmet and Peggy Hoebel of Florida. They were planning a European cruise when they got a postcard announcing the opening at Zermatt.
"There was no question about it, we said we'll wait and do Europe next year," said Peggy Hoebel.
Wayne MacDonald, 72, of San Antonio lost 21 pounds during his stay from June 10 to July 7, and saw his blood pressure drop from 159 over 97 to 125 over 54.
"The food was really good, and they have people there who really care," he said in a telephone interview. "All I know is that the food, exercise and staff all added together for these fabulous results."
His friend, Ron Hall of San Antonio, Texas, lost 10 pounds during a two-week stay. His blood sugar dropped from the high 180-190s to the 100 range, so he was able to stop taking insulin.
"All in all, it was a very wonderful experience," Hall said. "The level of exercise helped, but I think the real key was the diet. I'm incorporating those things I learned now that I'm home. I try to have some nopal every day and a tossed salad at lunch. It seems to do an important job in controlling my blood sugar."
Diane Richman has fibromyalgia, and she credited NIHF's program with its vitamin D3 emphasis, as well as a skillful Zermatt spa masseuse, for avoiding painful flare-ups.
"I'm now hiking 14 miles a day," she said. "But I've put in the same number of miles at other spas and didn't lose the weight like I have here."
3/4 cup dates
1 cup almond milk
1/2 cup almond butter
3/4 cup Cacao powder
1/2 cup agave
Soak the dates in water until soft. Remove pits. Peel the avocados and remove seeds.
In food processor or blender, combine all ingredients and blend or process until smooth.
Refrigerate, then enjoy!
— National Institute of Health and Fitness
Spinach and Mushroom Lasagna
10 whole wheat lasagna noodles or long, thin zucchini strips
1 eggplant, sliced into 8 slices
1/2 cup dry millet
1 cup water to cook millet
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon Braggs Liquid Aminos
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound mushrooms, sliced
1 pound fresh spinach
1/4 cup raw sunflower seed
1 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon black pepper or white pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
1/4 cup sliced olives
1 (16-ounce) jar vegan pasta sauce
Thinly slice eggplant and lay on lightly oiled cookie sheet (or use parchment paper). Cook 30 minutes.
Cook lasagna noodles according to package directions.
Cook millet in 1 cup of water until tender, about 20 minutes.
Cook balsamic vinegar, Braggs Liquid Aminos, onion and garlic in a large stock pot on medium-high for 2-3 minutes. Add sliced mushrooms and spinach. Drain all of the broth from this mixture into a measuring cup. Add water to make 1 cup of liquid total.
Pour 1 cup of above liquid into a blender and add the cooked millet, sunflower seeds and seasonings. Blend until smooth. Add to mushroom/spinach mixture and mix well.Comment on this story
Ladle 1/3 of the pasta sauce on the bottom of a 13-by-9-inch casserole dish. Layer noodles to cover bottom. Layer half of the mushroom/spinach mixture. Top with 1 layer of egg plant, of the pasta sauce, the rest of mushroom/spinach mixture, a layer of noodles, and remaining pasta sauce. Sprinkle nutritional yeast on top and add sliced olives.
— National Institute of Health and Fitness