November/December  2005 





The more than 54% of alumnae from Green Mountain at Fox Run who responded to the questionnaire said they have maintained or continued their weight loss five years after completing the Green Mountain program, compared to other published long-term success rates of 5-10% 3-5 years post-treatment.

Intrigued by Green Mountain at Fox Run, I approached by car through the Okemo Mountain in Central Vermont ski country. I knew they ran a remarkably successful year-round weight loss and lifestyle program for women of all ages. Instead of trendy diets, participants learn weight control management through “mindful eating,” exercise and progressive workshops based on behavioral, metabolic and nutritional tenets, and it works.

The acid test for such operations seems to be whether the particp0ants can keep the weight loss process going at home, or whether the weight comes back outside the ambience of the program. A study measuring long-term weight loss, conducted by Dr. Jules Hirsch of Rockefeller University, defined success as keeping lost weight off or losing additional weight five years after the program or treatment. The more than 54% of alumnae from Green Mountain at Fox Run who responded to the questionnaire said they have met this definition since leaving the Green Mountain program, compared to other published long-term success rates of 5-10% 3-5 years post-treatment.

Investigators attributed the high success rate to the multidisciplinary approach of the program, with its strong emphasis on lifestyle health change, the fact that it is a residential program and would attract a more motivated population of subjects and the all-women's environment that allowed a more intensive experience.

greenmountain-1Eager to discover these secrets of weight loss, I cruised along the mountain roads of Vermont to the lodge-like retreat center. I went to the registration office where I was warmly greeted and handed a room key, water bottle and loose-leaf notebook. From there I headed to my tastefully decorated single room, complete with private bath, air-conditioning and in-room phone (cell phone reception can be spotty in Vermont). Double rooms, duplex triples (two beds on lower level with double bed in loft areas) are also available.

What was conspicuously absent was a television set. At first I was dubious about this but then felt relief that I could better focus on the program at hand. (If the urge strikes, a TV is located in the common room that is also stocked with board and card games).

After settling in, I realized that it was time for dinner - one task that I was more than ready to take on!  In the dining room, I met some of the other women and staff ready for the buffet that would be set up for every meal. But don’t make the mistake of envisioning a decadent all-you-can-eat smorgasbord.  This was a sensible spread, which obviously had been planned with nutrional value and portion control in mind. With advance notice, special dietary needs (such as kosher or vegetarian) can easily be met.

We were advised to try to stick to a daily calorie intake of 1,500 calories and though I originally thought “No way,” it proved to be a number that I could easily live with.  Dinner was herbed roasted chicken, barley, vegetables and fruit crisp—plus the option of a roll or salad.

Surprisingly full from dinner (without the roll or salad) I considered my next activity options. Many women chose to congregate in the common room and a few ambitious types hit the 24-hour gym, which is fully equipped with Cybex machines.  I decided, after a long, tiring day, to return to my room for some alone time. A perfect balance between privacy and the group dynamic is something I especially appreciated about Green Mountain at Fox Run.

The First Night

greenmountain-2After reading about the weekly classes and activities, I considered visiting the Okemo Room snack bar and purchasing one of the healthy snacks offered there.  The snacks are all quite reasonable since they’re not priced for profit, but it does make you think twice before eating. (During the day there are snacks available at the “Hunger Management Table” for anyone who feels the need for a snack between meals).  I didn’t think that anything would come between me and my evening snack, but the concept worked well. While digging through my purse for some change, I decided against the evening snack calories and stayed to read more of the literature.

Since Green Mountain at Fox Run is noted as the oldest all-women’s weight loss and healthy lifestyle program in the U.S., I was curious to find out more about its founder, Thelma Wayler. Nearly 34 years ago, she started the program in an empty dorm at Vermont’s Green Mountain College before moving it to the present location. The center became well known as a serious, one-of-a-kind, small program driven by an educational philosophy.

Wayler’s strong background as a registered dietian in diabetes education and weight loss planted the seeds for this weight loss approach. It also inspired her son Alan Wayler, Executive Director of Green Mountain at Fox Run, to study in this scientific field, earning a Ph.D. from MIT in nutrional biochemistry and metabolism. Wayler taught at Harvard Medical School and Tufts University School of Medicine before joining and directing the program in Vermont. With his interest in the science of weight loss, Wayler continues to preach his mother’s mantra to the women who come to participate in this program, many returning each year. As one lady said earlier at dinner, “I need to recharge my batteries each year and this program always does it for me.”

Getting With the Program

greenmountain-4Our first morning started with pre-breakfast orientation by Lynn Ann Covell, senior exercise physiologist, who has been with this program for 15 of its 33 years. I learned that many of the women planned to stay for sessions ranging from one to four weeks. Covell also outlined the varied classes and encouraged us not to be intimidated by any of the exercise programs. She said to speak up whenever we had questions.

Then it was on to the breakfast buffet. The recommendation is always primarily oatmeal for its healthy and “stick-to-your-ribs” properties, but eggs, French toast and pancakes are also offered along with coffee, tea and juices. Tables are set for four, but you can also opt to use a “silence card” and dine alone (a practice adopted by all guests during Wednesday lunch, in order to emphasize “mindful eating”).

After breakfast, it was on to the fitness office to learn about my ideal heart rate range from the exercise physiologist that helped me determine how vigorously I should work out during the week.  I began to realize the benefits of setting both short and long-term goals for your exercise program.  Doing this helps you to stay simultaneously motivated while keeping your eye on the big picture of what you really want to accomplish through your own personal exercise program.

Lunch followed the morning’s personal assessments and introductions to various exercise classes. That afternoon I decided to attend two behavioral workshops and a step aerobics orientation. The workshops focused on “mindful eating” and behavioral components. In these classes we learned practical tips, like being aware of portion control and making careful nutrional choices, for example choosing oatmeal over a cheese Danish (until now, my breakfast of choice).

That evening, dinner couldn’t come soon enough.  I savored the tasty turkey meatloaf with mushroom gravy, mashed potatoes, green beans and - yum - strawberry and apple crisp for dessert.

Following dinner, I joined the other women (there were 36 of us, the maximum the program accepts per session) for some conversation and spirited rounds of Scrabble. Finally, I headed back to my room for some well-deserved sleep.

Staying With the Program

greenmountain-5By the time Tuesday came around, I was feeling my spirits and energy level rising. As the week continued, I took part in a variety of activities, such as early morning fitness walks, lower body conditioning, Pilates and upper body resistance training. There’s also an outdoor pool (aquatic exercise is offered) and a clay tennis court on the premises.

I balanced these active pursuits with behavioral workshops led by Mimi Francis, behavioral health therapist, covering such topics as redefining healthy eating, the metabolic basis of weight gain and understanding emotions that lead to eating (Did your mother give you a cookie when you were a sad little girl?)

Learning ways to estimate portion control was an important tool to learn.  For instance, three ounces of meat, poultry or fish are equivalent to a deck of cards, the palm of your hand or a cassette tape. Discovering that one ounce of cheese was equivalent to my thumb or a pair of dice was somewhat devastating. I wondered just how many “thumbs” of cheese I had noshed on with crackers in days gone by.

Nutritional workshops led by Robyn Priebe, operations manager and nutritionist, covered the “scoop” on whole grains and how to design your personal eating plan (including “options”). I found the healthy meals-such as a typical dinner of shrimp stir-fry with brown rice, mixed spring greens and bananas with chocolate sauce (you heard me right)-to be savory and satisfying. My hunger pangs subsided.

greenmountain-6At day’s end, I had enough energy to head for the Cybex machines and to partake in evening activities, restorative yoga and Kripalu dance kinetics and “shake your soul” dancing” by Terri Hugo Hirss.

During the week, I had the opportunity to meet and talk with many of the women, each of whom had their own tale of failing diets and low self-esteem-despite the fact that many were highly accomplished professionals, ranging from lawyers to politicians, teachers, business owners and celebrities. But there also were success stories.

One of the women I met was working out in a gym only five months after surgery to replace two knees. She was bright and smiling on the reclining bike, strengthening her new knees. She said that her husband, an orthopedic surgeon, had warned her several years ago that her joints would eventually give out since she was 80 pounds overweight.

“It was if I were carrying around a bag of rocks weighing that amount,” she said. After wanting a quick fix, she tried Weight Watchers and medically supervised 1,800-calorie liquid diets and lost a lot of weight in a short period. But after that weight loss, she discussed trying a more realistic approach with her daughter.

Her daughter’s search pointed her to Vermont and they ended up at Green Mountain at Fox Run. She added, “The philosophy here is lifestyle change I knew this intellectually but they reinforce it and tell you that diet alone does not work. Of course I can’t progress as rapidly as my daughter and I know that I’ll never have the same mobility. But I won’t be like the woman I met at the airport who needed a wheelchair because of her knee pain.”

greenmountain-7I spoke with Alan Wayler about the program’s success. “For 33 years, word of mouth and high credibility have led women throughout the U.S. and from around the world—including many Europeans and Asians –to come here,” said Wayler. “We don’t take the ‘reward or punishment’ approach as do many of the children’s weight loss camps, which creates an inappropriate relationship to food. We tackle hunger management all day by providing snacks for those who want it.”

He noted that the program is for women over the age of 15, the majority ages 38-62, which means that they are “clearer, sophisticated, well educated, accomplished, active in their communities or retired.” He said that most come alone, although there are mother/daughter and friends and family packages available throughout the year. Approximately 30% of alumnae return within 3 years for a refresher visit.

Wayler went onto say, “In a nutshell, the words are balance and moderation.” He said that the staff shows that they are there through their “passion, caring and sharing.”  He said that the younger women are attracted to the special behavioral workshops that help build self-esteem and issues that deal with eating on campus. Older women, he added are dealing with medical problems as well as weight issues.

As for the male population, Alan said that his mother’s philosophy as always been, “When I educate the women I educate the men.”

Although the program has what they call “feeling good amenities” (a la carte services such as massage therapy, wraps, Reikki and Reflexology), it is by no means the pampering center some other spas are. Wayler stated, “This program is not the place to be pampered. The difference between us and other spas is that of buying a program that works instead of buying a large range of amenities.”

greenmountain-8He said that the approach here is a sequentially designed nutrional and behavioral one.  “It’s not a trendy spa.”  He added that if you dropped in at anytime you would see that the program is an experiential one where “you actually do it and ultimately live it.”

Wayler said that the effectiveness of this program is rooted in its Vermont setting, as well.  The outside activities available, combined with the indoor programs, lead to the “exploration of a full sensory experience that creates a very profound impact that is a persuasive and motivated approach to losing weight. Here you can see how far you’ve walked. Actions certainly speak louder than words.”

He went onto emphasize the importance of realizing that inactivity slows down the metabolism.  “This program offers realistic options that can be handled outside of the physician’s office.” He said that at the end of the day, it’s important for women to see for themselves how to do it. “It will work,” Wayler said, “After years of dieting, my mother’s goal was to get women to feel good about themselves - and they do. Here they feel safe.”

When Saturday, my final day, came around I had mixed emotions. I was sorry to leave the friends I had met, but was encouraged to hear that many planned on returning the following summer. We exchanged e-mails and promised to keep in touch via the alumnae support discussion board on the retreat’s Web site. I was anxious to head home to apply what I had learned to my daily lifestyle.

As I drove away, I realized that the key to healthy eating revolves around making judicious choices. And, after years of failed dieting, I was now determined to make it work.

2005 Rates

greenmountain-3There are three seasons at Green Mountain at Fox Run, each priced according to the number of weekly sessions (ranging from one to four) and either single, double or triple occupancy, In Value Season, Nov. 20-Dec.17, a one week single is $2,520; four weeks, $7,820. Choice Season rates for single occupancy from April 3-May 28 and Oct. 9-Nov. 19 are $2,700 for one week; four weeks, $8,490.  Premier Season, the most popular time of year from May 29-Oct. 8, is $2,875 for single occupancy: four weeks for $8,675.

Double and triple rooms are more affordable and roommates can be matched to share accommodations. Fees include all taxes and service charges.

For more information: or call (800} 448-8106.




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