Top 10 things to ask, when choosing a health retreat or weight loss camp

whistler fitness weight loss camp

How to find the perfect fitness getaway in 2020

In the last few years, there’s been lots of new weight loss camp programs popup globally, addressing a rise in demand with today’s travel trends. Yoga, fitness and wellness retreats have always been popular, but these days, customers are searching for more. And rightfully so – taking time out of your life to focus on yourself is a big investment!

As the owner of a weight loss camp in B.C. – Whistler Fitness Vacations – I work super hard to make sure that every signup knows exactly what to expect. Our customers are smart, savvy women who are looking for a seem-less experience that checks all the boxes. It’s an honor when a happy customer tells us we run the best wellness retreats in Canada. We offer a bit of everything – including relaxation. This way, guests can tailor their precious time towards what best aligns with needs and goals.

weight loss camp 2020 banner scaled - Top 10 things to ask, when choosing a health retreat or weight loss camp

In this article:

  • Find out where exactly you’re staying, and what else is offered beyond the fitness.
  • Is the food plan a realistic jump start to your weight loss?
  • Where the heck is the owner? Playing golf in Costa Rica?
  • Are those raving reviews on the website real people? Are they verifiable?
  • Your health requirements might need veteran knowledge. Will your coach be a newbie?


whistler resort weight loss camp - Top 10 things to ask, when choosing a health retreat or weight loss camp

1 – Find out where exactly you’re staying

Sometimes you’re in the mood to get away from the world, to recluse in a lodge miles away from the nearest tea shop. With no temptation to buy outside food, you’re likely to stay on track with your food accountability because your meals depend on whatever the chef serves you.

For others, that isolation is a bit much.

I remember a New York client who stayed at another weight loss retreat in B.C. that offered fabulous hiking, and was a great program. But the ‘lack of urban’ was anxiety inducing for her. One afternoon, after our training, I invited her to come down to Vancouver with me to go jeans shopping. She could not have been more thrilled to be in the neon lights with opportunity to use her credit card!

whistler festival in summer - Top 10 things to ask, when choosing a health retreat or weight loss camp

You’ll definitely pay more for a premium location.

The cost of living in Whistler is pretty similar to downtown Toronto – we joke about ‘air tax’ here. That’s when you go outside for 5 minutes, breathe the beautiful mountain air and somehow, you’ve just spent $20.

Simply put, there’s no comparison between joining our program… and joining a similar program in Nowhereville, USA.

Whistler is a happening place… a world class mountain town with everything going on: festivals, events and sports. But there’s also the quietness of the wilderness, and for guests in our premium program, a gorgeous luxury hotel to call home. Our partnership lodging is at the Westin Resort and Spa, right in the heart of town.

So yeah, ask where the nearest place to shop is. Even if all 30 people staying in the lodge are lovely, spending all day, and all night (plus weekends) with them might make you a little stir crazy. Whistler Fitness Vacations provides all of our customers with their own guest room, and town is literally outside your door.

hot tub session at whistler weight loss camp - Top 10 things to ask, when choosing a health retreat or weight loss camp

2 – What else do you do besides fitness?

If you’re craving a deeper connection with nature – we’re your place! With giant mountain ranges, gorgeous forests, divine lakes – everywhere you look is inspiring.

Yet although our fitness vacations offer an incredible lineup of hiking, biking, kayaking and outdoor fitness classes, deeper connection to the big picture goals is just as important. We offer a range of classes, activities and workshops in a natural environment, that allow guests to unwind and reboot.

We also prioritize emotional healing with issues such as sleep, stress, lifestyle patterns and more. Each customer makes our program unique…it’s a pleasure to be invited into the exciting challenge that lies ahead for every new guest. Whistler Fitness Vacations is an outdoor program for those who want to start a more meaningful lifestyle.

There’s so much more to Whistler Fitness Vacations than the weight loss and fun fitness classes… people want a bit of everything – including relaxation. This way, guests can tailor their precious time towards what best aligns with needs and goals.

shopping for food at weight loss camp - Top 10 things to ask, when choosing a health retreat or weight loss camp

3 – Can you continue the food plan at home?

About ten years ago, I was invited to a rafting resort to host one of my boot camp weight loss retreat programs. It was glamping style of lodging, catered with delicious food with their resort chef. Most of the participants lost weight and felt great, but as the food was catered, nobody really knew how to eat this way at home.

I kept in touch with several customers, as I do with all retreat guests, and the success rate of keeping the weight off was significantly lower than at Whistler Fitness Vacations. Here, guests cook their own meals, shop their groceries, and choose healthy meals at the many restaurants in town. The learning is integrative, wholesome and real – with nutrition education a key part of the program.

All participants in the Whistler Fitness Vacations program receive a copy of The Planet Friendly Diet (nutrition course and meal plan) paperback book. You learn to become an expert on healthy eating, exercise science, practical ways to transform your thoughts and become a leader.

You’ll enjoy structured eating, with three delicious and nutritious meals per day, that you cook/assemble yourself with step-by-step recipes in your private kitchen. You’re in full control! You have your own dining area where you can eat alone, or invite other guests to join you. It’s a valuable life skill to learn how to cook one-portion meals with food that is gluten, wheat, dairy and meat free.

grill and vine restaurant westin - Top 10 things to ask, when choosing a health retreat or weight loss camp

The restaurant at Westin Resort & Spa, Whistler

4 – The best luxury weight loss retreats have healthy in-room dining

Our weight loss camp is all about zero-waste cooking – get into the pattern of using everything you buy, and controlling your eating patterns. Also included is the meticulously calculated and portioned ingredients with no leftovers or opportunity to binge, derail and stray from your 1200 calorie daily quota. 

Sometimes however, you’re in the mood for just going somewhere and having everything cooked for you. Thats the main difference between your average wellness retreat, and a boot camp weight loss vacation like Whistler Fitness Vacations. If room service is offered, it’s worth checking in advance if healthy meal choices are on the menu. The Westin Resort and Spa offers a mouth watering line up, with lots of hearty meals under 500 calories.

View the Grill & Vine menu here. 

health retreat team work - Top 10 things to ask, when choosing a health retreat or weight loss camp

Cat Smiley (top left in black) with the crew at Whistler Fitness Vacations.

5 – Is it owner operated – or at least, are they around?

If you dig deeper into competing wellness retreats in Canada and United States, you may find that many are investor owned. But I think we can all agree, the owner of the company is often more committed to ensuring above-and-beyond customer experiences, as compared to an employee.

As I get ready for my 12th year of running weekly outdoor weight loss retreats for women, I’m filled with gratitude. So many wonderful people have taken action on new adventures, joining us for a fitness retreat in the mountains. Customers become friends and I couldn’t imagine doing my job any other way.

Cat Smiley takes care of every step of the way, from the initial phone call right through to the final high five not because she has to, but because you really feel like she wants to. There is no rock unturned – it’s not outsourced to a team of fitness trainers with her being some face on the website.– Jordie Thorneycroft, Manitoba.

I’ve always believed that you coach the person before the athlete, and athletes have to have safe places. Earning trust is of highest importance, so initially we usually don’t talk much about weight loss outside of your consultations. I care about you first as a person. I’m also hands-on in the day motivating my team (fitness guides and support staff). Say hello to ah-may-zing results and awesome days getting into the best shape of your life!

6 – If it’s really the ‘best weight loss retreat’, reviews will be verifiable

It’s super disappointing for anyone to go on a trip that misses the mark. I’ve personally traveled to a fancy spa place in Thailand with a gorgeous website – only to uncover an alarming nightmare. They quickly refunded my money after a sleepless first night, likely to keep me quiet and I could not have left that place quick enough.

With over 400 retreat weeks successfully facilitated since 2008, I still have a really hard time getting reviews from customers. Sometimes I ask, but more often than not, the answer comes back “yes I’d love to” and then months later, still no review. I don’t really like to followup more than once… people are private and I’m just super grateful for the reviews I do have.

Yelp was really disappointing on that front – when I set up my yelp profile, I outreached 10+ customers who’d recently finished a live-in fitness retreat with Whistler Fitness Vacations. Two said yes, but they also were going outside of their comfort zone writing for me. Yelp flagged them as fake because they’re not ‘regular reviewers.’ So that was a big waste of time – my two awesome reviews are hidden. Except from the admin – so I’ll show you them below.

whistler weight loss camp yelp reviews scaled - Top 10 things to ask, when choosing a health retreat or weight loss campHow to spot fake reviews online:

  • Pick a few names, and search them in facebook, with their town. Are they real people? Do they have a linkedin profile if you search them on google? Now in saying this, most people want to keep their time at weight loss vacations private. It’s not okay to outreach people who’ve left reviews, but you can ask the health retreat company which clients gave their real names. They might also let you know if they’ve got presence online.
  • When you see that the person who reviewed is a real estate agent, doctor, lawyer, or person in the public eye then its reassuring the review is (very likely) legit. Video reviews are great for those who want to share their positive experience at a weight loss camp yet perhaps don’t want to be ‘google-able.’
  • Look for generic names like Jane Smith who gave a raving review without a profile picture. Has Jane reviewed anywhere else? Or just that company? If she has reviewed elsewhere, are all the reviews related to that wellness retreat company, and all five-star?
  • Lastly, what’s the timing of the reviews like – are they all being posted within a few weeks? Batch posting this way might mean that the reviews were purchased at the same time – unless there was a product launch. They might also be written in pretty poor english – another giveaway.
kayaking at whistler weight loss camp scaled - Top 10 things to ask, when choosing a health retreat or weight loss camp

Kayaking at Whistler Fitness Vacations is on a glacial lake. Just beautiful!

7 – Does it meet you at your fitness level?

Another story – or should I say, “learning experience.” While in Costa Rica on an extended stay, I joined a local boot camp program. I’d been out of the workout groove for a while, maintaining fitness but not really building it. The instructor eyed up my athletic frame and figured I must be fit enough to go hard core, despite my insistence that I was needing modification. Long story short, sprinting in the sand while working partner splits with the other participants had me injured for several weeks.

There’s nothing worse than not being listened to. In my mid-forties, sprinting in the sand is literally the worst thing I could do for my tight hamstrings.

At the Whistler weight loss camp and fitness retreat sessions, we work almost exclusively with beginners. These beginners progress into intermediates, but pretty much everyone starts at ground level. The range of physical restrictions, levels of motivations, different personalities and of course, comfort levels are all different. This is one of the things that I love about my job – knowing that each workout will meet you at your level.

cat smiley with cell phone - Top 10 things to ask, when choosing a health retreat or weight loss camp

Call the fitness director Cat Smiley anytime, 604-906-1034. Photo: Darby Magill.

8 – Phone before you go. Any love? Or ickky, robotic service?

In the tourism and hospitality industry, the success or failure of the business is directly dependant on service. Weight loss resorts and health vacations especially depend on excellent service as the customer is outside of their comfort zone much of the time, experiencing change. Yet some health retreats are able to consistently provide customer service that is top notch, regardless of the situation. How and why are they able to do this?

Quality customer service is an experience of feeling valued or heard. Sometimes it’s an intangible component of why a guest may prefer one tourism or hospitality provider over another. There is something about quality customer service that you often can’t put your finger on — but you know it’s there. – Canadian Tourism Commission.

It’s taken time to establish our luxury weight loss retreat as being known for more than it’s fitness programming, lifestyle coaching, holistic nutrition and amazing outdoor adventures. We want every customer to also feel like we’ve given authentic, loving support. We treat our customers how we’d like to be treated, if we were in their position – a customer on an epic, bucket list weight loss camp. After all, the team at Whistler Fitness Vacations are all passionate travellers too!

lupin flowers in whistler mountains - Top 10 things to ask, when choosing a health retreat or weight loss camp

What to expect from any health retreat or weight loss camp in Canada:

NOTE: Actually, not just in Canada, but worldwide if it’s billed in Western pricing. I studied Ayurveda medicine in Kerala, India for a month and I’m glad that I went into that health retreat with lowered expectations. True story, once during a private consult, the doctor consulting me actually fell asleep. Like, snoring and all. So yeah… if you pay Western pricing, then demand Western standard of service.  

  1. Reliability: every day, you should be able to count on consistent service level and positive interaction between staff. No bad days!
  2. Assurance: each point-of-contact with staff should be knowledgeable and assuring. You need to be able to trust their expertise.
  3. Tangibles: the wellness retreat physical facilities, equipment, and staff appearance – professional at all times.
  4. Empathy: not just sympathy. Do you feel listened to? Cared for? Wellness retreats simply much provide genuine and authentic care to their customers.
  5. Responsiveness: heck, I’ve driven to Vancouver at 1am on Sunday morning to help a customer in need.  And would do it again in a heartbeat.

Side note on #5, Whistler Fitness Vacations uses the support of our partnership hotel outside of program hours. Guests can contact the front desk 24/7 for whatever they need, with concierge, bell and free shuttle also available.

lost lake whistler weight loss camp - Top 10 things to ask, when choosing a health retreat or weight loss camp

Lost Lake in Whistler, where we hike often!

9 – Ask what communications to expect

There are a number of points in time where we connect with our weight loss camp and fitness retreat guests. These might include:

  • The first time potential guests visit and give us their email or phone number
  • When a reservation is made, or a question is left – speedy replies!
  • Meeting the customer for the first time, from the initial phone call through to arrival meeting at Whistler Fitness Vacations.
  • Welcome cards, personalized menus, friendly hellos, and other touches throughout their health retreat.
  • Follow-up communications after their stay. All guests have lifelong access to me, the fitness director. We usually keep in touch by text message, social media and phone calls, depending on the customers preference. There’s of course no charge for that, but if they want a more formal coaching package, there’s an option.

I hire up to 8 fitness guides each April in Whistler. The selection process is highly competitive, with great conversational skills top of the requirements. We’re frequently told by guests that the ‘high quality of smart, capable and fun fitness guides’ were a highlight of their stay!

morning weight loss camp stretch - Top 10 things to ask, when choosing a health retreat or weight loss camp

Stretching on a glacial lake, before going for a kayaking session – Whistler Fitness Vacations

10 – Question if they’re (at minimum) insured, certified & licensed

We’ve always backed Whistler Fitness Vacations with the best cancellation policy that we could possibly squeeze out of both our lodging partners and our own business needs. With an A+ rating at the Better Business Bureau since 2001, almost 20 years of trust means you can guarantee that your investment is safe with us.

There are several ways you can research us: 

  • Accredited membership with the Better Business Bureau, A+ Rating since 2001 to be in compliance with BBB Code of Business Practices.
  • Whistler Chamber of Commerce active membership since 2001.
  • Verify our Business Number with the BC Registry: #862083896RT0001
  • Online payment is secured with SSL Security Solutions in partnership with Bean Stream Payment Gateway (Bambora). No Paypal or e-payments like many pop-up retreats offer!
  • We comply with strict data security standards to process, store and transmit credit card information. Look for the closed padlock symbol in your browser when you complete the transaction and the ‘https’ in our website address.
  • Credentials – no excuses – professional certification must be verifiable, complete with insurance and registration. Click here to see mine!

Whistler best weight loss retreat - Top 10 things to ask, when choosing a health retreat or weight loss camp


It’s not easy finding the best weight loss retreats and fitness vacations with so much fluff online these days. Pre-teen kids can whip up a gorgeous website in a weekend for their 20 year old sister, who is hosting her first wellness retreat in Bali. Perhaps she’s got a social following from being a body positive fitness influencer, or maybe she got certified a few months ago as a fitness professional. Bottom line, you’re not paying for the expertise of an established weight loss camp for when things go well – you’re paying for their ability to manage it when it doesn’t.

  • How do they evacuate a broken ankle on a hike, two hours from the nearest road?
  • What happens if there’s a mental health emergency from one of the guests on a bike ride?
  • Does the fitness coach have the life experience to professionally manage your medical, or fitness backstory? Example, if you gained weight because you’re hitting menopause, maybe a 30-year old influencer isn’t the best weight loss coach for you.

Truth bomb: I cringe, remembering how we handled some situations back in 2008 – 2011 in our first few years of running weight loss retreats.

Yet over 400 weeks of health retreats later, definitely the kinks are ironed out. Customers can count on us to provide a logistically smooth fitness vacation not just when things go right. Whistler Fitness Vacations has mature business operations to manage any – and every – situation, in a way that start-up retreats simply don’t have the experience to do (from evacuation on alpine hiking trials, through to major logistical curveballs).

I’m not sure that we’ve seen everything, but, well, it’s probably pretty close at this point.

And there you have it – the top 10 things to ask, when choosing a health retreat or weight loss camp. I hope that wherever you go for your fit getaway, you have a fabulous time and it exceeds expectation! Wishing you continued success in your wellness journey, and reach out if there’s anything I can help you with.

Hey, I’m Cat Smiley. I’m a fitness, nutrition, weight loss and life coach. Hire me if you want results! Click here to learn more about my 1-to-1 phone coaching services, upcoming weight loss retreats, and personal workshops.

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