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Is It a "Starvation Vacation"? Or a Malibu Spa?

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The word "cleanse" is bandied about as if we were all absolutely filthy, running around with drippy, dirtied noses and grime under our fingernails. But there's the rub; though human beings have never had access to so many cleaning products, and kept such a distance from bacteria and viruses, we just feel grubbier every day. So much so that we're all, obviously, in need of cleansing.

And I'm not one of those snarky Internet commentators; I feel this way sometimes too. I get it, so much so that I've done whole food cleanses and generally eat quite healthfully -- I know that garbage in means I feel like trash the next day. And for every esoteric ailment, there is certainly someone willing to help you "cure" it. In the case of cleanses, whether juice-only or just low-toxin, it's not exactly a secret that they can be prepared oneself for a very modest sum; some time online doing research and few organic ingredients that certainly won't break the bank. But where's the fun in that?

In yesterday's Wall Street Journal, writer Christina Binkley takes herself off to a (superluxey) spa in Malibu called the Ranch at Live Oak. While she is instructed to eliminate all sorts of substances before arrival (the usual suspects, including caffeine, alcohol, meat), she doesn't, really, or just kinda does -- and she's in good company, as the rest of the group she's a part of has also eschewed the deprivation. So, not surprisingly, she (and the rest of her cohort) get grumpy for a few days.

Which is what happens when you drink cocktails most evenings, caffeine most mornings, and chalk at least a meal a day up to "what the heck". Christina was hungry, tired from 12 mile hikes (unless you're used to such exertions, they will tire you out) and it affected her mood and the mood of the other dozen or so people on her program.

At $5,600 a week, the writer was expecting something more... cushy I suppose, though she was sold a spa week that was defined as one wherein you would cleanse your system, lose weight and gain strength. After all, it's right on the ranch's homepage!

The Ranch is a results-oriented fitness, health and wellness retreat, not your typical spa or resort. This luxury boot camp focuses on meeting your fitness, nutritional, weight loss and detox goals through our specialized program. The 10 hours of daily exercise includes daily hiking, core and ab workouts, body toning and sculpting, weights, yoga sessions and a strict calibrated vegetarian diet

After a couple of days of misery (or actually, mild discomfort), where she accuses the spa's staff of starving the clients (although they are eating about 1,500 calories a day), falling comatose into naps, and coming up with nicknames for the place "Assisted Starvation Camp," Christina does start enjoying herself, writing that four days in (about as long as it takes to detox from our favorite addictions) "Life was improving." The next day, she hikes an extra mile because she feels like it, and by the day after that, her food cravings "vanished" and she felt "terrific". And Christina does see results at the end, "I did 47 knee-down push-ups -- up from 27 the previous Sunday; had lost 6½ pounds; my lower quadriceps were 1¾ inches narrower and my waist 1½ inches trimmer. I craved exercise."

Plenty of folks around the web were incensed, or at least annoyed, not by the article, but by the very existence of such a spa. Jezebel's Sadie Stein wrote, "It is very hard -- nearly impossible -- not to feel churlish reading about this kind of excess: paying a lot for starvation. Paying, in essence, to keep yourself safely quarantined from the excess of your normal life." But that is EXACTLY what the clientele here is paying for, isn't it? And what's wrong with paying for discipline?

Checking out the slideshow, the Ranch at Live Oak certainly looks lovely enough. And sorry to burst your bubble, but the key to rapid weight loss is eating less (a lot less), cutting out the junk, and exercising quite a bit. Which is what happens at this ranch, albeit in a lovely setting with massage every night and sunny days.

Upon reflection, I would love to check this place out; how about you? Do you think it's crazy to pay for slow food, organic and healthy meals that are delicious but small-portioned? Would you consider yourself starved if you went to a spa specifically for weight-loss? I think the ultimate question is: what so wrong with being hungry, uncomfortable, maybe even grumpy sometimes, if it's for a good reason? Like cleansing your body (and maybe pushing yourself further than your comfort zone).

Check out more Travel & Style on Starre's new site, Eco Chick Escapes.