Getting healthy the H3 way

Date Published: 
July 8, 2011

Last December, my husband, Jim, suggested that in 2011 we take a healthy vacation to a spa-type resort specializing in weight loss and healthy living. It took me less than two minutes to jump online and scout out the possibilities; I gave him no chance to change his mind. Exercise lover that I am, this was my idea of the perfect vacation.

Coastal PointCoastal Point

After calling several resorts, I was most impressed with Hilton Head Health Institute (hereafter referred to as H3) on Hilton Head Island, S.C. My reservation representative, Jessica Noble, addressed my long list of questions and concerns. I also kept her busy in the months that followed as our May vacation approached.

I researched H3’s young executive chef, Jennifer Welper, to check out her credentials and look at some of the meal displays online at I was hooked! I immediately began planning an interview and getting permission to print H3 recipes.

For a full week in mid-May, we attended classes led by Director of Education Bob Wright, Director of Lifetime Fitness Adam Martin, Wellness Counselor and Psychologist Dr. Beth Leermakers and others on nutrition, planning healthy meals, stress eating, portion control, habits of successful weight managers, cooking demonstrations with Chef Jen (you know I loved those!), building a better body, goal setting, making time for your healthy lifestyle, weekly meal planning and staying motivated and on track. Other lectures/seminars were also offered for those with binge-eating problems or diabetes.

I attended the majority of the lectures while my husband took off to experience as many fitness classes as he could handle each day (sometimes five or six, from a list of 45 to 50 classes). He loves to get his money’s worth! But that made sense, of course, since I would be the one managing our food intake and meal planning once we left H3, to keep us on track for four-to-six weeks to continue our daily 1,200-calorie weight-loss plan.

After being diagnosed with early thyroid problems last fall and on a new medication, I finally began losing weight. Jim had been losing zilch. By the time we got to H3, I had already lost 20 pounds. By the time we left H3, Jim had lost 5 pounds and I had lost another 2. He has since lost 10 more pounds and I’ve lost another 5.

I knew quite a bit about proper nutrition before I arrived at H3, but I’m now a much wiser cookie (pun intended). Chef Jen, a graduate of Johnson and Wales University in Providence, R.I., taught us how to prepare healthy, nutritious meals using lower-fat and no-fat ingredients, without sacrificing flavor and taste.

Jen was a sous-chef at H3 for three years before moving to Chicago, Ill. She worked for the Marriott Hotel and Convention Center, but moved from there to chef at a Chicago long-term health-care facility. One year later, she received a call from H3 CEO Robert Moore, asking her to return to H3 as executive chef. She returned to H3 in May 2010.

I asked Jen if she felt confined and limited in creativity, working in environments such as long-term health-care facilities and at H3, where every recipe and every morsel of food had to be measured and calculated to fit within the stringent guidelines for fats, calories, illnesses and allergies. She laughed.

“Not at all,” she said. “I added special training specifically geared to become a chef in this environment.” Those who attended her cooking classes and demonstrations were never disappointed; taste-testing was highly anticipated.

Our week was all about counting calories and fat grams to stay within 1,200 calories. We enjoyed huge bowls of salad before lunch and learned to dip the fork tines into the salad dressing first and then into our greens – a huge caloric and fat savings.

We learned that cooking with skim milk instead of even 1 or 2 percent does not alter the taste of your dish at all and you have zero fat calories; and if you use low-fat cheese, Low-Fat Hellman’s Mayonnaise (Jen’s choice), no-fat sour cream, no-fat cream cheese, etc., the fat-gram and calorie reduction is huge!

For instance, full-fat mayonnaise suggests 1 tablespoon as a serving; that tablespoon contains 90 calories and 1.5 grams of fat. Lower-fat mayonnaise suggests 1 tablespoon as a serving, but only 1 gram of fat and get this – only 15 calories instead of 90! Full-fat sharp Cheddar cheese suggests a quarter-cup as a serving (too much) with 110 calories and 6 grams of fat. If you choose 2 percent cheese, for the same suggested serving it’s 80 calories and 3.5 grams of fat.

Portions and servings can be confusing. My fat-free Fage Greek Yogurt nutrition info tells me that a serving is 8 ounces and 130 calories. But if my entire breakfast is 250 calories during my weight-loss period, I must ignore the word “serving” and decide on an appropriate “portion” for my meal so that I can meet my 250- to 300-calorie breakfast allotment.

For example, one of my favorite new breakfasts is a half-cup yogurt (65 calories) topped with a quarter-cup of crunchy gluten-free whole grain cereal (60 calories), a quarter-cup fresh berries (25 calories) and half of a banana (50 calories). That’s only 200 calories, so I could actually eat the whole banana or add more fruit. Yum! My mid-morning snack might be one 70-calorie hard-boiled egg (my body needs a protein hit mid-morning) or a rice cake or an apple with a little peanut butter.

Our 1,200-calorie daily plan was split this way: 250-300 calories for breakfast (5 fat grams), 300 calories for lunch (6-9 fat grams) and 350 calories for dinner (7-9 fat grams). In between, at 10:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., and in the evening after dinner, we were to eat a Metabo Meal. (I’ve come home with a whole new lingo.)

Metabo Meals are healthy 100-calorie snacks (no fat) designed to prevent overeating, stabilize blood glucose levels and increase metabolism; e.g. fresh-cut fruits and vegetables (carrot and celery sticks or broccoli), fat-free or light yogurt, low-sodium V8 juice, rice cakes and more.

In our Putting-It-All-Together class at the end of our week, we were given the following figures for the 1,200-calorie plan: high-fiber carbohydrates, 50-55 grams; protein, 15-20 grams; fat, 25-30 grams (plus or minus 5 in each category).

One of the many important things we learned from Bob Wright was how to make wiser choices when eating out. His motto: Unwise, Better, Best. By the end of our week, we were 100 percent clear on what was unwise. Unfortunately, Bob also reminded me that each 5-ounce glass of wine I consumed added 100 calories to the daily calorie count. I think he actually called them “wasted calories.” Some information is harder to digest than others, isn’t it?

And, from Adam Martin I learned that if I wanted arms like Michelle Obama, lifting only one set of free weights wouldn’t get me to my goal. Two to three sets, he said, and I’m already realizing a difference. The same theory applies to the weight machines and lower-body exercises.

One of my goals was to find a way to ramp up my aerobic treadmill workout. I now employ what they call “treading” every three days, where I raise the incline and push the speed up as fast as I’m able to go for several 90-second intervals in the 45-minute workout. I used to power-walk for 30 minutes, but that’s now up to 45, and I’m working toward 60 minutes. And recently I’ve moved to the elliptical machine and am using interval tactics to work up an even greater burn.

Adam also taught us (and the New England Journal of Medicine supports his teaching) that weight loss is 80 percent nutrition and 20 percent exercise. That information certainly proved to be the issue with Jim and me. We work out six days a week, but the weight was staying put. It was the nutritional changes that kicked up the weight loss.

America is engulfed in an obesity epidemic. The rate of adult obesity has more than doubled in the last 20 years, and now our children are rapidly following in our footsteps. Many guests at H3 weighed 200 pounds, 300 pounds, and some even more than that.

Everyone worked hard every day and many were return guests. They had found a place where everyone was respected and encouraged for choosing to change their lives for the better. The staff, one and all, was kind, caring and genuinely interested in you and your weight-loss history and struggles. In fact, they also have a one-on-one at-home coaching program for those who want and/or need continued assistance on their healthy journey.

Our week at H3 was uplifting. We met people who were taking charge of their lives, knowing that unless they made drastic changes, their health would continue to deteriorate. They all know about gastric bypass and lap-band surgeries, but they are choosing to take this journey the old fashioned way – learning about how and why they got where they are today and educating themselves to create a better tomorrow – some of them staying for several weeks.

This is not a diet like Atkins or South Beach or a cabbage-soup-only craze. It’s not about annually dropping a couple pounds or whittling off a few inches to fit into last year’s bathing suit. This is a sensible, doable plan for a healthier life. It’s all about cutting out processed and fast foods, calorie-laden drinks, reducing your portions and reading labels to cut fat, calories and sodium. There were no salt shakers or sugar bowls in the H3 dining room. Many people craved both, because they realized how much they added to their daily intake at home.

We learned to use smaller plates and fill one-half with fruits and vegetables, one-fourth with 3 or 4 ounces of lean protein, such as fish (two times a week), chicken, pork or beef, and one-fourth whole grains, such as brown rice, as well as eating at least one meatless meal a week.

If you’re in the market for a fitness vacation, I encourage you to check out their Web site – – where you’ll get a virtual tour of the facility (and the food), as well as a daily check-in site for encouragement, exercise and nutritional advice and more of Chef Jen’s recipes at

This daily site has lots of helpful advice on tracking your fats and calories, dozens of healthy recipes and a daily blog written by staff members. You can print many forms to help you keep track of what you eat – highly recommended – as well as Sensible Snacks, Serving-Size Reference Guide and an H3 Shopping List to help you stay on track in the grocery store and to assist in weekly menu planning.

Two books that were highly recommended by Bob and Adam are “Mindless Eating” by Brian Wansink and “The Volumetrics Eating Plan” by Barbara Rolls. “Mindless Eating” is a fascinating and often humorous look at why we eat (and drink) more than we think and “The Volumetrics Eating Plan” offers techniques and recipes for feeling full on fewer calories. Both books are helping me stay on track during this weight-loss process.

One of my favorite H3meals was Pork Tenderloin with Mango Chutney.

Pork Tenderloin
with Mango Chutney

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.


? 2 each, plain pork tenderloins, cleaned and trimmed

? 1/2 teaspoon sea salt

? 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper

? Meat thermometer


? 1/2 cup low-sodium soy sauce

? 1/2 cup sugar free maple syrup

? 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped

? 1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped

? 1 tablespoon chopped garlic

? 1 shallot, chopped

Method for Pork Tenderloin
with Mango Chutney:

Marinate pork tenderloin or pork medallions at least an hour before cooking; reserve some marinade and place in a sauce pot to reduce to use as a sauce. Mix rosemary, thyme, garlic and shallot. Place parchment paper on baking sheet, or simply spray baking sheet with cooking spray. Place each tenderloin on the baking sheet and season with herb mix. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 145 degrees F. This internal temperature will cook the pork to medium. If a well-done center is desired, cook to an internal temperature of 160 degrees F. Once the tenderloin has reached your desired doneness, slice on a bias and top with Mango Chutney. Serve with brown rice and steamed asparagus. Yield: 6 servings; serving size: 4 ounces; calories: 170; fat grams: 2.

Mango Chutney


? 1 mango, peeled and cubed

? 1/4 cup orange juice

? 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar

? 1 tablespoon honey

? 1/2 cup chopped red bell peppers

? 1 tablespoon cornstarch

? 2 tablespoons cold water mixed with cornstarch

Method for Mango Chutney:

Combine mango, juice, vinegar, honey and peppers in a medium-size sauce pan and cook until fruit and vegetables are tender. Thicken with the cornstarch slurry, if necessary. Add slurry very slowly – not all at once – so that clumps do not form. Yield: 8 servings; serving size: 1/8 cup; calories: 24; fat grams: 0.

Chef Jen prepared her Cornflake Oven Fried Chicken during a demonstration. Unfortunately, I couldn’t taste it because as the whole world must know by now, I’m allergic to chicken. Those who tested the chicken told me it was just like eating chicken fried in deep oil. Since I can eat turkey, Chef Jen suggested that I use this same technique on turkey breast tenderloin. That’s on my bucket list!

Cornflake Oven Fried Chicken

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.


? 4 each (4 ounces) boneless, skinless chicken breasts

? 1 cup nonfat, plain yogurt

? 2 cups cornflake cereal, crushed

? 1 cup whole wheat flour (optional)

? 1/2 teaspoon salt

? 1 teaspoon garlic powder

? 1 teaspoon onion powder

? 1 teaspoon Mrs. Dash, Table Blend

? 1/2 teaspoon white pepper

? 1 can spray oil

Method for Cornflake Oven Fried Chicken:

Remove all visible fat from chicken and cut each breast into four strips or leave as whole breasts. Combine the corn flakes, whole wheat flour, salt, garlic powder, onion powder, Mrs. Dash Blend and white pepper in a bowl. Line a cookie sheet with baking parchment or wax paper. Toss the chicken in the yogurt to coat. Then coat with the seasoned breading cornflake mix. Shake off excess breading and lay chicken breasts out on the cookie sheet. Lightly spray oil on the chicken; this helps brown the breading.

Bake for about 15 to 20 minutes or until just firm to the touch or when it reaches an internal temperature of 160 degrees F. If you remove the chicken at 160 degrees, it will rise in temperature to 165 (preferred temperature) as it sits. Do not put your meat thermometer into the top of the chicken to test; insert the thermometer into the thickest side of a piece (much more accurate reading). Yield: 4 servings; serving size: 4 ounces; calories: 160; fat grams: 1.

Szechuan Cucumbers is a recipe in the latest H3 cookbook (we all need souvenirs from a vacation, don’t we?). If you garnish a serving with toasted peanuts, you’ll incur 1.6 fat grams and an extra 26 calories per serving. I skip the nuts, so my 1/2-cup serving is only 17.5 calories and zero fat grams. What a bargain for a healthy side salad!

Szechuan Cucumbers


? 1/2 cup rice vinegar

? 4 teaspoons soy sauce, reduced-sodium

? 1 tablespoon sugar

? 1 jalapeño pepper, minced

? 1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger

? 2 cucumbers, medium (I use one large English cucumber.))

? 1 red onion, small, thinly sliced

? Fresh ground black pepper to taste

? Fresh cilantro for garnish, chopped

? 8 teaspoons toasted peanuts for garnish, chopped (optional)

Method for Szechuan Cucumbers:

In a bowl, whisk vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, jalapeno, ginger and pepper together. Cut cucumbers in half, lengthwise; seed and thinly slice; add to dressing along with onion. Mix well. Cover and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours.

Yield: 8 servings; serving size: 1/2 cup; calories per serving with peanuts: 43.5; 17.5 calories without peanuts; fat grams per serving if using nuts: 1.6; 0 fat grams without nuts. Garnish with cilantro and peanuts just before serving.

I’m not a hot oatmeal fan, but Jim and dozens of other H3 guests stood in line to begin every morning with the famous H3 Eye-Opener Oatmeal! Top with fresh berries, ground flax seed or granola.

H3 Oatmeal


? 1-1/2 cups water

? 1-1/2 cups skim milk

? 1 teaspoon cinnamon

? 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

? 1 banana, mashed

? 1/2 cup oat bran

? 1/2 cup quick oats

Method for H3 Oatmeal:

In a saucepan, add water, milk, cinnamon, vanilla and mashed banana. Bring to just below a boil. Turn off heat; whip in oat bran and quick oats. Mix well; cover and let sit for 10 minutes or until desired thickness. Yield: 3 servings; serving size: 1 cup; calories: 140; fat grams: 2.5.

There isn’t enough room in one column to share all of the important lessons I learned in just one week at H3, so in my next column I’ll continue with more of what I learned and tell you how I set up my weekly eating plan and grocery list to stay within the 1,200-calorie zone for weight loss. I’ll also share more healthy recipes, including meatless meal suggestions.

Does it take time to manage all of this for four to six weeks or longer? It sure does. But the question you must ask yourself is: Am I worth it? Jim and I have decided that we are definitely worth it! What about you?

And don’t forget to drink 64 ounces of water every day – proper hydration is vital to good health! That’s a lot of water, so I add slices of lemon or lime to the water to encourage me to drink my quota.

(Editor’s note: If you have recipes to share, or recipes you want, contact Marie Cook, Coastal Point, P.O. Box 1324, Ocean View, DE 19970; or by email at Please include your phone number. Recipes in this column are not tested by the Coastal Point.)