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The Deprivation Vacation

"Depriving yourself is a perfect anti-materialist, anti-affluence gesture," says David Brooks, who tracked the lifestyle of "Bourgeois Bohemians" in his book Bobos in Paradise. "People like to vacation among those who have the lives they're too ambitious to lead themselves. Whether it's Tuscan peasants who know their mushrooms or back-to-nature ranch hands at dude ranches, they seem to be leading honest, simple, more virtuous lives—not that any of us would actually want to live that way."

For others, authenticity and simplicity have nothing to do with it: they just can't trust themselves. Carnival has a smoke-free cruise ship, the Paradise, and if you're caught possessing a cigarette, you'll be kicked off at the next port of call, hit with a $250 fine, and forced to figure out a way home. For some, the threat of a week trapped on a ship with a bunch of people undergoing nicotine fits might be reason enough to quit; others might worry that the buffet-laden cruise ship would be fraught for anyone fighting an oral fixation. Travel Companion's Doug Payette, the travel agent who persuaded the American Lung Association to endorse the program, says it doesn't matter: "The average consumer who goes on a cruise gains five pounds anyway!"

In which case, they might sign on for the new wave of fitness trips. New York gym chain Equinox is now running exercise getaways—lounge on the beach and work on your abs, too. A pioneer of sorts, David Kirsch, of Manhattan's tony Madison Square Club, has held fitness "boot camps" in Costa Rica, Turkey, Telluride, and, most recently, Capri, where he rented a villa and brought in a private chef. Kirsch's wards lost 5 to 10 pounds on a diet of no pasta, no bread—and no biscotti. Did they complain?"All the time!" says Kirsch. "The trick was not depriving them so much that they couldn't last more than two days. We'd go to the Quisisana hotel every night and have one drink. It's not like the ashram where you're eating tree bark."

Kirsch is joking about the tree bark, but California's Ashram is a legendary spot for dropping weight fast. Spa-goers are put through a rigorous exercise regime and fed little more than a glass of orange juice at breakfast. Brazil's Body & Soul Adventures was initially affiliated with the Ashram; the spa is now on its own, but the only-what-you-need philosophy remains. Guests spend a week on the island of Ilha Grande, where they're put through a brutal regimen of hiking, kayaking, and yoga and are fed 1,200 calories a day. You try hiking for four hours and then having an egg with carrot and celery sticks for lunch. "By the end it feels normal," says Jessica Shaw, a magazine writer. But does it feel good?"You're kayaking and your arms are like jelly, but then you get to a breathtaking beach and think, 'Thank God I came on this trip.'"

Shaw points out that it's easier to savor deprivation as long as you know there will be indulgence in the end—which explains her group's binge of a dinner in Rio at the conclusion of the trip. What did they eat?"What didn't we eat?" she says. "Eight thousand rolls, two desserts each, the entire appetizer list, wine...." Body & Soul admits that now and again someone tries to sneak in a Snickers, and it's evidently not uncommon elsewhere. Rita Rivest says first-timers have been known to fortify themselves in advance of coming to Sage Hill, her well-being retreat in Ojai, California, where there's no meat, alcohol, or wheat. Rivest uses car services to bring guests to the retreat, and she knows all the drivers. When one arrived late, she got him to admit that the guest had insisted on visiting a nearby Krispy Kreme.

At Tree of Life Rejuvenation Center in Patagonia, Arizona, visitors often give up food altogether, fasting for a week at a time. Devotees are hungry for it: the center hit a peak in revenues last year, and it's attracting a broader clientele—including Hollywood and fashion types, like designer John Bartlett. (When guests do eat, it's all organic, all vegan, and all "living"—which means it's not cooked, or at least not above 118 degrees Fahrenheit.) The center revolves around the work of Dr. Gabriel Cousens, who says it's not just food that's being given up. "We have no TV, no radio, no input from the outside world," Cousens says. "We have nature, where you can breathe and see the stars. People say, 'I haven't seen the stars in years!' " Ultimately, Cousens adds, it's reprioritization—shocking the body into a state that frees the mind.


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