I recently decided that I like beef after a lifetime of disdain for it.
And all thanks to gorging on a burger so good I haven’t stopped thinking about it from that first bite. Since then I’ve had three more beef burgers, and it feels like I’ve opened up a primal “bad” craving in my appetite.
Not the right timing.
I was thinking about it when I headed to Tywyn, a small seaside town in Wales, where I was about to spend four days on a strict vegetarian diet, doing yoga twice a day, hiking and beach walks in the local area and staying at a chapel that had been Converted.
After the Christmas period of overeating, going temporarily vegan was interesting from a health perspective and appealed to my natural curiosity in wanting to try new things.
The extent of my “veganism” before that was switching from cow’s milk to oat milk five years ago for hormonal reasons. I also adopted a flexitarian diet as a student to save money. In general, I will eat anything.
Upon my arrival at Sunsetbay Retreats I was greeted with a vegan loaf cake. I thought maybe this wouldn’t be so difficult after all.
Between that and dinner, I had a reflexology session (which was great – the practitioner said she could tell I was strong thinking by how strong my toes were). My appetite has improved.
Then I was served a celery steak and colorful vegetables galore with a garlic cashew vinaigrette. It was delicious. Kelly Mason, a talented vegan private chef, designed and prepared all of our meals – I ate them all up quickly, and I’m hungry for more.
Dessert followed (thankfully, even though it was a little healthy) and I knew enjoying vegan food wouldn’t be the challenge here because Kelly can make almost anything taste divine. Instead, it will be a difference in portion sizes and a drastic switch from what I’m used to.
This proved true the next morning, after a soak in the hot tub, I did another hour of yoga on an empty stomach. As someone who needs breakfast first, this wasn’t easy.
Sunsetbay on hand was more than just a smoothie or weight loss retreat — it was about taking care of your body, being mindful of your intake and not overeating.
After yoga, we were given a breakfast bowl of berries that—although filling in nutrition and pleasant to taste and look at—did little except fill my empty stomach before ascending Bird Rock, a steep 40-minute summit.
I would love to walk like this, but it was more difficult than usual. Most likely due to the energy I was spending on smaller portions compared to my usual buttery toast. I felt weak.
However, things started to turn around by the third day. Still doing yoga and walking daily, although a bit less strenuous than the day before, I found my energy levels were more balanced and the meals kept me going better.
Not once did I feel full or bloated. Instead, I felt just right, letting my appetite build for real instead of snacking and jamming out emotional hunger for real hunger. That was a very good feeling.
Those of our group who were already vegetarians and vegans at the resort didn’t go through this adjustment so much, but I was relieved when someone else admitted to me that she was still hungry after breakfast one morning. She also imagined a piece of toast.
Everyone’s abilities and experiences were mixed, making the retreat a safe place for anyone interested in living a little differently for a long weekend, and getting into the slower pace of life inherent in nature.
We ate locally sourced mushrooms, healthy grains and seeds, nuts, diary alternatives like coconut yogurt, ginger ale, turmeric latte (my favorite drink of the entire trip), homemade kimchi, seaweed, and so much more, in various forms from salads to stir fries. . I can’t do it justice how delicious all of this was, even if it looked too ‘green’ for a carnivore.
Maggie Patterson and Graham Lyon, who run the resort (along with their cute little dog, Smudge) were friendly and understanding when I hit a wall of hunger and were happy to offer more nuts and fruit. Their warmth made the experience even better, too.
Besides the initial lack of energy, other physical changes I noticed was that I peed more often – possibly because I was actually taking the time to drink enough water, rather than waiting for a slight headache to indicate I was dehydrated, but also due to the significantly higher amount of vegetables I had. My body was suffering from it.
Sorry if this is a bit gross, but I’m also becoming more gassy (I’m going to blame it on the high green intake and switch to different grains). It was a relief when an attendee at another retreat made the confession I was also experiencing.
With any drastic change in diet (for reference, my dinner the night before going was anchovy pasta and chocolate mousse), some adjustment period should be expected.
By the last day I was sad to have left Kelly’s cooking behind, though I did arm her with some of her recipes to try at home after her nutrition lesson and cooking show.
Every morning I wake up an hour before scheduled activities to plunge into the hot tub for a moment of calm. It was the best wake-up call.
My favorite yoga session was the restorative yin session. I felt my body relax into the long standing poses, joints loosen and my mind slowly collapse.
The spa included a massage, which was honestly one of the most relaxing massages I’ve ever had. My back is tight and sensitive, but my masseuse got the pressure on perfectly.
An eight minute walk from the beach, whenever we had free time I went down to the coast to catch some good winds and even caught the sunset one night.
Although we did it on the second day when I was struggling the most with the portion sizes, it’s a rewarding outing with a breathtaking view at the top.
On the last day we did another walk which I loved, but this time on land and avoiding the swamps.
Welsh traditional song
One night we had a local singer and teacher telling us local Welsh legends while singing in a traditional style. The end of the day was unexpected, but uneventful.
Gong sound bath
My weary legs could just lie on my back and let the sound of the gongs lull me into a state of semi-sleep.
As we said goodbye after a hearty brunch, which included prepared tofu that looked and tasted like scrambled eggs (using turmeric and nutritional yeast) and a celery-coconut drink, everyone asked if I’d eat vegan when I got back to London.
No, I honestly told them. I will miss cheese, fish and chicken very much. What this gave me, though, were some new food items for thinking about the nutritional values of what I’m eating and portion sizes.
to move on. I will make simple swaps. Like switching to brown pasta; eat nuts instead of chocolate; And really thinking about whether you are really hungry. And when I’m feeling really fancy, I’ll try making vegan sauces, like the Garlic Cashews that Kelly made for us the first night. I feel more confident that I can make flexibility more interesting in terms of cooking as well.
For the sake of ease, I’m also not going to switch. In a lot of contexts, being vegan is hard work – seeing the work and love Kelly puts into her food shows it can take a long time – even just finding a vegan sandwich at the London train station was challenging. I am grateful for those four days that were made as easy as possible for me.
Am I going to back off again? in a heartbeat. It was a welcome key, as I go to a peaceful, sober, healthy weekend, instead of the usual partying and chicken nuggets at 3 in the morning. I am also inspired to get back to doing yoga on a more regular basis.
I don’t think a retreat has to be a gateway to a new life – it can just be exactly what it is, four relaxing days that do body and mind some good, before returning to normal life with a new perspective (which, for me, was a smaller portion of dinner and more… Greens when I got home).
Next Sunsetbay Retreats rates start at £675 and include accommodation, food, activities, one-time massage, access to the hot tub and travel to sites during the cruise.
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