"The dietary aspect is key," says Brandon McClounie, publicity chair for the British Columbia Camping Association. "At traditional camps, you're certainly getting plenty of exercise, but the specialty (health and fitness) camps can really hone in on cardio and nutrition, too."
Some weight loss camps, such as Active Challenge near Ottawa, are upfront about their focus on health and nutrition, while others slip healthy messages into their program. At Active Challenge, each session begins with goal-setting seminars, where girls can articulate what they hope to achieve. "The ideal campers are those who recognize they want to make some changes and want to have more energy," says camp director Jill Baxter. Active Challenge offers sessions of one and two months, since it usually takes about 23 days to form new lifestyle habits.
"When you're trying to change habits, a week's not really going to cut it," says McClounie. "With a month, you're really compounding the results. It ingrains more of the healthy lifestyle that campers can carry on after they leave."
Active Challenge teaches campers about portion control, providing measuring cups and spoons at mealtimes so the girls can get a sense of proper serving sizes. Campers also take healthy cooking classes, where they learn how to make things like sushi, turkey burgers and dishes they can pack in their school lunches. "We follow Canada's Food Guide to healthy eating," Baxter explains. "We eat a whole lot of produce and lean meats."
Fitness boot camps focusing on do-able activities
Campers begin each day with a hike, an activity Baxter feels the girls can easily continue at home. In this way, these camps are not focused on strenuous activities like those seen on shows such as The Biggest Loser; these camps are relatively soft "fitness boot camps for kids." Throughout the day, kids do all kinds of activities, including circuit training, aquafit and more traditional camp activities like mountain biking, swimming and canoeing.
Active Challenge is more goal-oriented, so the girls measure their progress and learn to enjoy their new healthy lifestyle. That said, Baxter warns that it's not all fun and games. "I don't want anyone to think it's a joy ride—2010 will be our fifth year—and we haven't had a single girl yet who didn't say the camp was the biggest challenge of her life," she says. However, tackling the hard work is something the girls can feel proud of, Baxter says. "They leave a few pounds at camp, but they take home confidence."
Other camps, such as the Academy of Martial Arts in Mississauga, are more discreet in their approach. Campers are kept active with activities like karate and self-defence moves, but they also learn about healthy eating through games and activity books. "We definitely include a lot of healthy living material," says Michelle Jay, the academy's camp director. "We convey that being fit is important. We do little things like going out for nature walks that kids can do when they leave camp, too."