Combe Grove is a centre for integrated health and wellness overlooking the Limpley Stoke Valley. Dr Rebecca Hiscutt PhD tells us about its metabolic health programme, a transformative process for mind and body.
What is metabolic health? Metabolic health underpins how we feel, how our body responds to the day and is fundamental to our mental and physical health. When metabolic health starts to deteriorate our body has to work harder to maintain balance so our body is in a state of ‘fight’ more often. Glucose levels might rise further and stay high for longer for example. This can impact our everyday wellbeing leading to fatigue and sluggishness, poor sleep, aches and pains, affect mood and cause weight gain, especially around the abdomen. It can also affect our health over time.
Combe Grove is the UK’s first metabolic health retreat. Why is this centre important? There has been a growing understanding of how central metabolic health is to being able to lead healthy lives and minimise our risk of chronic diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer. The wonderful thing about metabolic health is that it can be pushed in either direction. So every individual is able to improve their metabolic health, sometimes a little and often dramatically. But this requires making lifestyle changes, and to do this you need to understand what impacts metabolic health and how to make these changes. Many people want to be able to take control of their health, to learn about the core root of the health challenges they are facing and have the option of moving away from needing medications for each individual health issue. It’s this need that Combe Grove is addressing: helping empower people to take charge of their health journey and feel confident and excited about making changes to improve how they feel and how their future looks.
You offer a one-year support programme. How easy is it to maintain the regime once back at home? The challenge is translating what you have done on a retreat to your home environment and continuing when life gets busy or stressful. We are very aware that many people have been on a long journey working on their health or weight. This is exhausting, expensive and demoralising. Therefore, once a client joins the Combe Grove Community our team of health professionals supports them for a year, coaching and guiding them through the challenges and successes. This support programme includes one year’s membership to The Club at Combe Grove so clients can come and use our pools, classes and gym as often as they wish throughout the year.
You deal with the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity. How does the retreat encompass all these issues? The root cause of each of these is poor metabolic health with insulin resistance being a core feature. By helping clients discover how to rebalance their metabolic health they can start working towards reducing their blood sugar levels, blood pressure and body fat. Some of these changes are seen very quickly with blood pressure often decreasing significantly over the course of the week clients are with us.
A day starts with a morning walk, perhaps dipping into the woodland or up to the kitchen garden. This is followed by a meditation class tailored to the needs of the group. Clients then make themselves comfortable on giant bean bags in our Oak Room for a nutrition workshop with lots of discussion about food ideas. Mid-morning is time for brunch served in The Orangery. Clients are surprised and delighted by the abundance of food served at Combe Grove and by how satisfying it is. After a chance for a stroll clients will have a second workshop followed by time in the afternoon for their appointments, to make use of the facilities or relax and reflect. Dinner is served early to enable time restricted eating and clients can choose to take part in an activity after dinner such as yoga or a walk along the skyline.
What are the principles that the meals at Combe Grove follow? The food is based around our healthy eating plate. We design meals to be 25% protein, 60% non-starchy vegetables and 15% or less starchy vegetables. Natural fats are an important part of each dish, adding amazing textures as well as nutrients and satiety. We encourage clients to base meals around protein which helps to build muscle mass, supports blood sugar management and helps reduce cravings and hunger. Then to make use of non-starchy vegetables such as green leafy vegetables, green beans, fennel, courgettes and mushrooms to add colour, diversity and flavour. We help clients to individualise their carbohydrate and fat intake according to their health goals. Our meals are all low carbohydrate (130g total carbohydrate /day compared to the average of 200–250g). We use whole, unprocessed foods with much of our produce coming from our kitchen garden and Combe Grove is alcohol free. Clients are offered a Pentire drink before dinner, a non-alcoholic botanical drink served in large glasses with grapefruit and rosemary.
I see you offer health screenings and and a body composition analysis. Our health checks give clients an indication of their metabolic health at baseline and at five points through their one-year journey. Insulin resistance is a core feature of poor metabolic health so we take measurements which provide an indication of insulin resistance. These include glucose (HbA1c) and cholesterol measurements which we use alongside waist circumference and blood pressure. We have an Accuniq body composition analyser which provides very accurate measurements including skeletal muscle mass and visceral fat. These can be improved significantly through changes to the five roots.
Does each visitor have a choice of workshops, treatments and classes? We encourage clients to immerse themselves in the programme as much as they can following what feels right to them. Before clients arrive, we ask them to reflect on where they are with each of the five roots and to let us know which they feel needs most attention at that point. We are then able to direct clients to the workshops and activities which will be of most benefit to them. If sleep is the root which needs the most attention then we’ll highlight the relaxation sessions, morning walks to reset circadian rhythm, meditation and the sleep workshop. But as all the roots interlink and impact each other, most clients attend most or all of the programme. Our core root is nutrition as this is central to metabolic health. We have three nutrition workshops over the week: ‘Build a plate’ where we focus on how to build meals and snacks to help optimize metabolic health and move people towards their goals, ‘When and how to eat’ and a cooking demonstration. We also have a sleep, mindset and environment workshop which are highly practical with lots of interaction and tools provided. We finish the week with a ‘personalise your plan’ session where each client brings together what they have learnt over the week to create a plan to take home with them. These sessions are supported by talks by experts such as Dr Campbell Murdoch and guest speakers with an interest in metabolic health and menopause, inspirational talks by people who have been through similar experiences and relaxation activities such as the badger walk, flower wreath-making and live guitar music.
What are the other wellness facilities? The Club at Combe Grove has an indoor and outdoor swimming pool, a sauna, over 60 classes a week and a gym. We also have 70 acres of ancient woodland to explore. Many of our clients make use of our highly knowledgeable PT team (many of whom are nutritionists) to guide them with a personalised gym session to use at home.
How many visitors do you have for a stay? We have up to 17 clients staying with us for each retreat. Clients have their own individual reasons for joining the retreat but share the common desire to reset their health and change how they feel. So we see very strong bonds and friendships form over the course of the week.
What sort of feedback have you had? This is the closing statement by Fiona Duncan in her recent article in The Telegraph: “I can honestly say that my stay at Combe Grove was one of the most instructive, life-changing, and in many ways, enjoyable weeks of my life. It has now been three months since I left. I have exercised more, eaten healthily, dropped breakfast and (mostly) cut out alcohol. I am no longer pre-diabetic, my blood pressure is normal, I have lost 1.5 stone by eating sensibly; and I am full of energy. I’m no longer going to medicate my way out of ill health. I’m back in business”
Combe Grove, Brassknocker Hill, Bath BA2 7HS; 01225 834644; combegrove.com