Dr. Andrew Weil Gets the Spa Treatment

Let's face it: Nutrition isn't mainstream in medicine.

According to a study out off the Department of Nutrition at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, 88 percent of medical school instructors feel that their students aren't getting adequate nutritional training.

The National Academy of Science does have a recommended nutritional training quota -- 25 academic hours -- but as it turns out, only 27 percent of med students are hitting that mark. What could be a major player in preventative care takes a backseat to resulting illness, leaving the onus on us to wise up.

Now I'm no doctor. I don't have a mind for medicine and I certainly can't imagine enduring the schooling it takes to treat diseases and save lives. Let me make it clear that I write not as a critic of medical education in this country but as an advocate of taking responsibility for our own health and wellbeing by treating our bodies with care and mindfulness in a way that, ideally, will protect against disease and increase awareness of what we want and need to operate at maximum capacity. So where are we supposed to go to get our questions answered and our bodies fine tuned?

If we're lucky, someplace wonderful.

A fairly recent trend in spa services has been not just an immersion into healthy living during a stay, but substantial assessments and lessons that empower guests to incorporate significant changes into their lifestyles well after they head back to reality. Dr. Andrew Weil (father of the field of integrative medicine, author of Healthy Aging and 8 Weeks to Optimum Health, vitamin guru, noted dabbler in certain natural, mind-altering treatment options) is now making his mark, bringing the fundamentals of his nationally acclaimed Integrative Medicine program to Miraval Resort near Tucson, Arizona by way its new health center -- the Andrew Weil, M.D. Integrative Wellness Program. Run by Dr. Jim Nicolai, a graduate Weil's Integrative Medicine Fellowship at the University of Arizona in Tucson, the center is the first of its kind in a spa setting, offering one-on-one consultations and analyses with doctors and nutritionists to design diets and routines tailored to individual needs. Their core focus is a fusion of mind, body and spirit -- the qualifying marker of integrative medicine -- providing personalized care amidst desert skylines, mindfulness workshops, cooking and yoga classes, spa treatments and very, very sound rest.

Dr. Weil is a bit of a rebel, having bucked the system and blazed his own nontraditional trail straight out of Harvard Medical School back in the '60s. Considered New Age at the time, his wellness regime is nearly mainstream in popular culture today, though, as indicated by the statistics above, not so much in the medical community. Weil created an empire promoting methods for naturally healthy lifestyles, recognizing the link between emotional stress and disease, customized nutrition needs and overall efficiency.

Chief among the most basic essentials of the program at Miraval is adherence to Weil's signature "anti-inflammatory diet," a modification of the Mediterranean diet, which in itself is a modification of a common-sense healthy food pyramid diet. Whole, natural foods, healthy fats, limited sugar. Add adequate exercise, genuinely good sleep, stress reduction methods and supplements -- not exactly rocket science. If it really were that simple for us, however, the diet/wellness industry wouldn't be the behemoth it is, and Dr. Weil would have run himself out of business decades ago. The fact remains that no matter how much we learn about nutrition and exercise, Americans keep searching for shortcuts and cure-alls and relief. It's not that we don't care, it's that we want whatever efforts we make to count -- and when it feels unsatisfying or in vain, it's easy to give up, decide those rules don't apply to us, and go back to our old ways. My guess is that even for the most well-intentioned, our best efforts don't always take into account individualized needs and conditions.

From arthritis to Crohn's disease, fatigue to allergies, Dr. Nicolai and his staff have suggestions for tailor-made dietary adjustments and strengthening the immune system. They'll adjust supplemental nutrition -- from Vitamin D to turmeric to raw (yes, raw) garlic -- to make sure your body isn't caught off guard. They earned my trust by not pushing Dr. Weil's vitamins and by providing outside resources, giving me the sense that as doctors and instructors, not salespeople, they really are hardwired to fulfill their medical responsibilities first and foremost. By providing customized testing, consultations and assessment from doctors and nurses while letting clients (for lack of a better word) actually practice living with these new guidelines, Miraval's program puts the concepts into application.

This is the distinction, and power, of having this program hosted at a spa: combining experiential and educational immersion for a sustainable program of wellness. While actually practicing eating, exercising, meditating and nurturing in a fully supported environment, guests have the opportunity to ask questions in real time, make adjustments to suit personal tastes, structure a plan that they can take with them and shift their perspective in an oasis of beauty and serenity. The property is truly a wonderland, and Nicolai and his team will keep track of you after you leave if you opt for it. While you're there and for good measure, you can get an outdoor massage, facial or Watsu; or try the shamanistic Spirit Flight, an amalgam of all things energetically healing. Consider it a ceremonial induction of your new way of life, a celebration for pressing reset, if you will. Better than a workshop at a local hospital or school, I can assure you, and better than waiting until your body hits a breaking point, needing treatment by a doctor addressing conditions and effects.

The Dr. Andrew Weil, M.D. Integrative Wellness Program is now open. Contact Miraval for rates, reservations and promotions. Special thanks to Miraval for the opportunity to experience the launch of the Wellness Program.