For a long time now I’ve had an issue with the way that many Americans do vacation: go away from home, stuff your face with heavy, greasy, sugary foods, booze it up, sleep too much, sit on your butt, and repeat for seven days. It sounds appealing in its own way but I’ve done it and I most often come home with a headache, a general malaise, and a gastrointestinal battle to fight. I wind up needing a cleanse from my vacation – and isn’t that the opposite of what we want when we escape life for a while?
I recently got married on top of working full time and wrestling my way through graduate school, so the summer was far from relaxing. My wedding was a dream but the prep work was immense. The idea of also planning a major honeymoon was more than I could imagine. My wife Cindy and I decided to let ourselves off the hook and instead look for somewhere close by where we could unwind. We headed for The Spa at Norwich Inn.
The Spa at Norwich Inn in Norwich, Connecticut, offers various programs for health and wellness, and I went there wondering what services it could provide for clients with diabetes. I should clarify for a moment that I do not have diabetes, but I’ve long been attached to the diabetes community for various reasons. My grandfather has had type 1 diabetes my entire life; the unconfirmed family lore is that his mother and 9 of her 11 siblings had type 1 diabetes too. My mother is now pre-diabetic. As a young woman she worked at a summer camp for children with diabetes and spent more than a decade as a dialysis nurse. The conversation about diabetes has always been part of my life.
I’m keenly aware that I’m at risk for diabetes. This has affected many of my lifestyle choices: my diet is balanced and packed with whole foods, my wife and I avoid processed sugars, and we’re both active. She works out hard almost every day and keeps a strictly vegetarian diet. I run or do yoga 3 or 4 times a week. It’s not remarkable, but keeping my life on a healthy keel is one of my strongest values.
For some time now I’ve wondered what it would be like to have a healthy vacation, to treat my body even better than I do on a normal day. What if I could escape the daily grind and come back healthier for it? What if I challenged myself to be as healthy as possible? My wife was game: she needs exercise to feel sane, as she’ll tell you at any time. So for the two nights and three days I would spend at the Spa at Norwich Inn, I vowed to swear off sugar and eat low-carb, work out at least once a day, and take advantage of the various spa amenities.
Arriving, my wife and I were a little underwhelmed. While nicely maintained, the building lacked the quaintness and the charm of an inn. In some ways it was almost too nice. The building is on the register of historic hotels and I hoped to feel some of that charm that’s so much a part of New England, but instead it felt like we were in… well, a hotel. With faux-antique furniture and fake art on the walls, it felt sterile but not at all spa-like. Our room itself , a nice-sized suite, was decorated in stiff fabrics, more reminiscent of Grandma’s Parlor than John Adams’ Sitting Room.
Our visit improved quickly thereafter, though. We ate first at Ascot’s, the tiny pub-style restaurant and bar in the center of the main building. All menus at the Spa have nutritional information and substitutions are gladly made. With typical soup, sandwich, and salad offerings, there were few low-carb or meat-free options, but we got the Signature Cheese Board with added mixed nuts ($12.95 for two; Cindy ate the honeycomb and apple slices perched delicately on the side, I stuck to almonds and a subtle smoky gouda, creamy brie, and sharp cheddar that hit the spot.
Afterwards we went down the hall to the spa area and took a candlelight yoga class. At $18 each for an hour, it was more than you’d pay per class in downtown Boston, but not unexpectedly expensive for a spa. We were the only two there, which made for a personal but slightly awkward experience. There wasn’t much candlelight to speak of. Still, I left feeling better than when I entered.
Back in our room that night we got hungry again and ordered room service. The full dinner menu for the on-site restaurant, Kensington’s, was packed with options. Cindy went for the Sesame Crusted Tofu ($24; Cal: 376, pro: 20g, carb: 13g, fat: 10g,) that was rich and flavorful, perched on a pile of mixed vegetables in a slightly sweet glaze. I had the Pan-Seared Statler Chicken ($28; Cal: 510, pro: 48g, carb (including rice): 10g, fat: 57g, fiber: 4) with an extra vegetable to substitute for the rice. The chicken was perfectly cooked, juicy and flavorful, with a pile of asparagus and a heaping mound of steamed spinach. We went to sleep happy in a large and very luxurious bed.
The next day we booked two spa services. We began the day with breakfast at Kensington’s – I went for the Southwestern Egg White Omelet, which was bland but satisfying, with a side of turkey sausage ($13, 284 Calories, 4g Fat, 20g Protein).
Then we stumbled into the women’s locker room, which, it turns out, is the best spot at the entire inn. Pristine, quiet, it was a little shelter from the world. Upon entering the attendant handed us a locker key, a thick robe, and sandals; in the corner of the room, ice water and herbal tea stood beside a pile of fruit. We soaked ourselves in the hot tub for a bit while other ladies lounged in the steam room and sauna next door.
And then we were called in for our spa treatments. My one-hour hot-stone massage was so relaxing I continually drooled and kept falling asleep. The stones were perfect, the pressure divine. Cindy enjoyed a deep tissue massage which, she said, made her feel like puking, “but in that good way.” Afterwards we stared at each other out of bleary eyes, then sat drinking ice water for half an hour.
I had a particular curiosity about the Spa’s Fragile Client program. Begun as a partnership with a local cancer treatment center, the Fragile Client is a spa treatment program that operates on doctor’s orders, offering a menu of medically-sound options tailored to the individual. So I also sat down with a representative of the Inn for a short chat. For diabetics, Fragile Client treatments are mindful of skin integrity – but the spa staff don’t have any special knowledge related to the effects of massage on neuropathy, or on glucose levels or the pacing of insulin use with massage therapy. They’re happy to learn and seem to want to grow into this sector, but bring your own research or doctor’s suggestions.
Over the rest of our visit, in addition to the yoga class, I swam in the pool and used the fitness room. I also got a seaweed wrap (stinky, but it really does make your skin feel like a baby’s thigh) and we ate, walked, napped, read, ran, and swam. We had most of our meals in Kensington’s, which, while a little pricy, was full of options for me (the Oven-Roasted Vegetable Salad at lunch was superb, the scallops at dinner also). The menu could use more vegetarian low-carb/high-protein options, though – too often restaurants believe that vegetarians eat nothing but salad and pasta.
My visit taught me that a person with diabetes visiting the Spa at Norwich Inn would have plenty of food options and an atmosphere that encourages wholesome indulgence, but do your research first and be prepared for how massage might affect glucose levels and things like insulin injection sites or insulin pump infusion set sites. The staff will be good partners, though not holders of this information.
In the end Cindy and I left feeling renewed and ready to return to real life. We’d slept for luxurious hours, but we also exercised, ate well, and treated ourselves kindly. And isn’t that what vacation should be about?
*For one day the author received complimentary room and board at the Spa at Norwich Inn.