When comedian George Burns, who died at the age of 102, was given doctor’s orders to eat scrambled eggs without salt, he said it tasted like the chicken wasn’t getting paid. Burns had a point, but at the Pritikin Longevity Center and Spa in Miami, where salt is the Antichrist, it’s no laughing matter. The program is based on the ideas of Nathan Pritikin, a college dropout with no medical training who earned millions from his patents in engineering, photography and aeronautics. In response to his own diagnosis of clogged arteries, he studied the relationship of nutrition to heart disease and was intrigued by the fact that European deaths from coronary disease dropped dramatically during the food rationing of World War II. His self-imposed diet and exercise regime, ridiculed by the medical establishment at the time, brought his test results back to normal and became the basis for the plan—cleansed of salt, fat and sugar—that is still used at his eponymous center almost 60 years later.
The word “spa” is in the name, and an excellent hot-stone massage is available, but the place is as serious as, well, a heart attack. The first morning starts with blood tests, and several hours every day are spent listening to lectures titled “Diseases of Our Time” and “The Biology of Weight Control.”
Pritikin leases its space from the 800-acre Doral Golf Resort and Spa, now owned by Donald Trump, and accommodations are in a three-level hotel or in “villas” named for famous golfers. The latter are more recently renovated, with Brobdingnagian flatscreens and Italian bed linens, but they’re currently accessed by a golf-cart ride through an active construction site. There’s also a strange dichotomy in eating naked salmon and broccoli for dinner, then returning to your room with chocolates on the pillow and an honor bar filled with yogurt-covered pretzels and sugar-powdered Key lime cookies.
The staff is the best affidavit for the Pritikin mantra. Nutrition research specialist Jay Kenney is an Ichabod Crane–ish six foot three and 157 pounds. Director of nutrition Kimberly Gomer is a 53-year-old grandmother who can rock a skintight dress. Leading the fitness classes is the finely ripped director of clinical exercise, Ivan Ferran.
Meals are based on whole grains, beans, vegetables and fruits, with modest amounts of nonfat dairy and lean animal protein used only as an accompaniment, not the main event. Great effort is taken to make the dining experience pleasant (a pianist plays during dinner), but the diet is a tough adjustment: Brownies are made with garbanzo beans, the bread tastes like corrugated cardboard and there’s a rather desperate use of hot sauce as an antidote to the blandness.
Still, it’s hard not to drink the Kool-Aid (metaphorically speaking, of course), and the take-home education is eye-opening.
The three-day, all-inclusive Taste of Pritikin package starts at $2,340; an all-inclusive one-week program for two people starts at $7,800 and includes full medical testing, an exercise program, all lectures and workshops and newly renovated accommodations; 8755 NW 36th St.; 305-935-7100; pritikin.com.