The Ultimate Wellness Vacay

The Ultimate Wellness Vacay

Get Centered at Hilton Head Health

Words by Marianne Leek

Rachel Sharp is a highly qualified massage therapist with over 20 years of experience, the past two at The Indigo Spa, the on-site spa at Hilton Head Health. 

Sharp heard of Hilton Head Health in 2011 when she saw an early episode of the A&E reality show Heavy. “When I saw that show, I knew this was where I wanted to work. I literally said to myself, ‘I’m going to work there one day.’ I was so struck by the grace and love that they showed each person.”

Sharp has struggled with her weight most of her life. “When you are overweight, you are typically treated one of two ways. Either people choose not to see and acknowledge you, or they shame you because you take up too much space in the room.”

Ten years later, Sharp landed her dream job helping others on their health and wellness journey. She’s kind and compassionate, empathetic and knowledgeable, and she has a delightful sense of humor. But more importantly, she shows every guest the grace and love she witnessed on some of those early episodes of Heavy that led her to pursue a career at Hilton Head Health. “Sometimes I rewatch those early episodes, and I’m emotional because I’m here doing what I love and treating each guest with the dignity they deserve.”

Established in 1976 by behavioral psychologist Dr. Peter Miller, Hilton Head Health, frequently referred to as H3, has been a premiere wellness destination for over 40 years. Award-winning and widely recognized as one of the top health and wellness resorts in not only the U.S. but the world, Hilton Head Health aims to help guests make intentional lifestyle and behavioral changes while focusing on their overall physical and mental health and well-being. 

What you’ll immediately notice is there are a thousand reasons why people choose H3 and there are guests of all ages and fitness levels. Some come to lose weight. Some come to jump-start a health and wellness routine. Some come to address their relationship with food, sugar, or alcohol. Some come for comradery. Some come to H3 alone, some with a partner or best friend, and some come as part of a girls’ trip or family vacation. Some come to heal from grief or trauma or as a respite from work and stress. All walk away from H3 renewed and recharged, more educated and better for the experience. 

Bob Wright has worked at Hilton Health for four decades and is personally invested in both the program and its guests, many of whom return year after year. He is currently the Director of Lifestyle Education, but over the years he’s done just about everything. He explained the evolution of H3: “When I first started at what was then called Sea Pines Behavioral Institute, I was far more involved in the fitness program, and for a while, I was the only person who taught exercise classes. As you can imagine, the options were limited. We had a basic calisthenic class, did some hand-held weights, a lot of walking, and I remember spending hours trying to learn how to teach aerobic dance. Fortunately, my dance instructor days didn’t last long as we started adding other fitness instructors. We now have several full-time and part-time fitness professionals and offer more than 50 different exercise options regularly. Now, I am primarily an educator with most of my time spent teaching various health-related classes, meeting with guests individually to discuss their goals, and trying to keep up with the research in the areas we address. I have chosen to stay here this long because I think what we do is important and have been able to help thousands of people. I very much enjoy meeting and getting to know the guests who choose to come to H3, and I also very much enjoy the people that I work with.”

My husband and I visited H3 the weekend before Thanksgiving to kick-start a healthier lifestyle. While neither of us is overweight, we both struggle with portion control and tend to eat too much sugar and processed food. We thought we would spend the weekend exercising and learning to eat healthier; we did not expect the experience to be life-changing. 

Idyllic and serene with its sweeping porches and gathering spaces, The Sweetgrass Inn offers exceptional on-site accommodations. While H3 is a wellness retreat, it feels more like a five-star vacation. Guests have access to the pool, hot tub, and sauna, a gym with state-of-the-art equipment, add-ons such as cooking classes and demonstrations, private golf and pickleball lessons, kayaking, dolphin cruises, and self-care spa packages at The Indigo Spa. Resort credits make booking an add-on excursion or a massage at The Indigo Spa convenient and easy.  

With gourmet nutrient-dense meals and snacks, Hilton Head Health doesn’t feel like deprivation. H3 prides itself on education—specifically, on learning how to better fuel and care for your body. The True Dining experience includes such culinary delights as eggs benedict, lobster tacos, Mediterranean chicken, and a bevy of local cuisine possibilities. FitBites snacks, such as seasonal fruits and vegetables, nuts, yogurt, etc., are available throughout the day, as are a variety of refreshing hydration options.

Hilton Head Health is a choose-your-own-adventure vacation and wellness reset. Begin each day watching the sun rise over the Atlantic with a morning walk on the beach, and enjoy the centering and calming effects of beach yoga. Plan daily fitness classes based on your interests and mobility, and rest assured that while instructors are knowledgeable, challenging, and fun, they are also ever-cognizant that each guest has varying fitness, skill, and ability levels. You might start your day with Morning Meditation and a Treading class, and follow it with a suspension training TRX Circuit. Class options are every hour and include such favorites as Aqua boxing, Tabata Fitness, Hula Hooping, Dance Fit, Core Fitness, Upper Extremity Remedy, Aqua Calisthenics, Pilates, Ultra Circuit, and Evening Tai Chi. You can choose to go hard or spend the afternoon relaxing with a book by the pool. 

Daily education seminars are also part of the program, so whether you’re curious about How to Turn Your Kitchen into a Healthy Kitchen or want to Break Up with Sugar, there are plenty of interesting workshops and resources to get you started. Make sure to join a Harbor Town Walk or the Mitchelville Beach Excursion, go for a bike ride around the picturesque golf course, or spend the afternoon kayaking. When our kayaking trip was rained out, the staff went above and beyond to reschedule it for the following day. We spent two hours kayaking with a local guide, taking in local flora and fauna, and had two dolphins swim along with us beside our kayaks. The experience was nothing short of magical. 

The programs at H3 are grounded in science, and while certain things have changed over time, Wright explained that the core principles on which it was founded remain the same. “Since the program was started by Dr. Peter Miller, we have always addressed the behavioral and psychological issues and continue to do so. We never jumped on different fads, so our core principles around nutrition, fitness, and health improvement have been very consistent, but we have adjusted and evolved as new information and research have been validated. We have far more comprehensive fitness/activity options and a more comprehensive educational program. We have different programs of various lengths to meet our guests’ needs. We have a beautiful campus with state-of-the-art fitness equipment, a beautiful inn, and a full-service spa and restaurant. And we have a great team of professionals who take pride in making sure that all guests can begin to meet their health needs in a fun, safe, caring environment.”

H3 has something for everyone, regardless of age, fitness level, or where you currently are on your wellness journey, and offers all-inclusive, personalized, holistic, healthy retreats such as Living Well, ReNew Retreat, Healthy Getaway, and the ever-popular Active Lifestyle Golf Retreat. There are also intensive individualized weight loss programs thoughtfully designed for sustained results that range from week-long JumpStart programs to extended stays. 

Wright hopes that all guests take away a desire to continue their wellness journey once they return home, and H3 provides support for that as well. But he wants guests to know “that we care about them, and that making healthy behavioral changes, while challenging, is very possible with a well-designed, realistic plan.” He encourages them to “be realistic about their health and weight goals and to realize that just because they may slip, they haven’t blown it. Work on ditching all-or-nothing thinking. A slip is not evidence of impending failure; it is evidence of effort.”

First-time visitors will quickly realize that they are in the minority. We met groups of people who have a tradition of coming back annually. One group of friends was enjoying their eighth trip together. You might also be surprised by not only how welcoming the staff are, but also by other guests going out of their way to make you feel welcome and included. After the first exercise class, you’ll probably be invited to dine with other guests, and you’ll likely spend your evenings gathering on the front porch getting to know people who have traveled to H3 from all over the country. You’ll discover that regardless of what brought each person to H3, we are all more alike than different.

Before you leave, expect to make plans to return the following year and meet up with those you’ve come to call friends. Expect to make meaningful connections and build relationships. Expect to grow and change. Most importantly, expect to have fun! H3 is truly a one-of-a-kind, transformative, and healing experience.