I Slept on Top of a Monk’s Cave and Quit Coffee, Sugar and Carbs Cold Turkey for a Week—and Lost 11 Pounds in the Process

Photo Credits: Courtesy of Kamalaya Koh Samui

A flight from New York to Koh Samui, Thailand is not for the weak.

I was fully aware of that before I boarded but, alas, that New York-to-Hong Kong–down-to-the-Thailand-islands flight never disappoints. In the longest of hauls—literally, that’s pretty much the furthest a plane can fly in the modern world—this is the leg that takes the cake. And no amount of movies, meals, nor over-somewhere snoozes can make it better.

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But then you get there. You get the tea, the towels, the sunshine, and the nice hospitality, and your mind, in a very mushy state, starts to understand why you did it. You are very, very far from home, you are very, very tired, but you are being pampered and you are in paradise.

When I arrived to Kamalaya Koh Samui after traveling for two days, that was me to a T, and then some.

The setting is, in a word, magical. Exotically green and lush flower-lined trails direct guests to the pristine beach as the lounge chairs call; unpretentious, secluded rooms—spacious and quiet enclaves of Zen (the spa is even built on top of a monk’s cave) that make you feel like you’re the only person on the property—set the stage for intense in-room relaxation.

Image Courtesy of Kamalaya Koh Samui

Unfortunately, as fate would have it, the flower trails would have to wait, as my state of excitement not only had to contend with the ridiculously long flight, but was also dragging around an unrequested upgrade that involved sitting in front of a crying baby and next to two very chatty women who managed to hold a conversation for 16 hours straight. 

Whatever day it was and whatever time zone I was on, I needed to sleep.

So I did. A lot.

When I woke up, I was ready. Someone from the hotel had oh-so-quietly slipped my itinerary for the Balance & Revitalize program under the door and it was go-time.

I knew I was staying at a wellness resort and I was fully aware I wasn’t going to fill my week debating what kind of cheese to put on my burger, but my schedule was surprisingly intense: Every hour was accounted for and even the spa treatments—insert non-sympathetic sigh here—seemed like a non-negotiable, very set itinerary.

Yes, I had signed up to “be healthier” and de-stress, but I had no idea what was in store.

Then I met Marissa Brennan, Kamalaya’s naturopath and one of the nicest, most in-tune people I have ever—and will ever—meet. The first thing she asked me was what I wanted to accomplish during the week. Trite and truthful, I told her I really wanted to lose weight, sleep a bit more and, hopefully, relax in the process.

I immediately regretted it.

Marissa isn’t the type of person who lets you say something, pretends to listen and then dishes out some canned line. She insisted on digging deeper: What do I eat normally? How much coffee do I have on a daily basis? When do I stop answering emails at night? How much water do I drink?

The questions felt so personal and loaded. I live in New York, of course I order takeout! Coffee isn’t bad! Neither are cocktails! And everyone I know answers email all of the time! What’s water?

Marissa calmly and collectively, without judgment, laid out the next-level of details of my week for me: I was going to cut out coffee, I was going to cut out sugar, I was going to drink a ton of water and I was—wait for it—going to check out of work. As in no checking emails, even if they had the impending red exclamation mark of doom.

The healthy-food and not-dehydrating-my-body part were actually easy. It was hot so, by default, one wants to and has to drink a boatload of water in order to survive. Plus, Kamalaya has pretty much the best plant–based food that’s ever been served: The detox dressing mixed with a ton of bright-colored veggies and fruits and some nuts seamlessly replaced my daily deli sandwich and a side of chips; the spa’s basil-coconut juice successfully made me forget coffee (albeit, it took until day two for my headache to subside) and my ever-present sweet tooth. Even at dinner—typically, my most ravenous state—a soup and salad and these little non-carb crackers satisfied. Herbal tea became my copilot; so did going to bed by 8 (I blame the jetlag, but 12 hours of sleep is magical and don’t let anyone tell you differently).

Image Courtesy of Kamalaya Koh Samui

By mid-visit I had gotten my diet down. I proudly went to visit Marissa to share my accomplishments. I was in it to win it. My whole life had changed!

Except, she had more in store for me. 

“What did you used to do before you worked? What did you enjoy?” she asked. The question felt oddly unsettling. I’ve been working full-time since I was 22 (18 years now) and, before that, I lived a life with a rather planned itinerary…I had to do well in high school, I had to go to college and, when I graduated, my parents transported me 90 miles to New York to live with my college roommate in a studio apartment via their station wagon and I had to get a job or else I had to go home. And so I worked—a lot. 

To me, it was always just me, the same person all along, but Marissa was right, in some esoteric vortex of time and space, there was a “different” me that existed before all that. The pre-work, pre-constantly-checking-email me liked playing sports, liked hanging out with my friends and liked to read and write about things that had absolutely nothing to do with what I do now. 

And so I did. I journaled, I read books—including ones that had zero intellectual value that I don’t care to share here, but I enjoyed nonetheless—and I took long walks to get absolutely nowhere but outside. I also meditated and took some yoga classes (natch) but, most of all, I just let my mind rest.

Image Courtesy of Kamalaya Koh Samui

By the end of the week when I had my checkout with Marissa, I can honestly say I felt like a new person. And, although it shouldn't serve as proof of a change, when I went to weigh myself, I was down 11 pounds! Even Marissa couldn't believe it as we both insisted on checking the scale twice. Alas, it was true. I was gearing up for my long flight back a whole lot lighter.

Did the weight stay off? Eh...you know how that goes. Life starts up again and there are a whole bunch of temptations and Starbucks beckoning outside the bubble of a beautiful spa. But what did change and what I've been able to retain for almost a year now is a lot more appreciation for "me time"—the resting when needed, the reading and writing for fun, the not answering (or even looking at!) the midnight email. All little things that make a big difference in my overall state of mind.

Image Courtesy of Kamalaya Koh Samui