Healthy Destinations: Balance for LifeJanuary 2019
By Gary Greenberg
“Smart” Vacation Offers Water Fast
For many people, going on a vacation is a time for overindulgence. But a health-promoting businessman and a noted holistic healer have combined forces to develop a “smart vacation,” where people treat their bodies to a respite from the typically toxic nature of day-to-day life.
Real estate investor Harold Lebovic and chiropractor Dr. Frank Sabatino operate the all-inclusive Balance for Life Health Retreat in Deerfield Beach, Florida. Participants stay in a posh hotel by a scenic and lively stretch of beach. But instead of gorging on decadent dishes and downing frozen cocktails in local hotspots like other tourists, they subsist on either a plant-based diet or water alone.
“There’s nothing wrong with taking a party vacation in Las Vegas, New York, or Hawaii, but you’re likely to come home exhausted,” says Lebovic, the founding owner of Balance for Life. “With so much obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, stress, and depression out there, a lot of people want to take a smart vacation where they can do things to improve their health.”
What you need to know
When most people think of vacation they think of celebration and overindulging on alcohol and unhealthy food. Dr. Sabitino’s resort in Deerfield Beach, Fla. takes a different approach to taking a vacation, one that can benefit your health. Learn more inside this article.
The Chicago-based real estate mogul first discovered the benefits of destination spas 30 years ago, when he visited the Shangri-La Natural Hygiene Institute in southwest Florida.
“I was your typical overstressed, overweight, drinking, smoking real estate investor,” admits Lebovic, 67. “I quit smoking, lost weight, and came home feeling revitalized.”
Through the years, he participated in similar programs at the Regency Health Resort & Spa in Hallandale Beach, Florida, and in 1994 founded the Fit for Life program at an oceanfront hotel he owned in nearby Pompano Beach. He’s since sold that hotel but opened the Heartland Spa in Wisconsin, and in January 2018 he started Balance for Life.
Lebovic brought in Sabatino—who previously ran programs at Shangri-La and the Regency—as a managing partner and medical health director for Balance for Life. Sabatino is a staunch proponent of eating a plant-based diet and a leading practitioner of medically supervised water-only fasts.
In his youth, Sabatino says he suffered from colitis and cured himself by eating a plant-based diet.
“I’ve been a vegan for 40 years and raised my five children that way,” he boasts. “The last time I saw a doctor was when I was 15, and I haven’t had a day of major sickness in over 30 years.”
Sabatino, 68, has a PhD in cell biology and neuroendocrinology, and while an assistant professor at the University of Texas School of Medicine, he performed landmark research on how calorie restriction affects stress and aging. Animal research consistently shows that reducing caloric intake increases lifespan,1 and clinical observations suggest the same holds true for humans.2 Of course, a water-only fast is the ultimate calorie restriction.
Like other animals, Sabatino explains, humans evolved to survive extended periods without food. Our bodies became very efficient at storing excess intake during bountiful times, primarily as fat, to use as fuel for lean times. But in these days of abundance, there are no lean times for a majority of Americans. The stored fat doesn’t get burned off and instead accumulates, causing obesity and raising the risk of a host of health problems, including diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and all-cause mortality.3
A water-only fast can help to reverse that trend because it forces the body to switch from glucose to fat as the primary source of energy.
“When you stop the intake of food, you have nothing to replenish your blood sugar,” says Sabatino. “You use up your glucose reserves after about 24 hours, and the body starts creating glucose from fat and protein in a process called gluconeogenesis.”
While some experts have raised concerns that water-fasting can lead to lean muscle loss due to its usage of protein for energy, Sabatino contends that the impact is minimal.
“Initially, there’s about two to three ounces of protein loss per day during a fast,” he notes. “By the third day, protein loss slows down to less than an ounce a day, and it gets progressively less as the body primarily burns fat. So over the course of a 30-day fast, you’d lose about a pound or two of protein.”
The tradeoff seems like a no-brainer. Studies on both animals and humans over the past several decades indicate that fasting promotes healthy physiologic responses, including hormone modulation, reduced oxidative stress and inflammation, and increased stress resistance. Clinical research in humans also suggests that fasting improves osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, fibromyalgia, chronic pain, and overall quality of life.4
“Your body goes from a growth mode into a repair and maintenance mode,” says Sabatino. “It takes energy from whatever it needs least to provide support for whatever it needs most. It most needs vital organs such as the heart, liver, and lungs, and least needs tumors, cysts, stones, and growths. It literally starts breaking down the least-needed things through autophagy.
“A lot of the chemical toxicity in the environment is fat-soluble, so when you break down fat tissue, you dump the toxins into the bloodstream and out through the organs of elimination,” says Sabatino.
The detoxification process can cause some annoying, painful, and even debilitating symptoms, such as nausea, headaches, discharges from mucous membranes, and skin rashes. But they are temporary and just part of the natural healing process.5
“We live in a culture where we’ve been educated to fear our own vitality, and we try to medicate any acute symptom out of existence,” Sabatino tells Life Extension Magazine®. “But detoxification symptoms are a dynamic expression of your own system and the innate wisdom of the body.”
Water fasts can last anywhere from a few days to weeks. While hunger pangs may strike early on, Sabatino says participants quickly lose their appetite when the body shifts to a fat-burning metabolism. And you can go quite a while before actually needing to eat. In fact, some experts estimate that people weighing 150 to 160 pounds may get adequate caloric requirements from their fat reserves for as much as two to three months of fasting. 6
“There’s a big difference between fasting and starvation,” explains Sabatino. “While fasting, you are living on reserves that you have accrued over a long period of time. When those reserves are surpassed, you go into a state of starvation. I have yet to see anybody close to that, even in a 40-day fast. We have a lot of reserves in this culture of gluttony.”
Water fasts at Balance for Life are medically supervised by Sabatino, who checks the participants’ vital signs a couple of times a day. And he lives within a mile of the resort so he can get there quickly in case of emergency. However, medically supervised fasts are very safe. A recent review of medical records from more than 2,500 water-fasters found that adverse reactions were primarily mild, with only a .002% incidence of “serious adverse events.”4
Meanwhile, participants don’t have to do much other than drink about half a gallon to a gallon of purified water a day. And they don’t have to feel guilty about lazing around. Jogging, swimming, biking, and other physical activities are not on the agenda.
One recent Balance for Life participant named Jasmine did a week-long, water-only fast to help knock out the last remnants of her once-crippling arthritis condition.
“Just by eating a vegan diet for the past two and a half years I reduced my arthritis by about 90%, but my fingers and big toe were still bothering me,” the 61-year-old rancher from the Seattle, Washington-area tells Life Extension Magazine. “I hoped the water fast would finish the job, which it has. I have no pain at all. I also feel as though I cleaned up my system and that this program will help me for the rest of my life.”
Like everyone on the water fast, Jasmine had to come off it slowly. During her first day back on food, she had nothing but vegetable juices. The next day she indulged in watermelon chunks for lunch and was looking forward to some beans and steamed vegetables for dinner.
“I felt tired but didn’t have any other symptoms,” she says of subsisting on water for a week. “It was a great experience. Every day I could see changes in myself.”
Sabatino adds that water fasting can also spark changes that you can’t see.
“The mindfulness of fasting is very profound,” he explains. “You become more aware of what’s going on inside of yourself. It gives you a better perspective of what your body is capable of doing and what the dynamic process of healing is all about.”
Of course, water fasting isn’t for everyone. Sabatino says people with certain medical conditions such as anemia, eating disorders, or advanced cancer are not good candidates. Others may be eligible but prefer to actually eat food while on vacation. They can opt for Balance of Life’s plant-based program.
The cuisine includes fresh, organic whole foods that are locally sourced whenever possible. Nothing contains gluten, salt, sugar, oils, or animal products. Sabatino considers plants to be the perfect food.
“The sun is the only source of energy for the planet, and plants are the only things on the planet that convert the sun’s energy into food through photosynthesis,” he explains. “So you either eat the plants directly, or you eat the body of an animal that ate plants, either directly or indirectly. The more you shorten the food chain and get closer to the primary source of energy, the better. Every step down the food chain is a loss of energy and magnification of toxicity.”
While Sabatino believes people can get everything they need from plants, for various reasons some folks may have nutritional deficiencies and can benefit from supplements. To help determine each client’s needs, he worked with experts at Life Extension® to devise unique blood panels.
“I support supplementation in the context of whole food nutrition,” he says. “I take it very scientifically, based on blood tests. Life Extension presents a synergistic model in its mentality, which I think is great. They look at the way things work in concert with each other, and that offers a bigger picture of the supplement story.”
“I spent years researching all of the supplement companies, including those that are only available to the medical industry, and I felt that Life Extension was the best in overall quality and value,” he says. “They are very science-based and do their research.”
Whether you want to go all-out with a water fast or just enjoy a plant-based cuisine, Balance for Life’s “smart” vacation is educational. Daily lectures, classes in yoga, tai chi, and qi gong, and other activities are designed to teach you how to help yourself.
“We focus on helping people be successful after they leave here,” says Sabatino. “We teach them that lifestyle factors really do make a difference.”
If you have any questions on the scientific content of this article, please call a Life Extension® Wellness Specialist at 1-866-864-3027.
For more information on Harold Lebovic, Dr. Frank Sabatino and the Balance for Life Health Retreat, visit balanceforlifeflorida.com.
- Lee C, Longo VD. Fasting vs dietary restriction in cellular protection and cancer treatment: from model organisms to patients. Oncogene. 2011 Jul 28;30(30):3305-16.
- Heilbronn LK, Ravussin E. Calorie restriction and aging: review of the literature and implications for studies in humans. Am J Clin Nutr. 2003 Sep;78(3):361-9.
- Global BMIMC, Di Angelantonio E, Bhupathiraju Sh N, et al. Body-mass index and all-cause mortality: individual-participant-data meta-analysis of 239 prospective studies in four continents. Lancet. 2016 Aug 20;388(10046):776-86.
- Finnell JS, Saul BC, Goldhamer AC, et al. Is fasting safe? A chart review of adverse events during medically supervised, water-only fasting. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2018 Feb 20;18(1):67.
- Gustafson C. Alan Goldhamer, dc: Water Fasting-The Clinical Effectiveness of Rebooting Your Body. Integr Med (Encinitas). 2014 Jun;13(3):52-7.
- Saudek CD, Felig P. The metabolic events of starvation. Am J Med. 1976 Jan;60(1):117-26.