The [Re] Boot Camp

Up the Pacific Coast Highway, past seafood shacks and the…
Photographs by David Engelhardt // Styling by Kristine Trevino

Up the Pacific Coast Highway, past seafood shacks and the sushi hot spot Nobu, there’s a wellness retreat high up in the mountains in Malibu, California, where thousands of people voluntarily fork over $7,000 for a week packed with gut-busting workouts and low-cal vegan meals—AND void of even a drop of caffeine, booze or cell service. Our own Danny Seo checks in and tells us why this detox mecca is “a slice of Heaven on Earth.”

It’s the night before my week-long stay at The Ranch at Live Oak, the former silent film star Hopalong Cassidy’s historic working ranch turned luxe “transformative” spa that promises to detoxify my body and help me feel stronger, healthier and more energized than ever before. For the past 30 days, an unopened welcome packet has been in my work tote, dragged with me all over the country. In my hotel in Santa Monica (where a shuttle will pick me up the next morning), I finally get around to reading the welcome kit. My homework 30 days prior to arriving (oops!) is to eliminate caffeine (fail), alcohol (double fail), and to walk at least 16,000 steps a day (all together now: fail!) Better late than never, I keep the minibar locked and unplug the Keurig.

In the last year, I’ve launched this magazine, written a cookbook and signed a deal to do a weekly TV show of the same name for CBS. Here I am, the editor-in-chief of a magazine called Naturally, and I’m exhausted. In our launch year, I racked up 1.5 million frequent flier miles. My daily hour workouts have dwindled to 15 minutes. Frequently, the cooks at an airport food court make my dinner. When I met up with a friend in Texas, she outright said, “You look really tired.” And this from a woman who just had a baby two weeks prior.

I realized it was time to give myself a health and wellness intervention. The Ranch at Live Oak is a detoxifying week of yoga and hiking, vegan meals, deep sleep and clinical body analysis. It can do wonders and has, many times over. In fact, people have commented they’ve left feeling both physically and mentally 10 years younger. I needed to CTRL+ALT+DEL my life and get back on the path I preach about in the magazine.

detox-3DAY 1

At noon, I meet up with the other Ranch guests and we hop into a van for the hour drive to Malibu. My. Head. Is. Pounding. I want a cup of coffee. Everyone is chipper and friendly, but all I can focus on are the number of Starbucks we keep whizzing past. I snooze.

I wake up and we’ve arrived. The best way for me to describe The Ranch is basically…it’s very Oprah. It’s Napa meets the Mediterranean, with an organic garden, plush white sofas and perfect stacks of birch firewood. Water fountains trickle. Hummingbirds flutter. The air is softly scented. It’s so intimate and secluded that none of the doors are ever locked.   

As I hop out of the van with my suitcase (and a headache that refuses to be left behind), I’m told: “Head to your room, put on some hiking clothes and bring your Camelbak. We’re going on a hike!” The van hasn’t even been turned off and we’re about to exercise. What did I sign up for?

I pop two Advil and struggle up a steep hill to The Ranch’s common space, where I get measured and weighed. At the end of the week, they’ll do it again and compare the changes. Then we’re served a delicious cashew/hemp milk berry smoothie. It’s enormous and I can’t finish it.

We start the hike. A mere 30 minutes in, straight up a mountain, my legs are burning. I’m told it’s “the warm-up hike.” Or a precursor to the 4–5 hour daily hikes we’ll start tomorrow that are roughly 10–12 miles long. My legs are already shaking.

It’s 93 degrees and sunny, so the trainers mercifully think it’s too hot for a TRX class and they opt for yoga instead. Global warming, you just saved me. Yoga is more restorative (though I still have jelly legs) and we have 90 minutes to unpack, shower and head to dinner.

The food here is all plant-based. I was a vegan teenager and explain it was the fattest time in my life because I basically lived on pasta, mashed potatoes and bread. Here, chef Nina Curtis reinterprets classic favorites by using super-fresh ingredients that feed your eyes (big portions) and satisfy your mouth with crunch, texture and flavor. Dinner tonight is lasagna: zucchini strips act as pasta, and a very dense filling of tomato, spinach and kale takes the place of a cheesy filling. It’s delicious. No dessert cart rolls by (actually, there’s never dessert), but there is lots of herbal tea to drink. While the physical activity is grueling, the food is anything but gruel.   

9PM. I’m passed out.

Your Day

Eliminate all coffee, tea and caffeinated beverages for the week.

No alcohol.

No sweets or added sugars for the week.

Breakfast: fresh fruit smoothie (made with almond milk) poured into a bowl and topped with bananas, berries or whatever fruit is in season; sprinkle low-fat granola on top.

Drink 1 gallon of filtered water throughout the day, 12 ounces before each meal.

Walk (not run) at least 90 minutes or 10,000 steps.     Every 30 minutes, stop and jump rope for 2 minutes or do jumping jacks.

Lunch: dark, leafy green salad (kale, arugula, endive, dandelion, mustard greens) with a low-fat dressing; add raw sunflower, pumpkin and other seeds     

Snack: fresh fruit and 6 almonds

Take a yoga class of your choice.

Dinner: a low-fat vegetarian meal using whole grains (quinoa), squash, mushrooms and lots of herbs

Go to bed 1 hour earlier than usual.



4:45AM. I’m wide awake. I slept almost eight solid hours enveloped in a super-plush bed in my quiet, dark room. I feel clear-headed and well rested. Still, coffee—or maybe caffeine—sounds good to me. Instead of reaching for my phone (there’s no cell or wifi service here), I hop out of bed, brush my teeth and throw on my hiking clothes.

6AM. It’s still dark. For breakfast, it’s a bowl of açaí berry vegan yogurt with fresh blueberries and a sprinkling of homemade granola. I’m full, but not heavy full. It’s the right amount of sustenance, and I note I should probably dial back the 3-organic-egg  breakfast I usually have at home. We all hop into waiting vans with our filled Camelbaks for a 20 minute drive to the base of a mountain. The sun is rising and my optimism is high.

7:15AM. I’ve hiked for an hour on flat ground and I’m barely breaking a sweat. This is easy. The terrain begins to incline. Just 10 minutes of hiking skyward and I start to huff and puff. I turn the corner and the trail just goes…up. I pull out my phone and pretend to take a photo so I can catch my breath. I can’t even muster the energy to swipe left to actually take a photo.

9:30AM. I’ve been at this for 2½ hours and I’m drenched in sweat. As I turn a corner, I see one of the Ranch trainers and it’s like a desert mirage. The van must surely  be around the corner! As I deliriously sweat-slosh my way to her, she says the exact words I did not want to hear: “Welcome to the halfway point.” My reward is a snack of six almonds and a sprinkle of Himalayan salt (for electrolytes). When a Ranch guest gives me one of her almonds, my mouth becomes a Dyson: I inhale it. Just 2½ hours of hiking ahead. Still.

11:30AM. The first hike is over and I’m mentally and physically done.

NOON. FAMISHED. Lunch today is low-carb brilliance: Soaked black beans are mixed with avocado, tomatoes, herbs and vinegar. Endive leaves act as taco shells. I’m eating for sustenance, and even though it’s low-cal, virtually zero-carb food, it’s weirdly filling. I feel whatever excess bloat and weight I’ve been carrying starting to disappear.   

3PM. Massage. It’s required. And it’s not the Four Seasons Spa type of massage, with lavender oil and spa music. Instead, a technician is trained to work out all the lactic acid that’s built up in my muscles from all the exercise. So he digs deep and massages my screaming muscles.

4PM. Yes, more workouts: a circuit- training strength class and then an hour of yoga that’s a combo of both strength and restorative. In between classes, I’m given a snack: an organic apple. I’ve been off the sweet stuff for 48 hours and it tastes like pure sugar.

Dinner, tea and I’m in bed by 7:45PM.    

8PM. Passed out.

Your Day

Continue to keep all alcoholic and caffeinated beverages out of your diet.

Breakfast: low-fat granola with almond milk and berries; yogurt bowl with fresh fruit; or “kefir” liquid yogurt poured over fruit    

Drink 1 gallon of filtered water throughout the day, 12 ounces before each meal.

Take a stretch class at your local gym.

Walk (not run) at least 2 hours or 12,000 steps.     Every 30 minutes, stop and jump rope for 2 minutes or do jumping jacks.

Lunch: dark, leafy green salad with beans and low-fat dressing

Snack: fresh fruit and 6 almonds

Take a yoga class of your choice.

Dinner: a low-fat vegetarian meal

Go to bed early. Take 10 breaths in the dark, meditating before falling asleep.


DAY 3 (aka Toxic Tuesday)

Today is known as “Toxic Tuesday.”

As your body detoxifies, you get everything from caffeine headaches to cramped muscles, moodiness…and it happens today. It’s been 48 hours and guess what? I’m fine. Sure, my legs are sore, but once I get moving, they warm up and feel fine. I would love an Americano, but I can live without. And I feel clear-headed and upbeat, ready for a challenging day. Toxic Tuesday?    Not me.   

Breakfast today is homemade granola, fresh almond milk and large scoops of fresh berries.    

Every day is a different hike, and today it’s a challenge: short in distance (4 miles) but vertical. My glutes, quads, legs, feet are all sore as I slowly make my way up the mountain. I decide to take a break and glance at my watch: It’s only been 5 minutes.

The start is the hardest, so I mentally zone out: step by step, puff by puff. I finally hit my stride—I’m into it: hiking at a decent pace and finally turning around at the halfway point to make it back down to the van. But when I get there, I find out it’s not about how quickly you do the hike but how long you’re doing physical activity. So one of the trainers suggests I keep walking past the van until they page me on the walkie-talkie to come back. I oblige, turn the corner and hide in the bushes, hardly camouflaged, until I’m instructed via walkie-talkie to return.

Lunch is at the beach today. My neck is throbbing, as if the remaining toxins are knocking on the back of my head begging to be replenished with coffee, wine and processed carbs. Oh, right: Toxic Tuesday.

Lunch is a salad with a vegan creamy dressing loaded with cannellini beans. I learn that all of those carb-blocker pills use an active ingredient found in cannellini beans. So: Why not just eat real cannellini beans whenever you can?    They block the carbs naturally.

Now it’s a routine: daily massage, strength class, yoga, shower, eat an amazing dinner. Tonight’s super feast is spiral zucchini, black bean pasta and a vegan pesto, all presented
in a giant mound that is lick-the-
plate good. And, shockingly, just
375 calories.

8PM. I read a magazine in bed. 
By page 10, I’m asleep.

Your Day

Continue the diet plan.

Breakfast: low-fat vegan breakfast with fresh fruit, almond milk and granola     

Drink 1 gallon of filtered water throughout the day, 12 ounces before each meal.

Take a morning stretch class at a local gym.

Walk (not run) at least 2 hours or 12,000 steps.     Every 30 minutes, stop and jump rope for 2 minutes or do jumping jacks.

Lunch: black beans, tomato, avocado “tacos” on endive leaves

Snack: fresh fruit and 6 almonds

Take a core class at your local gym.

Have a therapeutic massage.

Dinner: a low-fat vegetarian meal

Go to bed at your new bedtime. Take 10 breaths in the dark, meditating before falling asleep.


4:30AM. Calves are on fire and solid as a rock. I’m lying in bed, in the dark, after another full 8 hours of deep sleep. I’m catatonic, with legs that feel like lead.

I muster up enough energy to walk to the bathroom, my blistered feet painfully indicating I’m still alive. I make it to the in-room carafe of filtered water and chug it along with my usual Nordic Naturals Omegas and some Solgar Phenylalanine (which I learn is great to take for caffeine withdrawal and might be the reason why I’m not suffering from headaches). How in hell am I going to hike 11 miles today?

As I slowly make my way up the steep hill to breakfast, I start to think of excuses that would get me out of the hike. Stomach virus? The flu? Maybe they won’t notice if I simply don’t show up? But as I get myself to the top, the warmer my legs get and the less painful they feel. It’s an almond milk, coconut meat, berry smoothie for breakfast. I’m so famished I’m scraping the sides of the glass with my fingers.

Today’s hike is a long one. After 10 miles of rigorous hiking, you burn about 1,000 calories, so the idea here is that the morning hike creates a deficit. A typical day at The Ranch, you consume about 1,400 calories. So, when you add in activities to what your body normally metabolizes in a day, it all adds up to body fat weight loss.

Every hike is beautiful, but today’s vista looks like an Anthropologie catalog come to life: golden prairies, fog and dusty trails. And just as I thought it couldn’t get more idyllic, a black horse struts out of nowhere and starts to chew on my Camelbak nozzle, apparently looking for a sip of water. I can’t tell if this is real or I’m hallucinating.

Lunch: massaged kale with chickpeas. It’s an abundance of food, but it’s part of The Ranch trickery. Your mind sees a giant pile of salad, so it’s visually satisfied. It’s raw, so it forces you to slow down and actually eat it. Nina the chef says the key is to “chew, chew, chew” to get at all the phytonutrients and to work the muscles in your face for a natural glow. And it uses fresh, thoughtful ingredients, so it just tastes good. After lunch, I have a chance to sit down with Alex Glasscock, founder of The Ranch at Live Oak.   

So, why start this place? And do you live like this every single day?

When Alex and his wife, Sue, started The Ranch, they’d go to parties and “people would get quiet and stare,” he recalls. “Then I’d go right up to the bar and order a martini and people felt relieved. This is not a monastic place.”

The idea for The Ranch all started when the two of them made changes to their diet and their attitude toward exercise. It led to real health and a feeling of youthfulness.  In short, they found balance. The career-driven professionals had their own A-HA moment and wanted to “do something we could do the rest of our lives.”

When the 200-acre property became available, they realized they could “surround themselves with the best of the fitness and wellness world.” An immersion program could help “guests take information and knowledge home to their families, even to their companies,” since many guests lead giant billion-dollar corporations. But Alex admits that they “selfishly created this program so we could also do it whenever we wanted.”

Okay, so why no coffee? I understand booze, but coffee?

The Ranch does not have an issue with coffee, or even caffeine. In fact, it’s not about going there for a week and being off java for the rest of your life. It’s all about understanding and feeling what your baseline is.   

“Your cleanest baseline is what you feel after a detoxification process,” explains Alex. “A lot of people form an addiction to coffee, so when you wean off of it, many people get a mild headache. As part of the detoxification, you eat an organic vegan diet and eliminate processed sugars, diet sweeteners, gluten, alcohol and…caffeine.”   Alex explains it’s the only way for a guest to actually feel what it’s like to be clean.

What to expect by the end of the week?

About 5,000 guests (with a 35% repeat rate) have come through The Ranch and will leave with these results:

• You’ll feel recalibrated both physically and mentally.

• Women will leave on average 4% lighter; men 5–6%. This isn’t water weight but loss of fat and gain of muscle.

• Your face will be leaner, your eyes more clear and your complexion brighter. If you have dimples, they’ll pop.

• Your bowel movements will decrease. “You’re eating food that’s relative to your diet, so you have less movement because you have less waste. Your body actually uses everything when you eat this clean.”

I have 3 days to go to feel my “cleanest baseline.”

Your Day

Repeat day 3 plan and feel free to mix up the classes (yoga vs. core) and opt for a daily
massage if you can.


4:15AM. Wide awake. My new normal.

7AM. We’re at the base of the trail and a repeat guest tells me a funny story: The last time she was here, NBC’s The Biggest Loser was also filming. The irony isn’t lost on me, but fortunately there are no camera crews here today.

Five minutes up the hill, as the sun rises above the Pacific Ocean in what should be my Lion King moment, I look at a fellow guest and just mentally deteriorate. “I’m done. I just can’t.”

I stand there motionless, my back to the ocean, for a full five minutes. Finally, I move one step forward. As I put one foot in front of the other, something miraculous happens: I. Am. No. Longer. Tired.   

I have a rush of energy; my walk turns into a light jog. I’ve heard of this moment where your body leaves its state of shock and accepts what’s going on as the new normal. I feel euphoric. Almost high. And I do feel like a new, younger person.

8:30AM. Bouncing up the mountain.    

10:30AM. Two instructors are at the base of another trail and ask if I want to do the extra portion of the hike. Without hesitation, I run up that hill. I run into other guests who also feel amazing. On Monday, we all struggled to have a conversation as we worked out together.   Today, we could probably take a spin class after our 4-hour hike.

NOON. Down at the beach, it’s lunch, a vegan take on a tuna sandwich. The secret ingredient here is the actual wrap: It’s dehydrated spinach and nuts that give the wrap the consistency of bread. And it’s the first store-bought product we’ve ingested all week; it’s called Raw Wraps, which I quickly note (and buy from the following week).   

Afternoon. TRX class (bands that use your own weight for strength training) followed by a 45-minute core class. I can’t tell you how much energy I have; it’s as if I downed six espressos.

5PM. Daily massage. Instead of complaining about my sore legs, throbbing headaches or lower back, I just declare, “I feel totally fine.” I’ve acclimated. I am experiencing what my “clean baseline” feels like.

Dinner tonight uses an unusual ingredient called kelp noodles, which Nina explains has 6 calories per serving. Yes, a giant plate of noodles that has virtually no calories. But they’re loaded with calcium, iron, minerals and vitamin K. The kelp noodles are served pad Thai- style, tossed with a creamy hemp nut dressing over sautéed kale, with oven-dried tomato crisps. Low in calories, high in flavor.     

Instead of  falling asleep at the table, we all sit around the fire, sipping tea, feeling alive, focused…content.

Your Day

Continue the diet plan.

Breakfast: low-fat vegan breakfast with fresh fruit, almond milk and granola     

Drink 1 gallon of filtered water throughout the day; 12 ounces of water before each meal.

Take a morning stretch class at a local gym.

Walk (not run) at least 2.5 hours or 14,000 steps. Make sure half of your workout is done on an incline.   

Lunch: your choice of a fresh vegan meal; add cannellini beans (the natural carb blocker)

Snack: fresh fruit and 6 almonds

Take a core or TRX class at your local gym.

Optional: a therapeutic massage

Dinner: a low-fat vegetarian meal

Go to bed at your new bedtime. Take 10 breaths in the dark, meditating before
falling asleep.


4:30AM. Another 8 hours of uninterrupted, deep sleep.    

6:30AM. We’re having dessert for breakfast. It’s a rich, decadent parfait. Nina has taken coconut meat and blended it in the Vitamix with almond milk; it’s thick, creamy and pudding-like, topped with berries, cocoa and granola.    

8AM. I’m bouncing up the trails of our 11 mile hike as if it’s no big deal.

Another bonus about a visit to The Ranch: views you won’t get from running on a treadmill. We climb the highest peak in the Santa Monica Mountains and take in an amazing 360-degree view. Instead of vomit-inducing workouts, these hikes have become endorphin rushes. In 6 short days, I feel I’ve completely rebooted myself.

After lunch, I join chef Nina in the kitchen for a primer on healthy cooking. She teaches us how to massage kale into a tender salad and make seed crackers from scratch at home. She deconstructs crowd-favorite meals from the week—the raw pad Thai with kelp noodles and the coconut meat parfait—and shows us step by step how to make them literally in minutes.

1PM. I have two hours of free time, so I do the improbable: I head to a workout room and exercise. Alone. I start to realize time is truly a precious commodity. When you can spend it on yourself, do it.

Final massage. Final dinner. Sleep.

Your Day

Continue the diet plan.

Breakfast: low-fat vegan breakfast with fresh fruit, almond milk and granola     

Drink 1 gallon of filtered water throughout the entire day; 12 ounces of water before
each meal.

Take a morning stretch class at your local gym.

Walk (not run) at least 4 hours or 18,000 steps; 1 hour (or 8,000) steps spent on an incline.    

Lunch: your choice of a fresh vegan meal

Snack: fresh fruit and 6 almonds

Take a core or TRX class at your local gym.

Have a therapeutic massage.

Dinner: a low-fat vegetarian meal

Go to bed one more hour earlier tonight.   Meditate and breathe.    


5:30AM. I’m walking outside in the dark to the health clinic down the hill.   It’s time to be weighed and measured to see the before-and-after results.

To be blunt, I didn’t arrive at The Ranch incredibly overweight. I just felt (and looked) tired. And even though I shed 10 pounds and lost about 15 inches (and had a six-pack probably the first time in my life), I can say this: I felt mentally clear. Rebooted.  Myself.   

At LAX, I walked right to Starbucks. And instead of my usual Venti black coffee, I opt for the smallest size, because Alex warns me that when I re-introduce things like caffeine, alcohol and sugar back to my system, I need to not only do it slowly but also recognize how I feel when I do indulge. I take a sip. Heaven. And when I finish just half the small cup of coffee, I feel over-energized. Rattled. Jittery. 
I toss the rest away.

You did it.

When you re-introduce caffeine, alcohol, dairy and meat back into your diet (if you choose to), note how it makes you feel and affects your system.

Maintain this healthier way of living by exercising at least 2–3 times a week, doing a yoga class once a week and going to bed as early as possible each night.