'A five-day juice cleanse retreat is incredibly tough'
Suzanne Harrington escapes on a juicing retreat and the results are difficult to argue with...
We MOT our cars and spend money on their maintenance, but when it comes to MOT-ing ourselves, we wait until there is smoke coming from under the bonnet.
And yet our body is the only truly important vehicle in our lives - so why does the idea of spending money maintaining its insides seem like a massive indulgence, even if we are happy to part with our cash decorating it on the outside via shops and salons? Would you splash cash on your colon? Substitute food for juice for days on end? Drink husks and clay?
Having just completed a five-day residential juice cleanse, I definitely would again. It was amazing. Amazingly hard, amazingly powerful, amazingly eye-opening - perhaps even amazingly life-changing. The place I chose, Simply Healing Detox Retreat near Gatwick airport, made the detox as comfortable as a detox can be.
The retreat happens in a glorious 19th-century country house with acres of beautiful grounds in rural Sussex, situated just too far from the nearest village to sneak out for chips. It is run by a warm, fascinating woman called Vivien Kay, who has decades of knowledge and experience, and has set the gold standard for detox retreats in Britain and Ireland. (Simply Healing has been voted Best Detox Retreat in the UK by Vogue, and most knowledgeable retreat for fertility enhancement by Conde Nast Traveller).
So what's it like? Here's my detox diary:
DAY ONE 9am
I wave goodbye to my kids, who shout encouragingly: "Have fun starving with a hose up your bum!"
On arrival, I'm shown around a warm, luxurious space, full of interesting artefacts and objets from Vivien Kay's extended travels (this is also Vivien's home, which adds to the welcoming, nurturing atmosphere). There are two dining rooms (not that we will be eating anything), a gorgeous sitting room, and just 10 guest bedrooms - which means highly personalised levels of care and intimacy. Soft warm blankets are draped everywhere (detoxing can make you feel the cold) and there are heaps of movies and magazines to borrow. My room is both cosy and elegant and overlooks rolling countryside. I flop on the bed, hugging myself in glee. Five days off from reality. Yippee! I block the words 'colonic hydrotherapy' from my mind.
I meet the other inmates over delicious fresh juice and a sprinkling of chia seeds. We are all female - another Irish woman, three English, and two young Russians. High-earning, hard-working, here for a rebalance. One of the Russians came three weeks ago, hoping the cleanse would alleviate her insomnia - it worked so well she came back for more. Two others are also regulars, coming once or twice a year.
After a busy morning of one-to-one consultation (each inmate - I must stop calling us that - is handed a personal itinery on arrival, outlining our treatment and 'meal' times), I am led away for a tingly salt scrub (the treatment rooms are divine) and another juice (you have a juice every two hours to keep your hormones and blood sugar steady).
Then we meet around the dining table for some psyllium husk and bentonite clay in water; the husks there to swell up on ingestion and make us feel full, the clay as part of the inner cleanse. It's not as bad as it sounds, and there is more nice juice to follow. The flavours are amazing. Sweet potato and mango. Red pepper and apple...
A colon massage with Aor, a massage expert from Thailand, involves stimulating the colon as I lie watching the changing light colours overhead. She talks knowledgeably about opening a valve in my colon, in preparation for my colonic hydrotherapy - previously known as colonic irrigation - scheduled for the next day. My colon shrivels up in horror.
After a country walk, I have a go on the Chi Machine (you lie on the floor and it shakes you by the ankles - pleasingly odd - again to wake up your colon), then more juice and some fresh detox soup in the evening, and a guided meditation in the sitting room (non compulsory - some people hate the idea). By now I am exhausted - although not yet hungry - and fall into a deep sleep for 12 hours. Which is lovely.
DAY TWO 9am
On a lush country walk past deer-filled meadows (okay, a venison farm) with two of the other inmates, we eventually realise we are lost, but are too spaced out to have any sense of direction. We come to a narrow country road, where two builders are working on a large house. We tell them we are from the nearby detox place, and they tell us that they, too, are recovering alcohol and drug addicts who have since found Jesus.
I have something called an inch-loss wrap, which involves standing naked but for a paper thong and being mummified in warm stretchy bandages soaked in clay and algae. It's hard to convey how daft I look, lying there like a Scooby Doo monster getting a head and face massage as the bandages suck the extra inches off me but when I am measured after being unwrapped, I have lost 14 inches from my arms to my ankles and all territories between. Who knew.
An hour of reflexology - this five-day schedule involves a lot of lying on massage tables being worked on by a series of expert therapists, which is heavenly - I am told that my pancreas is knackered from overwork (which is why I am here in the first place: to get off wheat and sugar, and recalibrate my body so that I am not using a mobility scooter anytime soon) and that my thyroid needs a kick.
It's time for my first ever colonic. I am a colonic virgin, I tell the therapist nervously. She is so soothing and super-professional that I am soon lying back feeling quite strange, but not necessarily bad. You would not want to undergo this procedure with anyone who has done a weekend course in plumbing, but here I am in very safe and expert hands. I won't go into detail, other than to remind you of that scene in Jaws when they open up the shark and all kinds of rubbish and a car number plate falls out.
After more detox soup and guided meditation, I feel wiped out. Not exactly hungry, but definitely not compos mentis. When I see a wild deer sitting under an apple tree in the garden, I wonder if I am hallucinating. I sleep for another 12 hours.
DAY THREE 8am
Another country walk, guided by Vivien's colleague Kate so that nobody gets lost, followed by a breakfast of clay, husks and juice. Kate tells us about the client who sneaked away to the pub one night. I am having recurrent fantasies about bananas. We keep talking about food, then shushing each other.
A detox massage reveals I have water retention in my legs, for which the solution is to drink lots more water. We each have our own 750ml water bottles, which we endlessly refill from the water dispenser - six times a day is recommended. Soon I am peeing pure mineral water with the frequency of a prostate patient, and my caffeine headache has subsided. My hips and calves ache though - Vivien says it is the body detoxing pain killers (how did she know how much I love Paracetemol?). My kidneys also ache from the onslaught.
After a languid laze in the sunny garden reading - because by now I am beyond social interaction other than vague enquries as to how the other inmates are getting on - it is time for my second colonic (a course of two or three is recommended). The colon is the length of the human body, says the practitioner, all concertinaed into our abdomen. She says all kinds of stuff comes out during hydrotherapy, stuff which has been in there for years and years - buttons, bits of Lego swallowed in childhood. I nod weakly.
I feel wasted. Exhausted, weak, floppy. Vivien says that Day Three is called poo day, because that's what everyone feels like. She's right. I drink my potassium broth - a watery liquid said to cleanse the blood - and then flop wilting on my bed. I dream in technicolour 3D all night - epic dreams so real they seem like films, which, like sore calves, are part of the detox process.
DAY FOUR 8am
I consider staying in bed but hunger drives me downstairs to join the others for our morning walk. Maybe I could eat some tree bark when nobody is looking. Some of the other inmates have not made it, but remain in their rooms, catatonic. I know how they feel. I neck my husks and clay, and my mouth has what my kids call a foodgasm when I taste this morning's juice - strawberry and apple. I feel raw, stripped down. I have trouble stringing a sentence together.
And so begins a day of back-to-back treatments, put in place to aid your detox and to take your mind off the fact that you haven't eaten in days.
I begin with a lymphatic drainage massage, which involves lots of tapping and stroking rather than anything vigorous. I even have the insides of my ears massaged. 12 noon
Straight to a luxury foot treatment where my feet are wrapped in crunchy sea salt, then placed in plastic bags and velvety booties, for the salt to draw out whatever impurites might still be brave enough to be lurking on my person. My feet, which on a good day resemble those of the Gruffalo, are given a foot pack. The spearmint cream humanises them again.
We troop in for our juice, but instead there are small bowls of berries on the dining table. We stare at them, transfixed in disbelief. Is this a hoax? A cruel prank? No, they are indeed for us. We sit, entranced, savouring each blueberry, each raspberry, each strawberry, inhaling them in wonder. We all agree we have never tasted anything better in our lives.
I leave late on day four, but had I stayed for day five, it would have involved a fruit breakfast, a salad lunch, and a chat on maintenance, before everyone headed home, shiny inside and out, back to reality.
What can I say? I feel fantastic. I've lost 10lbs, my skin is clear, and I am no longer bloated and dozy from wheat and sugar. The detox has broken the cycle. Then again, I did go to the best place around - you wouldn't want to do this kind of detox anywhere that isn't completely professional, and with lashings of comfort. Unless you were super hardcore, or a bit insane...