Despite my healthy veggie diet and heroic efforts with the jogging group, I was piling on the pounds, spilling out of my pants, feeling lethargic and battling embarrassing skin problems.
I knew intuitively my malaise called for a radical intervention. So one despondent Saturday morning I Google searched “detox retreats” and up popped the Simply Healing Detox Retreat at beautiful Alliblaster House in leafy West Sussex, not far from our home in Kent.
Bingo! I knew this was “it” even though there were many other excellent retreats to choose from. Simply Healing was voted Best Detox Retreat in the UK by prestigious Vogue magazine and described as “a million miles away from the stresses and strains of everyday life.”
My email was answered immediately and there was a place available within two weeks. Effortlessly, smooth as silk, I was booked in and all set for a five-day internal cleanse and delightful pampering in a serene rural setting.
The centrepiece of the Detox is colonic hydrotherapy, which involves cleaning out the colon (large intestine or bowel). The process is gentle and hygienic and carried out by expert therapists with great respect and professionalism.
The Detox requires consuming only fresh juices, soups and broth and a mixture of apple juice, clay and psyllium with probiotics and herbal supplements.
By stopping eating solid food, you give your overworked digestive system a rest and chance to release toxins through the bowel, urinary system, lymphatic system and skin. Your body is replenished with nutrients from the juices and broth and most importantly, if you are overweight, you rapidly shed the pounds and kick-start your sluggish metabolism into fat-burning mode. As a bonus you receive lashings of nurturing and care from skilled therapists.
I was ready and rearing to go but quietly anxious because I know what happens to me when I stop eating. I’m used to eating every two to three hours to stabilise erratic blood sugar levels and if I skip a meal I suffer headaches and nausea.
But stepping inside the massive charming country manor house, brimming with comfy sofas and soft furnishings, was like being embraced by a reassuring hug and instantly I felt safe and knew I was in a good, kind place.
Owner Vivien, a renowned healer who has studied ancient, natural healing arts around the world and leads tour groups in Peru and other exotic destinations, welcomed me warmly. Lovely Kate, a former nurse, showed me around the sumptuous lounge rooms, vibrant with colour and artworks. My cosy upstairs room commanded peaceful views across the lush fields.
There were eight women on my program who had travelled from all over the UK, keen to shed excess weight and rest from stressful jobs and recharge, revitalise and rejuvenate.
That first night we sat together around the formal dining table, apprehensive about what we’d let ourselves in for, clutching our mugs of Carrot and Coriander Soup, chatting and getting to know each other then retired to our rooms early with our own thoughts and hopes.
Predictably swapping my usual big carb-loaded evening meal for soup sent my system into shock and the headaches and nausea set in. At 5 am I was throwing up and on the brink of a migraine.
I pushed through to face the first round of juice and clay drink and felt sick all morning andworried about how long it would take to feel normal. All the others seemed to be sailing through their first day without solid food.
I had read that 24 to 48 hours into a fast your digestive system stops expecting food and switches to drawing energy from the fat stored in the cells. Now that’s what I wanted to happen! So I persevered and by mid-afternoon I stopped craving food, the nausea eased and my whole system settled into a contented state.
I was able to ride through that initial rough patch with understanding chats with the other guests, an invigorating salt scrub with the lovely young April, and a colon massage (on the stomach!) with Aor, a gentle Thai lady with powerful, healing hands. I was off and away and from Day Two, the Cleanse was blissful.
In the immaculate candle-lit therapy room, I stripped down to a paper thong and April took my measurements and then slathered on a detoxing mixture of algae and clay and wrapped me tightly in bandages like a mummy. I eased myself into a thermal bag and lay there sweating while she gave me a soothing head and face massage. When April measured me again I’d instantly lost almost 14 inches! I could feel my waist again!
Florence, an elegant French naturopath gave me an exquisite reflexology treatment hitting all the key points before my first colonic hydrotherapy session with Helen, who has been dedicated to this health-giving work for several years.
Like everyone else on the course, I marvelled at the amount of old rubbish that came out of my body and was thrilled to be rid of it! Waste accumulates over the years and toxins can leach through walls of the colon made porous from Candida, which some health practitioners say is the root cause of a host of unexplained illnesses.
Vivien says the Detox is ideal for women and men over 50 to lose flab, correct nagging health problems and rejuvenate. “People aged from 50 to 80 come here and clean their colons of a lifetime of rubbish.”
I had a second colonic treatment with Carolyn who also set me straight on the mistakes I was making with my diet. She advised against the ready-made vegetarian meals, made from soya protein, with the wisdom that anything processed is not as pure as meals you make yourself. So I will now take the time to whip up my own scrumptious lentil burgers, bean chilli and chickpea curry.
Carolyn also suggested I break a lifelong habit of eating huge evening meals. She offered the homespun motto; “Eat for what you are going to do, not for what you’ve done!” It is far better to eat a hearty breakfast and lunch when you need the energy during the day and have only a light, carb-free evening meal. I know this will be a magic key to continuing weight loss.
And two more tips from Carolyn: Eat natural foods every colour of the rainbow and chew each mouthful 20 to 30 times to help your poor digestive system and eat less!
Natalie gave me the best and deepest massage I’ve ever had. It was painful (in a good way) as she released the tension I’ve been carrying in my neck, shoulders and back from endless hours hunched over the computer.
On my last day Aor gave me another deep tissue neck massage and I had an intriguing Hopi Candle treatment with Carolyn to clear the ears and nasal passages. It really worked! I now feel much clearer in the head!
The all-female team of expert therapists are not only skillful and knowledgeable butprofoundly nurturing, which is salve for the soul as well as the body.
Kate and Vivien made the delicious juices, which seemed to be just perfect for our needs each day. My favourite combinations included Strawberry, Plum and Apple and Lime, Apple and Sweet Potato and I loved the savoury broth brewed from a variety of fresh veggies.
The course was ideally paced between treatments and free time to laze on the sun lounges or rest in your room. Kate led us on brisk early morning country walks and we relaxed around the open fire at night with guided meditations.
The whole experience is so easy for the guests yet obviously much hard work is going on behind the scenes to make the colourful, energising juices appear on the table every few hours and ensure that everything runs like clockwork.
Vivien and her family established Alliblaster House in 2000 so they have fine-tuned and perfected the Detox program over more than a decade with countless exuberant guests (who have scrawled their glowing reviews replete with superlatives and exclamation marks in the Visitors’ Book).
I went home feeling like a new woman, 10 pounds lighter, with a fierce commitment to continuing healthy self-care. The Detox has kick-started the fat burning process in my body and I’m determined to continue losing weight with juices, soups and salads and a fresh new outlook. I would love to return every year for a tune-up!
Who would think it possible to achieve so much healing and transformation in just five days! I am grateful for to the wise, healing, nurturing women of magical Alliblaster House for the gift of regaining my health and energy!