If you have ever seen the DStv series Spa of Embarrassing Illnesses, you will have an inkling of what awaited me on my detox journey.
Detox International, originally created by Scottish nutritionist Midi Fairgrieve and a team of nutritional and complementary therapists to provide a supervised detox programme, recently launched in South Africa. Its programmes have been running at picturesque retreats in Europe for more than seven years, and have featured in the TV series.
They are now running at the five-star Fordoun Spa Hotel near Nottingham Road in KwaZulu-Natal, and Tenemos Retreat Centre in McGregor in the Western Cape.
This programme boasts that it is “unsurpassed in using natural medicine to bring about positive health changes in a truly holistic way”, and that it has helped many people overcome a wide range of health issues, as well as lose weight. Certainly, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence lauding the merits of detox.
Its opponents, on the other hand, who include doctors and many nutritionists, point out that the body already has multiple systems – including the liver, kidneys and gastrointestinal tract – that do a great job of eliminating toxins. And they add that any weight loss experienced on detox programmes is due to water loss, not fat loss.
Some doctors, such as Joburg endocrinologist Dr David Segal, express near outrage at the concept. “It’s nonsense,” he says. “Detoxing has never been scientifically proved. It was debunked back in the 1800s for good reason. Not only is it ineffective and unsustainable, it can be harmful as it can interfere with the gut’s natural processing.”
Nevertheless, I decided to accept Detox International’s invitation to try its programme, and the following is my account of the week.
Nine “detoxers” arrive at Fordoun, book into its suites and gather in its cosy conference room. We tuck into our “last supper”, a plate of raw veggies with a tahini dressing.
To get a head start, everybody has in the days preceding been trying to stick to an “alkaline diet”– lots of veggies, fruit and water and as little as possible of the bad stuff such as coffee, meat and wine.
We start getting to know one another. Alla, a Russian, doesn’t eat properly and “rewards” herself with coffee and cigarettes. Andrea smokes 20 a day and is desperate to give up. Kim put on heaps of weight after her pregnancy and never lost it. She’s stressed and feels like “road kill” every morning. Karen wants to give up ciggies too, and when she Googled “mucoid plaque” decided that “if that’s what’s inside me, it must come out, right now”.
I’m the journalist, predictably in need of healthier habits, and if I was wise to what I had let myself in for, I might have slunk out of the door and driven back to Joburg.
The day starts with “body brushing” with a long-handled brush we’ve been given in our kit bags, which also includes an enema bag, a box-shaped plastic container with a thin tube and a tap at the end of it.
The brushing is to stimulate the skin, the body’s largest organ of elimination. I brush my legs, arms, back and torso in the direction of my heart, and that goes well, but by the time I’m in the conference room – let’s call it HQ – to meet the others at 7.30am, the hunger monster is up already, and discomfortingly curious about what’s for breakfast.
I’ve usually had my first cup of coffee by now, but instead I down a “cleansing drink” of apple cider vinegar and honey with hot water.
Yoga starts at 8am at the spa. It’s Hatha yoga, defined by slow-paced stretching with some simple breathing exercises and some meditation, ideal given the sudden fuel shortage.
It’s a pick-me-up, but it sets off the hunger monster. It’s satiated with a glass of fresh juice with a teaspoon of psyllium husks mixed in, and a handful of supplements – eight in all (two “Cleanse”, two “Regenerate”, one “Pancreatin”, one “Protect”, one “Kelp” and one “Milk Thistle”) – which are for helping to cleanse the gut while supplying essential vitamins and minerals.
Then we each get a jug of what I’ve been anticipating with a mix of dread and curiosity – the enema liquid we’re to top up to a litre with warm water and imbibe via the opposite-to-usual route. It’s a “coffee enema”, meant to boost the liver’s detoxing capacity.
Clutching the murky liquid, we head to our suites, there to spread out foam mats and towels on the heated bathroom floor, get into position and hook up to the plastic tube.
The only way I get through this virgin experience is to conjure up the British Carry On films. This one could be called Carry On Enemising!
It’s a clumsy, undignified process that will define much of the week, as the enemas are scheduled twice a day between precisely spaced juices, supplements and, at 4pm and 7pm, “vegetable broth”.
I’m looking forward to the broth, thinking it will be something like my mother’s Irish soup. It’s not. I ladle for myself a bowl of dishwater-like drainage of real veggie soup, to be downed with a teaspoon of flaxseed oil.
The hunger monster is getting belligerent. But the evening talk by dietitian Emma Mentel, about what we’re doing and why it’s good for us, puts it in check, at least for tonight.
I wake up feeling hungover and with a manageable headache. Sleep was punctuated with anxiety dreams and thoughts about the enemas going where they shouldn’t. Is that why I’m feeling bloated? Maybe my body’s going into toxic shock? We’ve been told it’s normal to get fearful and emotional as you get deeper into detox.
I try to calm myself with yogic breathing and I read a passage from Richard Branson’s short book Screw It, Let’s Do It, about his calamitous Transatlantic hot-air balloon flight. “All I thought was that if I escaped with my life, I knew I would never do this again,” he writes.
By late afternoon, having followed the regimen of juices, supplements, two enemas and the so-called broth, the headache is milder but the hunger monster is still pestering. All it wants to do is jump in the car and make a foray into Nottingham Road for a burger and chips.
But by the end of the evening’s talk – which for the first time is accompanied by a graphic of the intestines and colon in a book produced by nutritionist Nicole Harvey – I actually feel empowered, if only by the knowledge of exactly where the enema went, how it filters through to the liver and where all the organs and colon are. They should’ve shown this at the outset.
DAYS FOUR AND FIVE
Day Four is “liver day”, so a couple of bitter-tasting liver-supporting tonics are added to the regimen, and the enemas have now changed to herbal.
“Liver day” is when most detoxers feel at their lowest, but our group is surprisingly upbeat. Most have taken to wearing their gowns, so we look like institutional in-patients as we dutifully traipse back and forth to HQ every hour-and-a-half to get the next round of detoxing concoctions.
There are grumbles about having to get to HQ for each top-up – but I can see the reasoning. It would take mammoth discipline to be left to our own devices doing this.
Keeping me sustained are the sublime treatments I’m booking at the spa – massages, reflexology and a “bio energy rebalancing” session with therapist Brenda McFee.
My cynicism over this sort of ungulabungula (my own word) is rattled, I admit, probably only because Brenda’s reading of me is delightfully encouraging. As for the contention by our nutritionists that old negative emotions are washed away as the colon is cleansed, my view is unequivocal: hocus pocus.
It’s Friday, which is “parasite day”, and we’re getting herbal tonics that spell doom for intestinal parasites, which you get from food and are sure to have if you have pets.
The enemas now are garlic, so it’s a two-pronged attack (parasites supposedly hate garlic), though few of us can manage to hold this pungent liquid in the colon for more than a few minutes.
Strangely, the hunger monster has slunk off somewhere, but I’m still wishing for the time to pass quickly. It’s been drizzling, otherwise I’d take a walk around this Beatrix Potter farm, with its fat sheep enviably munching away on bowling green grass.
Also, my suite has become overly associated with my Carry On Enemising role, which I’ve realised I’m no damned good at, no matter how earnestly I rehearse it.
And the smell of coffee and garlic no longer reminds me of snacks and supper, but of what happens to it once it’s been swallowed. My innards feels mildly crampy and I’m wondering what’s going on in there. Maybe the hunger monster’s being a drama queen again. Still, I sail through today’s regimen easily enough.
The hunger monster is now nowhere in sight. I’m feeling okay, if a little sluggish and light-headed. I notice that I’ve lost some belly weight, but a loss of just 1kg shows on the spa scale.
I’ve learnt a huge amount about nutrition, thanks to the daily talks by Emma and Nicole, which have sustained the group’s morale.
Interesting bits of information they put forward include the position that “Cancer can’t grow in an alkaline body”. This hasn’t been clinically proven, and is based primarily on a finding in the 1930s by a New York doctor called Howard Hay that all disease is caused by auto-toxication, or “self-poisoning”, owing to acid accumulation in the body, and Robert and Shelley Young’s book The pH Miracle.
We are told: “To achieve and maintain an alkaline state means eating about 80 percent fruit and veggies daily and eliminating most of what we enjoy, like wine, meat, dairy, bread, potatoes, pasta and coffee. The optimal healthy diet is at least 30 percent raw (uncooked) food, and organic is best, as it is superior in mineral and vitamin content.”
We watch two eye-opening films – Food, Inc, Robert Kenner’s Emmy award-winning documentary, gave me a good idea of some of the awful conditions under which meat is commercially produced in the US, and Food Matters showed that patching up an over-indulgent population with nutrient-sparse foods and toxic therapies is doing nothing to curb the raft of modern diseases.
We all wake up bright and early to “break the fast” with a bowl of fruit salad sprinkled with bee pollen, the tastiest fruit salad I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating.
Today also happens to be my birthday. It’s a new day, a new beginning, but I’m very ready to drive home and reclaim my old life.
I plan to introduce some moderate changes to my diet and lifestyle, and am encouraged in this when my colleagues exclaim over my rested appearance and deflated belly. - The Star
* Fordoun: Single person in large luxury en-suite, R17 988; shared room, R15 888
* Tenemos: Singe person suite, R15 762.50; shared room, R15 307.50
TO BOOK: Call Detox International, at +263-4-497196/7/8 or visit www.detox-international.co.za