Health & Grooming | Chronicles of a Spa Junkie

Spa Junkie at… LifeCo detox in Turkey

Our covert columnist embarks on a tough Turkish cleansing regime

Spa Junkie at… LifeCo detox in Turkey

Image: Jay Yeo

December 03 2011
Spa Junkie

Part: 1 | 2

My current state of toxic despair – the one I’ve come to the coast of Turkey to remedy – started on Halloween, at Jonathan Ross’s annual Scare Fest. Have you noticed how in recent years Halloween costumes have mirrored the topicality of current disasters? Last year, the BP overalls came with an oil-covered fish accessory. This year, it was the Rogue Zombie Sarah Palin: grey and sallow skin, puffy eyes, spotty complexion, all perfectly set in one oversized, bespectacled, bloated and haggard rubber mask.

And now, 30 days on, after the onslaught of the Alka-Seltzer season, I have somehow morphed into something terrifyingly close to that mask: my looks left for dead, my energy levels sapped, and SAD (seasonal affective disorder) now properly set in with the clocks set back.

I am left pondering my toxification levels – with almost a month until Christmas, how will I make it?

DAY ONE: 5pm

LifeCo is a hardcore, no-frills, no-food detox centre located in a tiny, authentic fishing village on the Bodrum peninsula. It comes highly recommended by the Turkish and British cognoscenti, who return like boomerangs every few months to lose more than their EasyJet onboard luggage allowance in body weight – and a lifetime of bad habits – in just seven days.

The scenic 45-minute drive from the airport to the LifeCo Bodrum Detox Center affords great views across the gorgeous coast and hilly landscape; the last bit of road is so bumpy and remote I think it can’t have been long since only donkeys trod this path. I desperately suppress thoughts of lazy days staring out onto the Aegean coast, sipping wine and eating well.

Not this time, mate. Here in the middle of nowhere they focus on detoxing every aspect of your existence. I’ll get a full top-to-toe audit of my life, my negative emotions and my living environment. It’s supposed to be more hippie than it is medi, so I’m not to expect teams of fancy doctors, nutritionists, physios and therapists – nor any super-duper diagnostics machines, state-of-the-art fitness or a hydro complex.

What I find instead when I arrive is a lot of love in the room. There’s a very informative hotel manager who doubles as the nutritionist; one very sweet nurse who does not speak more than five words of English (this proves testing as time wears on); a freelance doctor who pops in every so often; an army of juicers and massage therapists; an infrared sauna (which does not always work); a pretty cool hammam; a salt cave (on which more later); and several very scary-looking DIY, sit-astride colonic machines.

5.45pm

I’m as sick as a dog when I check in. Coughing and spluttering, I leave a string of germs in my wake as I follow the receptionist, who leads me through a vast concrete-floored lounge area with a few multicoloured beanbags and a white Ikea sofa. With the sun setting and my chest hurting, the bare surroundings have me suddenly wishing I were home. I’m feeling terribly sorry for myself, and the thought of not cosying up to a super-sized Harry Morgan’s chicken noodle soup is making me tearful.

The bedrooms in the main complex are very simple: a wooden bed; thin white-linen curtains made to provide modesty rather than hide sunlight; a tiny little carry-in-your-hand TV with predominantly Turkish programming. I’d have done well to have downloaded a stack of films on my iPad (or Spa Junkie’s new best friend – the Kindle 3G with Wi-Fi).

For a little more luxe, I could have opted for one of the apartments; in hindsight, I should also have brought a friend – we could have bonded over nightly nettle and kelp capsules taken with wheatgrass shots and some psyllium husk chasers (now that’s what I call a Spa Junkie slumber party). It may well have made this entire experience, and the attendant hunger pangs, slightly more bearable.

“You should jump into our salt cave immediately – it will do wonders for your cold. After that I suggest we get you onto the Vita C and B infusion – and perhaps you want a massage?” the receptionist says, from a safe arm’s-length distance.

“Yes to everything.” Schedule me up, Scotty – or perhaps that should be Snotty.

7pm

It’s my first time in a salt cave, and what can I say: it is literally just that – a deckchair in a boxroom with Himalayan salt (the purest salt left in the world today) covering the floor, walls and ceilings. A jet of saline-diffused air is blown into the chamber, allowing the tiny, negatively ionised salt particles to penetrate the respiratory system. It is said to reduce inflammation, widen airway passages and unclog blockages in the bronchi and bronchioles.

After an hour, I can actually feel the difference; my breathing has eased up. It’s a lot like getting your head dunked by a sibling in the sea, that ingesting-water-in-every-orifice type treatment that leaves your throat, nose and mouth dry and salty.

But the moment’s respite from my woes soon wears off. The nurse is almost 40 minutes late to administer the vitamin infusion, which is basically a high-dose vitamin concoction given intravenously so that it goes to work quickly. I have been a fan of vitamin infusions for a few years now, and have seen tremendous results in restoring my immunity and putting stop to a cold or flu in its early stages.

By way of an apology for the lateness, they offer me, as I lie waiting on detox death row, my last supper: the thinnest salad I have ever seen. No more than a handful of leaves with a pinch of seeds and two olives, with not a drop of dressing, it takes only couple of minutes to wolf down.

The evening ends with a massage – and a really persistent and invisible mosquito, which, despite being irritating, at least goes a little way to taking my mind off my rumbling tummy.

Before bed, I cheat with a Berocca tropical fruit tablet, which is the closest thing to dessert on the premises.

DAY TWO: 8am

A serious knock on my bedroom door. It’s Fazil, the very stern head waiter, who ensures that we get either juice or herbs every hour and a half. They alternate our five juices with little herb parcels, which we wash down with watermelon, melon and wheatgrass shots.

“It’s breakfast time,” says Fazil. He hands me a very thin veggie juice that’s been given a bit of oomph with a teaspoon of psyllium husk, which expands in your stomach just like the grow-your-own-dinosaur toys we had as kids. It can grow up to four times its own size, helping you feel full (and seriously kick-starting a lazy bowel).

There are two types of programme at LifeCo: the Green Diet, which allows a couple of the hardly-worth-it green salads; and the Master, which is liquid only. I’ve decided to go for the latter. The standard package comes with accommodation, two group yoga classes, meditation, incredible detox talks and video nights – which, it turns out, give enormous insight into avoiding toxins in your daily life – use of the Turkish bath, steam and erratically functioning infrared sauna. Then there’s the daily self-service colonic – for which I have just been commandeered down to the basement.

It’s another 30-minute wait on a wooden bench outside the colon clinic, which features two DIY rooms, a hydro-colonic room and the ozone room, which is where they administer O3 – very similar to O2 atmospheric oxygen, but said to contain more active particles and often called “super oxygen”.

Ozone therapy is a mixture of one part pure ozone and 100 parts oxygen, and the total dosage is determined by the person’s condition and its seriousness. It is still not proven to help in the treatment of serious illness, but in healthy people a low dose seems to support the immune system and the body’s natural resistance through the activation of enzymes that render the body’s own free radicals harmless. In ancient Hebrew, ozone was known as “the breath of God”; here, apparently, one breathes God’s breath in through one’s rear in a procedure called rectal insufflation.

It’s my turn for the Colema – the term they use for the DIY enema. A grey-haired man with piercing blue eyes hands me a bag of tubes and walks me to “the angel of water” machine. It’s like a low-ride Harley-Davidson seat in white plastic; you recline on it, your legs resting either side of a raised block. Unlike a Harley, however, it has a strategically placed pipe, where the soft hand-stitched seat should be, which you slip into your rectum.

It’s a terrifying-looking contraption, and even I, Spa Junkie, am too scared to mount this thing unsupervised. “Excuse me!” I holler as he leaves the room. “I have not been told how to do this… what do I do with these pipes in the bag? How does the machine work? Where is the nurse?” He speaks no English.

Ten minutes and a major kerfuffle later, Mirey the manager is down in the room, placing the rubber tube from my little bag on the machine and demonstrating the position. “You have to take the water till you feel full, and then rock forward and release, then back, take the water, and rock forward and release.” Sounds simple enough, but after the third attempt I felt too embarrassed to say that I still really had no clue. I abandoned the procedure five minutes after she left the room. They seriously should not leave guests to do the first one unsupervised. I wish I had been able to watch a demonstration on YouTube.

11am

“Hydrate, alkalise and detoxify the body – that creates a perfect-cure state. It all starts with water; it’s the most important aspect of life. Your brain is made up of around 77 per cent water, your muscles 75 per cent and your bone 25 per cent, so it’s extremely important to consume plenty of water every day to ensure your body works at optimal level. More than two litres of water a day is recommended – but you have to be vigilant about the source of your water. Have you ever checked the pH level of the water you’re drinking?” Mirey looks at us; apparently none of us regularly does.

“Well, we recommend high-alkaline water in order to balance out pH levels. Ionised, alkaline water helps detox the body, and you should drink water of at least 8.1pH. Most bottled waters are below this: Evian is 7.1, San Pellegrino is 7.7.” She recommends getting an ionising machine to filter water, and setting it to 9.5.

LifeCo seriously recommends drinking only filtered water. Drinking water from plastic bottles is not recommended, due to the oft-quoted link with increased levels of oestrogen and toxins.

And as for tap water, Mirey explains that it has been proven to contain low-level pharmaceuticals, chlorine, hormones and fluoride – not the benevolent substance we thought it was.

The non-profit Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in New York City, for example, validates the theory; it warns that anyone drinking tap water in most American cities is essentially taking hormones with their glass of water. Despite the minuscule levels they are being detected in, they are within the range that means they are active in our bodies, says the NRDC.

The dermatologist Dr Howard Murad also makes the radical but convincing claim in his new book The Water Secret that “one should eat one’s water” through fresh fruit and vegetables, which provide our cells with a much more nutritious water supply.

“Get and keep your body in an alkaline state,” Mirey continues. “On the pH scale – which is from 0 to 14, with 14 being a highly alkaline state – the body is naturally at 7.4.” Mirey suggests that when the body is in a highly alkaline state it may be more able to keep you fit and healthy, and could even reduce the risk of cancers forming. So it appears that keeping my body alkaline is the single most important thing I can do to stay healthy, increase my energy, improve my often very frail immune system and lower the risk of chronic disease in the future. Later, back at home, a bit of quality Google time revealed that the actual health benefits are a far more contentious issue than the side-effects of drinking tap water. While numerous websites concur with the LifeCo theory, I found little in the way of serious scientific backing of the purported benefits of swilling alkaline water. But I am at least satisfied to discover that, according to the World Health Organization guidelines, only water with a pH value over 11 presents a risk to the people exposed to it.

“We suggest you stick to 75 per cent alkalising foods made up of raw veg and fruit,” says Mirey. “Green leafy vegetables are especially good; sprouts, sea vegetables, avocados and almonds, too. Keep the acid-forming foods, such as meat, cheese, eggs and breads, to no more than 25 per cent of your daily intake.” As she speaks, she scribbles diagrams on the board.

“And lastly, the detoxifying of your body through fasting and colonic cleansing is the final part of putting your body back together. Not only does it sweep the system clean, it also gives your organs a well-deserved break.” She’s not alone in prescribing this: according to Lynne Walker McNees, president of the US International Spa Association, about 15,000 day and destination spas in the US now offer some kind of detoxifying treatment.

6pm

A deep-tissue massage finishes the day. The dull detox headache has deeply settled just behind my forehead, and a big spot has erupted on my chin.

Spa Junkie pays for all her own travel, treatments and accommodation.