January 07 2012
The full-on, new-me detox. Each year, without fail, I attempt to undo the damage I so readily did to myself over the past 360 days. It’s the most important detox of the year; my time-honoured tradition of affliction whereby I drag my wretched self over the coals in search of redemption – and the hip, cheek and ankle bones seemingly misplaced somewhere in the annual year-end adipose tissue deposit (which, unlike my bank balance, has increased at a rather alarming rate).
The toxic onslaught usually begins long before the city has turned into a throbbing mess of lights and exuberant commercialism, thanks largely to my overenthusiasm for going “glocal”, which sees me adopt Chinese New Year, Indian New Year, Halloween and Thanksgiving, to name but a few. What it means is that usually by the time I reach the holiday-season apex, every week in December feels like a dog year to my liver.
So this year, well before the clock rings in 2012, I decide to engage in a bit of pre-emptive spa-ing to counter (or at least put a dent in) the deleterious effects of my holiday-season lifestyle – the logic being that a few days of detox before things get too dire will temper the panicked post-New Year attempt to renounce my wine and cheese habits and reverse all other ills – along with the 6lb gained in pursuit of ding dong merrily on high.
The trick is to find a location in the US that I can bolt on to a few laborious meetings I have in NYC towards the end of November, as well as a detour down to Art Basel Miami. I’ve heard Como Shambhala at Parrot Cay in Turks & Caicos is incredible, but don’t think it’s quite tough enough for me. Mii Amo in Arizona could theoretically be an option, but they are fully booked with like-minded health seekers. There’s a place in LA called The Ranch at Live Oak that’s getting rave reviews, but it’s too far. Yep; looks like it has to be Florida…
I’m headed to the Hippocrates Health Institute in West Palm Beach. I knew I was in for a tough ride, but I was not fully prepared for this. The driver with whom I have built up a rapport over the almost two-hour journey from Miami to West Palm blows a long, low whistle as we pull up. “Are you sure you want to stay here? This place looks mean – and you don’t look that ill to me, ma’am.”
The Hippocrates Health Institute is as crunchy as holistic gets. An eerie mixture of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Cocoon, it’s certainly more sanatorium than spa, and its sprawling grounds make it look like the Glastonbury of wellness, with little communal homes, pools and individual one-man saunas dotting the landscape.
I stand outside the Wigmore Hall, a large terracotta-painted building that looks more like a decrepit boarding school than a wellness welcoming centre. “We call people like you enlightened, not frightened. Like me, when I first arrived,” says Tom, the kind-looking male nurse checking me in. “I always enjoy when healthy people come to learn. There are just as many healthy people who come here as there are those who seek disease reversal, so we specialise in habit changing and using food as medicine. We have seen tremendous results in the treatment of cancer. Since coming here and following this diet, I personally have been in remission for 12 years.”
What do you attribute this to, I ask. “Very simple; it’s a raw diet with limited exposure to toxins. Eighty per cent of cancers are caused by diet and lifestyle. Change those, and change your life.” He smiles. I’m not sure I buy his statistics; I recall a recent review sponsored by Cancer Research UK that found around 40 per cent of all cancers are caused by lifestyle factors. “Let’s get you plated up on sprouts and send you down to the Harmony room for some magnetic healing.”
“Hi. Welcome.” Kathryn, the director of guest services, greets me and shows me round the hall, which is where all the lectures and food service take place. “Your first time?” the super-sized lady in front of me in the buffet queue asks cheerily. I nod. “You are going to have a ‘rawsome’ time here with us.”
Dogs within a 100-mile radius could hear the alarm bells ringing in my head. The room reeks of garlic, one of the key ghostbusters in the fight for health – and, obviously, a dish served raw in this establishment. The smell is so potent that even after 30 years of daily fumigation it has seeped into the fabric of the building.
Kathryn, now the only thing standing between me and a bolt for the exit, starts explaining: “Our nutritional philosophy is based on raw, vegan, enzyme-rich nutrition. We have seen the reversal of disease, due in major part to an enzyme-rich diet.
“The diet is therefore based on sprouts, as they are the very best enzyme-rich food you can eat. They are literally alive and growing when you bite into them, and it’s this electric frequency that positively impacts on your body. Many people think sushi is part of a raw diet, but the electric frequency dies together with the fish; so yes, you are getting protein, but the sprouts will do that – and more. You should make them 50 per cent of your diet.” She points at a wide assortment and demonstrates how to fill my plate. “Sunflower sprouts are a complete protein, so make sure you pile up on that. The sprouted beans are a great source of fibre, the sauerkraut has all the good enzymes, and the rest is compiled of raw vegetables. If you’re trying to be mindful of weight loss, go easy on the sauce-based dishes and the dressings.”
I’ve piled my plate sky-high with seven different types of sprouts and apprehensively glance across the brown, Salvation Army-like dining room. It’s more depressing than my old high-school canteen; the drab interiors make the Mayr look like an Aman.
I find a seat alone and console myself that if my experiences have taught me anything, it’s that these very basic and old establishments typically provide the most educational and results-driven programmes.
All that bravado aside, there’s no way I’m going to manage this alone. My friend Daffers, who is far more obsessed with weight loss than wheatgrass and has spent the past fortnight sleeping in a corset in an attempt to shrink her waist, is a diet and detox junkie. With me promising her an end to underwear trickery and a programme designed to destroy cellulite, she has readily agreed to join me tomorrow.
Our lodging proves no dilemma. There are two options; a villa for two or a shared house (some have four people sleeping in the same room). Hmm, sleeping with total strangers detoxing on a diet of sprouts and garlic? It’s a tough choice, but, “We’ll take the villa, thank you very much.”
It’s actually not at all bad once you walk through the door: a two-bedroom house between a car park and a manmade fountain. It comes with a kitchen (the redundancy of the oven is not lost on me), a lounge with a large-screen TV and decent-sized bedrooms upstairs. It’s not signature André Balazs, but it will do.
Kathryn leads me to the Oasis spa, a 10-minute walk from the villa – a run-down old building with a fountain in a central courtyard, off which are several treatment rooms. The Harmony Room features a range of magnetic treatments including Ondamed biofeedback, Viofor electromagnetic therapy and Theragem – a light therapy system that “supports the regeneration and rebalancing of the body”.
I am strapped into something called an MLD (Manual Lymphatic Drainage) bed, which is designed to mimic the actions of your lymphatic system and tilts up and down. I am given a hand-held laser and a photocopied printout of the key lymph placements; I’m told to hold the laser on each of the circa 12 points at three-minute intervals. I’m not sure what good it’s going to do, but I enthusiastically go along.
After my lymphatic zapping, I’m on to the TurboSonic, which looks like an early version of the Power Plate and uses sonic whole-body vibrations. Just stand and shake, and voilà – 150 calories in 10 minutes. All of a sudden things are looking up. Double time on this little monster; I love it.
It’s my first medical meeting. I keep waiting for my feelings about this place to change, but this self-proclaimed healing ambience just feels like bad energy to me. Don’t get me wrong; at Hippocrates they are truly helping hundreds of people every year, but it’s riddled with judgment for those of us who have not yet crossed to the raw-and-vegan other side. Even when I suggest a percentage-based diet, I am met with major resistance.
In a tone loaded with patronising overtones, the doctor assigned to me explains, “You are one of the lucky ones. You have seen with your own eyes what bad diet and lifestyle can do to your health. You have seen some of the patients here, and it’s a very sad thing. They certainly were not eating well, and many now have come to this almost too late. You, on the other hand, have the opportunity to be free from illness by taking on this diet. If you don’t, we will see you back here in 30 years.”
Wow. That packs a punch. I ponder my response; I want to tell him that millions of people have lived long lives eating animal protein and carbohydrates (after all, the average life span of the sushi- and rice-loving Japanese is a pretty good run at 82.9 years), drinking, and even – whisper it – smoking. But I can’t face the battle; I’ve only had a thin cucumber juice for breakfast.
Instead, I explain that I appreciate and truly agree with the food-as-medicine philosophy, and I am personally committed to going vegetarian at some point as I do believe we are eating ourselves into bad health, and destroying the planet in the process. I tell him I have already adopted meat-free Mondays and Thursdays, and that I am gradually working my way up.
“That’s not necessary,” he interrupts. “If you stay here for three weeks we can change your eating patterns, and change your life.”
As I make my way back to the Hollywood sign that is my lime-green bedroom, I recall a recent CNN report on a certain Doctor Caldwell Esselstyn, who has written a book called Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease: The Revolutionary, Scientifically Proven, Nutrition-Based Cure. He is also a focus of a new documentary called Forks Over Knives that promotes a vegan-based diet.
Even Bill Clinton has turned all Jamie Oliver on us and is lobbying to overhaul school canteens in the US. He says he consumes no meat, no dairy, no eggs, almost no oil. “I like the vegetables, the fruits, the beans, the stuff I eat now,” Clinton told CNN reporter Sanjay Gupta.
But I’ll take my chances, I think. I would rather stick hot pins in my eyes than stay here for three weeks; surely healthy does not have to feel this bad?
Spa Junkie pays for all her own travel, treatments and accommodation.