Thursday, July 30, 2009

Dare to detox at home or abroad

A cocktail of exercise, extreme healthy eating and cellulite busting spa treatments – not everyone’s idea of an ideal holiday. Like or loathe them, the detox holiday is designed to give dramatic and often life changing results fast. Adored by celebrities, Renée Zellweger, Liz Hurley and even Jack Osbourne all swear by them.

My fascination with the idea of cleansing out your body and starting afresh encouraged me to see if I too could achieve awe inspiring results. At first the options of detox resorts seemed endless - until I saw the extortionate price lists. If money were no option, I would have instantly booked a place at the acclaimed five-star Chiva Som resort in Thailand, complete with self-colonic irrigation and saliva tests.

Whilst my budget was tight, I was adamant to try one detox in the sun and another somewhere closer to home. The latter was an easy choice considering there is not yet an abundance of such boot camp style resorts available in Ireland. However finding one abroad proved more of a challenge. Eventually I found somewhere that suited my criteria - Winter Sun Retreats in Lanzarote. Although many detox camps promise loss of weight, this retreat cites its mission to ensure you return home healthier and happier with yourself. Whilst this all sounded very uplifting, my shallow goals were not changing fast – I wanted to return home with a toned bum and glowing skin.

There were two options of accommodation: self-catering beach villas in Costa Teguise or peaceful mountain villas in Las Cabreras. Although I enjoy nothing better than being near to the sea, I chose the mountain retreat simply because it was on a full-board basis. It meant there was no chance of me sneaking off for a juicy steak in one of the local restaurants.

Whilst the website describes the accommodation as luxury, if I had had four-star expectations, I would have been disappointed. My room was comfortable but without an en-suite. I had to remember I was not here to be pampered.

Over a buffet dinner of fresh salads and healthy dips, I was introduced to my fellow ‘detoxees’. Any preconceived notions that these detox camps are for overweight or unhealthy people were quickly quashed. Four very slim, glamorous and regular detox devouts sat in front of me. While they had been preparing their bodies in advance by cutting out coffee and fatty foods, I had taken the opposite and perhaps more cynical approach: days beforehand I was gorging on pizza, chocolate, and anything else that took my fancy.

The first morning I was briefed on my daily routine which centred on yoga, organic living food, juices, holistic therapies and other health enhancing activities. Gone were my cornflakes and toast for breakfast, and instead I had a shot of homegrown wheatgrass, a veggie juice, and a small bowl of muesli.

With a rumbling tummy I headed off to my yoga class. I was looking forward to the daily workout, especially since it said all levels were welcome. Whilst I had tried yoga during college, I remembered very little of the positions and was expecting to be physically challenged. Our instructors, Charlene and Jose Luis, introduced us to very gentle movements. Throughout the three-hour classes, the tempo never stepped up a notch and I failed to break out in a sweat. Although the others seemed to thrive on this type of relaxing exercise, I was craving a challenge.

To compensate for this lack of energy-exerting activity, I undertook physical activities in the afternoon, going for jogs, climbing the Las Cabreras Mountain and swimming in one of the resort pools. Such workouts were unfortunately not rewarded with more food rations; instead I had to learn to survive the hunger pangs.

The living food concept was certainly the most challenging aspect of the holiday. Pioneered by Dr Gillian McKeith of ‘You are what you eat’ fame, it involves eating only raw food and around 15 portions of fruit and vegetables every day. Daniel, the lovely chef who prepared our meals, tried to prove to us that healthy eating choices can be even more delicious than our favourite comfort foods. He showed us how to turn a courgette into pasta, parsnip into rice, a banana into ice cream and hemp seeds into milk. For some of the dishes, I had to agree, his method did work as the cuisine was lick-your-lips delicious. I was not convinced I could live on raw food for life, however, especially in Irish winters.

After a few days of wheatgrass, veggie juices and simply healthy eating in the sun, I found my energy levels had increased even if I was not noticing dramatic changes to my body just yet. I actually felt more bloated than when I had arrived but I was assured this is a natural part of the detox process.

I had been home just a day and work pressures encouraged me to slip back into my old routine of eating chocolate and drinking coffee. I did plan to start growing my own wheatgrass but it kept getting shoved further down my ‘to do’ list. All hope was not lost, however, as I was about to try another detox a week later – this time in Donegal.

While the weather in March might not be the most enticing time to take a break in Ireland, I was invigorated by the itinerary of Body and Soul Retreat. Both the weekend and week-long programmes are designed for maximum impact on your fitness. The retreat first started in Brazil six years ago where guests included Big Brother’s Davina McCall and Jade Goody. Since relocating the retreat to the less exotic Donegal, Director Aidan Boyle has adapted the itinerary around the ‘wee’ county’s abundant resources.

The checklist of things to bring had me forewarned that I would not be twiddling my thumbs for the three-day detox. Hiking boots and waterproof clothing were just some of the essentials. I was not overly concerned about trekking through marshy bogland: it was the lack of food that again had me worried.

It was a dreary evening as I pulled into Harvey’s Point car park, but the stunning lakeside hotel instantly made up for the bad weather. Unlike my basic accommodation in Lanzarote, I had my own plush executive room complete with a massive marble bathroom. I instantly warmed to this attitude of ‘if you do a detox, do it in style.’

The 6.30am wake-up call was not the easiest to contend with but starting the day with an hour-long yoga workout was invigorating. While I anticipated the outdoor activities to be the most beneficial part of this weekend, this time the yoga was equally rewarding. Our instructor, Michele, took into account the different levels and encouraged those who wanted to be challenged to try difficult positions. With two classes of yoga a day, our bodies were well stretched and relaxed as we retreated to our king size beds at night.

Our itinerary for the weekend included six yoga classes, two hikes, a bike ride and two massages. The first day we climbed the Blue Stack Drive which was more of a long arduous walk than a tough incline. Although my sister had kindly worn in my hiking boots for me on the Inca Trail in Peru, my ankles still cut open from the hard leather. Energy levels dipped intermittently on the walk as we had just a flask of soup and two pieces of fruit each. But the lively banter among the group kept the spirits up and we arrived back at the hotel looking forward to our hot baths and massages.

Known for its exquisite cuisine, Harvey’s Point ensured we had a taste of its delicacies, but in minimal portions. Breakfast was either body-warming porridge with prunes, or a poached egg on a bed of spinach. Calorie intake was restricted to 1200 calories per day so that we would detox as much as possible. It was also recommended to drink cupfuls of ginger tea which was available in the lounge – where we could chill out between activities with magazines and newspapers. Our three-course evening meal included small portions of sumptuously cooked fish, artfully crafted vegetables and light soups. Although most of our 12 strong group diligently followed the prescribed diet, I succumbed to the shortbread biscuits in my hotel room on one occasion, after my second hike. It was a small pleasure that was worth the guilt.

Our hike on day two was more challenging as we climbed to the highest seacliff in Europe. This time we were exposed to the temperamental Irish weather with the sun beaming down on us one minute and the hail lashing down the next. Our guide, Michael, encouraged us all the way along the breathtaking scenic trails and kept us entertained with his local knowledge, along with some celebrity gossip about Donegal regulars Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick.

By the end of day two I could already see the toning effects of outdoor exercise and yoga, But it was the bike ride on the last day that really tested my fitness - or lack of it. The lashing rain hindered many of the group from venturing out, but a few of us dared to brave the ten-mile cycle around the lake. Half a mile into it and my thighs ached and I wanted to cry as the harsh rain whipped against my face. I huffed and puffed up the hills and freewheeled down, fearing the rolling hills ahead. There were several times I wanted to turn back, but I stuck with the challenge. Seeing the hotel in the distance two hours later was like entering the gates of heaven as I gathered all the energy I could muster until I was back in the warmth of a power shower. I was like a drowned rat, drenched to the bone, and my runners filled like small lakes. But I didn't care as I was reeling from the arduous workout.

While I had hoped to return with a perfectly toned physique, two detox holidays have made me realise it takes more than a weekend for such wonders to work. But it does prepare you physically and mentally to become more fit and healthy. Despite being an avid sun worshipper, the detox in Donegal served me better. The retreat in Lanzarote is suitable for someone who wants to just switch off from every day life, soak up some sun, and eat extremely healthily. Body and Soul was more enjoyable and its rigorous regime ensures you will tone up.

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