Two weeks before heading off for The Body Toolkit’s Spring Detox Retreat and panic set in. How will I cope for six days with no solids, booze, caffeine or salty snacks? I immediately shook down the office’s evil vending machine and self-medicated with a crisp sandwich.
I’m pretty healthy. I’m a vegetarian, I swim for at least three hours a week, walk loads and eat lots of fresh food. But I’m overweight. Like many people, I eat when I’m bored, have an emotional relationship with food and am addicted to salt. I rely on tea and coffee and drink a bit more than I tell my doctor. I have a couple of niggling health issues, sleep badly and am nearly always tired.
What I wanted from this week in the Highlands – at the only detox retreat in Scotland – was to get more energy to be more active, mentally and physically, to sleep better and to kick my reliance on salt.
After a breathtaking ride through spectacular scenery on the West Highland line to Lochailort, over the Glenfinnan Viaduct, a half-hour drive takes us to the luxury cottages in Mingary, on the Ardnamurchan peninsula. The other detoxers and I join Katrina Mather, who runs the retreats, for butternut squash soup and a briefing. She is a shining advert for the lifestyle she advocates – she is glowing, calm, articulate, kind and credible. She explains that juicing provides the body with loads of nutrients, so we won’t be hungry and we won’t suffer.
The benefits of juicing compared with smoothies is that it removes the fibre, allowing the body to focus on absorbing nutrients without having to waste energy digesting the difficult stuff. Yes, we need roughage, but our bodies also sometimes need a break from it to focus on healing other areas.
She warns us we might feel ropey for the first few days but it won’t last. She also says we mustn’t talk about food this week. This turns out to be wise advise. Before bed I have a magnesium bath, which is said to help with muscular tension – something that worsens during the detox process. It is also supposed to be good for counteracting the effects of high salt intake.
The eight or so of us on the detox are staying in shared, connected luxury cottages with underfloor heating, wood-burning stoves and gorgeous Highland views. We each have our own room and en suite.
Wake up at 8am, and do “oil pulling” – vigorously rinsing your mouth out with organic coconut oil for a few minutes. Oil is good at drawing out impurities, and the idea is that the bacteria that builds up in your gob overnight – particularly on a detox – needs to be pulled out. It feels weird but you get used to it. Then I have a cup of warm water with lemon to wake up my digestive system, followed by dry skin brushing, which stimulates circulation and activates lymph activity, then “hot/cool hydrotherapy” – a shower that alternates between cool and hot water.
At 9:30am we have a juice, then a walk for an hour or two, followed by a 12:30pm juice (which we have as a picnic if we’re still out). Then we do our own thing till 3:30pm (the juices are all three hours apart to prevent us from getting hungry) and in the afternoon either walk again on our own, have a nap, read or whatever we please. By 6:30pm I’m usually hungry, and Katrina serves up a soup. Bowls come perilously close to being licked.
Examples of the juices include a protein-rich option with pineapple, apple, spinach, cucumber, lime, broccoli stem, avocado, hemp protein powder, mixed seeds (sunflower, chia, pumpkin etc); and a green anti-inflammatory juice with pineapple, pear, lime, raw ginger, cucumber, celery, cauliflower and avocado. They’re mainly really tasty.
After dinner each evening Katrina talks us through systems that might help with our mental health and we watch documentaries about nutrition – or slope off alone.
Day 1 – Sunday
We learn to “chew” our juices in order to tell our digestive system to get working. Today is gloriously sunny and we have a walk around the ruined Castle Tioram on Loch Shiel, which leads to the sea. Exercise that’s enough to make us glow in the fresh air is a useful part of the process, says Katrina, who has been to juicing retreats with more of a boot camp approach, and she’s not keen, particularly as we’ll be feeling a bit delicate for a few days.
I’m very sleepy when we get back and have a 90-minute nap. We’ve been warned we might feel tired and shouldn’t resist the urge to rest. Fine by me!
That night I sleep fitfully, with crazy dreams and cold sweats.
Day 2 – Monday
I wake up feeling tired, cloudy-headed and a bit nauseous. I try to do a bit of work but it’s an effort to focus so instead sit happily but gormlessly in the lounge, staring out at Beinn Resipol and a silky sky. Another walk helps clear the cobwebs a bit. I’m trying not to think about baked potatoes.
Day 3 – Tuesday
I feel a lot better today. I’m over the worst of the withdrawal symptoms. The dark circles under my eyes are reducing.
Day 4 – Wednesday
I slept badly last night. I hadn’t planned to look at the scales till the end of the retreat but, needing encouragement, I sneaked a peek to see that 3kg had gone. Yay!
We have a fairly challenging two-hour walk to the breathtaking Singing Sands near Kentra. This takes us through woods, beaches and hills on a heart-soaringly sunny day, and we stop on one of the paths for our noon juice. Delicious.
Back at base, I’m treated to a head massage which challenges my vow not to surrender to a nap till bedtime, and we have a boat trip around Loch Shiel, spotting seals and marvelling at the sunset reflecting pink on the clear water. Everyone’s grinning and feeling amazing.
Day 5 – Thursday
After the best night’s sleep since arriving we have another walk, and everyone in the group looks and feels great. I have a reflexology session, which is a dreamy treat.
Day 6 – Friday
On the train home the catering trolley trundles by – my first will-power test. I order a mint tea. This has never happened. I get home and my husband is amazed by how (irritatingly) energetic I am.
Three weeks home
I’ve hardly had any caffeine since coming back. I still have the odd coffee as a treat but I no longer reach for it mindlessly and the only tea has been herbal. My wheat and dairy intake has been minuscule, and although I’ve had a few crisps, I genuinely see that as one-off naughtinesses. The same goes for wine. I’m juicing regularly and having smoothies every day, have lost 5kg and I sleep better than I have for years. I am much more mindful about what goes into my mouth, much more aware of the effects of processed food and it’s making a huge difference to my health. I don’t want to ruin the effects gained and I certainly want to go back.
I’d recommend this retreat for anyone who wants a kickstart to a more healthy way of living or anyone who wants to look great for a specific event like a wedding.
Prices for the Spring Detox Retreat start from £849 per person or £769 sharing. Retreats are currently held at Garmoran Square in Mingary, thebodytoolkit.com