She is a woman who loves her junk food so why did Catherine Townsend book into a notoriously tough detox centre? And would a regime of clay drinks, carrot juice and caffeine enemas improve her health?
I’ve never been one to do anything halfway. Still, as I hiked up the hill to my room in intense heat with a coffee enema bucket in one hand and a bag full of pills in the other, I wondered what the hell I’d got myself into by booking one of the world’s most hardcore detox holidays. This was the luxurious but punishing Spa Samui, star of many a reality TV show, most notably Channel Five’s Celebrity Detox Camp, where Tamara Beckwith and Kim Wilde starved on camera. It may have been car-crash television, but they got results.
Normally, I try to strike a balance with food: I eat lots of oily fish, fruits, vegetables and brown rice, but also love to load up on Domino’s pizza, red wine and chocolate. I’ve always associated detox with deprivation: no alcohol, no dairy, no wheat, no fat equals no fun. But after writing two books in a year and partying non-stop during Christmas, it was time to give something back to my liver.
Guy and Toi Hopkins founded Spa Samui in 1992. As well as offering a world-renowned cleansing programme, the spa is reputed to have some of the best vegetarian food in Thailand. Not that I would be eating much of it, since I was doing the strict Seven Day Clean-me-out programme, which meant no solid food for a week. I would be surviving on specially prepared “detox drinks”, herbal supplements and fresh juices.
After a 10-hour flight to Bangkok and a short hop to Koh Samui, I arrived at Spa Samui Village and was presented with my welcome pack, which included a tongue strip to test whether my body was alkaline enough to start the fast the next morning. I’d done a day of “pre-cleansing” to prepare my body, which involved drinking a liver flush drink (garlic, cayenne, olive oil, lemon juice, orange juice and ginger) and eating fruits and salad. I’d taken a few belts of cognac on the plane, but my tongue strip still turned blue, showing that my body was alkaline enough to proceed.
The next morning, I got up in my bungalow at the crack of dawn and reported to the bar at 7am for the first of six detox drinks of the day. The drink is made from pineapple or watermelon juice mixed with psyllium husks (a natural laxative that fends off hunger pangs as it swells in your stomach) and bentonite a calcium clay which draws out any impacted matter from the colon.
It tastes pretty foul, but I was advised that I had to drink it quickly, before it clotted and got really sticky. I pinched my nose and gulped it down before chasing the concoction with water, and headed to morning meditation.
I was developing a serious headache due to caffeine deprivation. The five detox drinks were served at three-hour intervals. In between, I took six pills at a time, with an extra tablet at night to help to replace the friendly bacteria that were removed during the cleanse.
So every hour and a half, I was either downing a detox drink or taking supplements. They tasted like dirt, but staved off the hunger pangs. And since several of the guests were on the same schedule, the pill-popping gave me a chance to chat with fellow fasters. I was encouraged to hear that most were repeat customers, with everyone from seventysomething hippy pals from Australia to a thirtysomething Hong Kong trader and a group of LA girlfriends who were getting over break-ups, and doing an “emotional detox” at the same time.
Later, after watching an instructional video, I went back to my room for my first “colema”, an enema based on coffee and cider vinegar that I had to administer using a board, a bucket, a hose and a bulldog clip. I had to do a lot of deep breathing to get through it, and remind myself of the spa’s motto, “Shit happens”! Some more adventurous souls used a basket to trap and examine their waste matter. I didn’t.
On my first attempt, a gecko ran across the wall and, literally, scared the crap out of me, but after that it was pretty smooth sailing.
In addition to detox drinks, I also had coconut water, carrot juice and wheatgrass juice, as well as “vegetable juice broth”, which tasted like cabbage water.
In between the meditation, yoga, and self-administered enemas, I chilled out in the herbal steam room, and had several fantastic massage treatments, which were ridiculously cheap at under 10 each, and took my mind off my growling stomach. But by the end of day two, I was starting to hit a wall. My caffeine headache was still raging, and unlike most of the guests I spoke to, my hunger pangs were so intense that I considered eating my bar of oatmeal soap. Alarmingly, I started vomiting up yellow bile, and got very nauseous.
I called Dr John, the resident chiropractor and fasting expert, and he told me that my nausea wasn’t due to lack of food. “Your body is expelling toxins, it’s just kicking them back up rather than letting them pass through your liver,” he said, assuring me that the nausea would pass. I drank more coconut water with a shot of goji berry juice, and took a nap.
By day three, the fog had lifted, and I felt amazing. The pores in my skin were invisible, I was bright-eyed on five hours of sleep, and my caffeine headache had cleared. Even my irises were clear for the first time in recent memory.
I was emotionally detoxing as well, and letting go of angst that had stayed with me through a past on-off relationship. I tried qi gong exercises, and the tea ceremony when I felt social, but spent a lot of lazy time alone lying on my hammock, or writing.
Unfortunately, by the end of day four, I knew I would have to break the fast early. I still wasn’t hungry and was feeling terrific, but I’m over five foot 10 tall and my weight had dropped to under eight-and-a-half stone, which for me was taking things a bit too far. I wanted to be slim and healthy, not look like Skeletor. I was really disappointed, but Dr John told me to ease up on myself.
“It’s best not to have any preconceived ideas about what you have to do when you get here,” he said. “You should always listen to your body.” So on the fourth night, I took my final Flora Grow drink, and the next morning broke my fast with a mouth-watering concoction of papaya, mango, goat’s milk yoghurt and bee pollen. After not tasting food for days, it was better than sex.
For the next three days, I loaded up on raw fruits and vegetables, seeds, and juices, and was so inspired by how amazing I felt that I took a raw cooking class offered by the chef.
For someone who uses her oven as storage space, this was a life-changing moment. And although I’m not ready to give up my pizza and red wine habit just yet, my time at the spa has left a lasting impression. I’ve bought a raw-food cookbook, cut my caffeine to one coffee or tea per day and made it my goal to make raw fruits and vegetables 50 per cent of my diet.
I’m not in danger of turning into Madonna and obsessing over every morsel. But I will do a one- to three-day fast every month, and continue with colonics. After seeing the crap that comes out from eating fatty foods, I’m in no hurry to put it back in.