Does the detox retreat live up to the hype? Roxie Nafousi investigates
Words by Roxie Nafousi
In November last year, I got the opportunity to visit the infamous VIVA MAYR in Austria. I’d heard a lot about this place over the years – it’s said to be THE detox retreat for the rich and famous (hello, Kate Moss), with business tycoons and Russian oligarchs regularly passing through its infamous doors.
The more I read about it, the more I was becoming increasingly intrigued by this elusive place. I needed to go and find out for myself exactly why people part ways with thousands upon thousands of pounds to spend their time in a medical detox clinic that I heard encourages endless chewing, regular colonics and food rationing. What were they going for? Health/wellness/vanity? I needed to find out…
Upon arriving at the enormous, stunning glass building located at the foot of Austrian mountains, I was shown to my room where I was told my dinner was waiting: the restaurant was already closed (it was only 6.45pm). ‘Dinner’ consisted of 3 rice crackers and 3 small slithers of cheese. My Saturday nights used to consist of a couple of Cosmos, a steak and chips plus multiple desserts. What was I really letting myself in for? It suddenly dawned on me that this was a serious detox programme, not a fluffy luxury retreat.
On the first morning I had an appointment with my designated doctor, who I would see every day for the duration of my stay. After a lengthy health assessment, a diet programme and full schedule for the week was created for me, tailored specifically for my detox goals.
I initially thought I would find a week here dull; they don’t encourage exercise and I had no phone either – it died on the way to airport, which was either fate or a happy coincidence, but after seeing how much I had to do in a day, I realised that one thing I wouldn’t be was bored.
My days were to be filled with daily massages, intravenous infusions, vigorous abdominal massages, oxygen therapy, underwater treatments, allergy testing, acro-yoga (see below for a visual reference), saline inhalation, and even making dates with the in house therapist. In the free time you do have, you could take a 2 hour walk around the stunning lake, use the incredible spa (with no less than 4 saunas to choose from) or have a nap by the fireplace.
There is no doubt that the main focus of ‘The Cure’ at VIVA MAYR is digestion. As soon as you wake up each morning you are instructed to drink a glass of water with Epsom Salts and then wait an hour before breakfast… the salts are designed to get your body to eliminate waste and clear up your gut ready for the day. Meal times at VIVA MAYR are a silent and solitary affair; Talking is forbidden and you sit alone at your designated table so that you can focus on chewing your food up to 40 times per mouthful (!).
During a medical lecture on the first evening it was explained to us that the enzymes released in your salvia are key for breaking down food, hence the emphasis on taking our time to eat. It’s just as well really, as the portions are small, the constant chewing actually makes the meal last so much longer than the normal-chewing-me would have it last, and the slow pace of eating means you feel surprisingly full on so little.
We are also taught that drinking water during meal times dilutes our stomach acid, also hindering the digestion process, so drinking water 30 minutes before and after meals is also discouraged. These are definitely two principles that I have tried to keep in mind back at home.
At VIVA MAYR you are encouraged to relax, unwind and completely detach from everyday life. On the first few days, I found this really hard. I was suffering from some detox symptoms (mild headaches, extreme lethargy) and I was still feeling anxious and stressed about what was happening at home.
By day 4 though, I had fully embraced this chance really switch off and just be at peace in this alpine bubble. I was so happy chatting with my lovely group of new friends, all of whom seemed happy to act as each others’ therapists throughout the week, and I was hardly giving London a second thought. I couldn’t remember ever feeling this relaxed in my adult life.
I could suddenly see why they were constantly telling us not to use our phones too much and not to take any work calls. We are all so used to being in a state of constant stress, programmed to be available at the end of the phone to whoever needs us, it’s little wonder that so many of us are not feeling our best physically and mentally – all that cortisol in our body is no good for our body and mind.
I cherished every moment of peace and quiet and couldn’t believe how good it felt; I knew that I needed to take this feeling with me and make a conscious effort to take more time to really switch off back home.
While most people who attend VIVA MAYR attend for 10 days to 3 weeks (they say it takes 3 weeks for The Cure to be totally complete), I only went for 7 days so I wasn’t sure just how different I would feel. Well, apparently, a lot can happen in just seven days.
In one week I had literally transformed as a person and even now, 2 months on, I look back at that week as a real turning point in my life. Physically, I lost 3.5kg, which was an amazing feeling as I had been carrying an extra stone for the last 2 years that I couldn’t shift. The constant complaints of being tired are, too, a distant memory and my hives are no longer appearing on my body whenever they want.
The programme strips and cleanses your gut and focuses on deep detoxification and an alkaline diet so that your body can function at its optimum and to heal and prevents your body from various illnesses that are caused by toxic build up, poor diets and damaged gut lining.
I have written before about the research on gut health and mental health and so it is not surprising that not only did I feel physically better, but mentally and spiritually I felt like brand new. It was as though a cloud was lifted and I suddenly had clarity to see what I really wanted to focus my attention on when I returned home so that I could live my happiest life. No more toxic food, toxic people or toxic situations from now on. I am a convert.
Roxie Nafousi is contributing writer for Marie Claire, lifestyle blogger and Mental Health Foundation Ambassador. You can find her on Instagram @roxienafousi