I have just emerged from four days at Grayshott Spa on the Amanda Hamilton Body Cleanse and Weight Loss programme. There is something about English country home retreats which are quite different from spas anywhere else in the world. Despite all branding attempts, they are still colloquially known as health farms and everyone slopes around all day in dressing gowns, adding to the feel of a clinic. Outside, everything is green and lush - the perfect contrast to Abu Dhabi in July.
It is where stressed city execs go to switch off, working mothers to relax and elderly ladies to be pampered. Grayshott has always been in the top league of what we now call destination spas. It resisted the introduction of new ideas for longer than most but changed management a couple of years ago. For once they got it right - they kept all the therapists, most of whom had been there for years, and got rid of the floral carpets, hanging baskets and any vestiges of the philosophy that you are not there to enjoy yourself. But they are still probably the most serious, and unlike most of the other major names they still turn away hen parties to the relief of the rest of us.
Where most spas elsewhere are rooted in a particular eastern philosophy, English country homes are purely and simply about wellness. Their bread and butter is treating the two major western diseases: stress and excess weight. The detox programme was introduced two months ago and I can claim to be the cupid, for I was asked to recommend a nutritionist: I suggested Hamilton and effected the introduction.
So I was intrigued to test it. Amanda Hamilton is best known for her managed juice fast retreats complete with colonic cleansing - they are not for the fainthearted. Grayshott plans to run some in the autumn, but in line with the time-poor needs of its clientele, has also introduced a milder form in which guests can choose to stay for four or seven days. The package differentiates from the norm by three main categories: the food, the inclusive treatments and the diagnostic tests.
First, the food. The main aim is to cleanse the body (losing weight is the by-product). This means no butter, salt, dairy, sugar, honey, meat or wheat. Everything is chosen in order to help the liver and to have the maximum number of nutrients. Breakfast is juice - a varying mix of freshly squeezed fruit and vegetables - with another one at 11am. Lunch is " liver loving" - a detoxifying broth followed by huge salads with delicious dressings made out of puréed fruit or roasted peppers and oils.
Supper is more soup and selected protein - fish, egg, pulses - with more vegetables than you can possibly eat. The detoxers eat an hour earlier than other guests to avoid temptation. But this is not deprivation. We all agree that if we could take the chef home we could eat like this forever. The tests are rather grimmer, though it is impossible not to marvel at how simple it is to gain such complex information. The food intolerance tests consists of the lovely in-house nutritionist, Paula, jabbing a tube just below your knuckles to test over 100 different foods. The results are immediate - I was diagnosed intolerant to citrus fruits (except lemon which is largely alkaline) prawns and cabbage. The point being not that these are allergies, but that the body finds them harder work to digest.
Next is Body Stat. I stand on a machine with my arms stretched out and incomprehensively, it analyses how my weight is distributed - the exact measurement of the fluid in the muscles and organs, the protein and the fat. It makes for grim reading. The keeper of the machine points at a figure only just in single figures and says that is the amount of kilos of fat I have to lose. Although he says if I convert some of it to muscle that would be OK.
A graph shows my legs are balanced and normal, but I have too much fluid in my right arm and too much fat round my middle. Just as I think this is too much information he points at another figure. It shows I am not clinically obese. Well, that is something to be grateful for I suppose. Most delicious of all are the treatments. The Vital Energy Detox Massage uses Ila products and starts with a scrub followed by a soothing massage focusing on the marma points. The lymphatic drainage uses Thalgo products and also starts with a scrub. They are so relaxing and I am so tired that I fall asleep through both of them. The third inclusive treatment is micronised marine algae wrap in which warm seaweed pulp is pasted onto your body and then wrapped. All are about helping to move the toxins out of the body.
I leave Monday morning, feeling wonderful and one kilo lighter. Now the hard part - keeping it up to lose the other seven.