This month I did something a little bit rogue. ‘What’s that?!’ I hear you say. Did you drink two bottles of wine to yourself, go out to a bar, climb up onto a speaker and then shout ‘THIS IS HUMAN RIGHTS’ at a bouncer who told you to get down?
Not this time no.
No no my friends, this time I did something really out of the ordinary. I booked myself in for a detox retreat.
Yes, you did hear that correctly. 8 whole days of an entirely vegan diet, regular exercise in the form of hiking (yikes) and yoga and absolutely no alcohol or…even worse…coffee. GULP.
No booze. No coffee. No fun.
It had seemed like a really good idea at the time. I was hungover, it was a Monday and I had just discovered a spot the size of a small planet on my chin.
Now I am not usually one for dramatic snap decisions (lol) but I’d had a horrible feeling over the past few weeks that the ‘holiday weight’ I’d been hanging on to since Christmas 2013 was not going to go anywhere unless I took some serious action.
After some extensive research (drinking wine and googling ‘how to be worryingly thin detox big detox’) my mother and I settled on Olive Retreat. We based this decision on some sound solid reasoning:
1) They offered three full meals a day. We both acknowledged that 8 days of drinking only juice was better suited to the Millie Mackintosh’s of this world rather than a girl who once cried actual tears when she dropped her sandwich on the ground at the beach.
2) It looked SO PRETTY. They say don’t judge a book by its cover but sorry I’m gonna. Olive Retreat is based in a beautiful Andalusian farmhouse and I could just picture myself wandering around the hills, thin as a rake in a white dress, hair blowing in the breeze. (the fact that the only way I’d be thin as a rake is if someone from Hogwarts actually transfigured me into a rake and I don’t own a white dress because…spilling… is by the by.)
Anyway as D Day approached I found myself growing more and more nervous and bizarrely adopting a ‘must-destroy-self-with-all-the-booze-and-all-the-pizza’ mentality. As if somehow my normal state didn’t present enough of a challenge to the retreat.
We arrived in Malaga airport a full 6 hours before we were due to picked up. My organisational skills were already shining through.
Fun side note guys – I used to be a travel planner. Yes, really.
Anyhow this gave mum and I the chance to explore Malaga old town. I have no idea why but for some reason I was under the impression that Malaga would be a wasteland of Brits in string vests and passed out drunk teenagers. A bit like when we went to a particularly dodgy part of Mallorca (hint it rhymed with shagafloof) and there was a man passed out on the sun lounger outside our hotel and we had to physically restrain a pal who shall remain anonymous from eating his half chewed pizza. Let no one tell you we are not the classiest of ladies.
I was wrong however. Malaga old town is actually beautiful and well worth a visit. Think a relaxed version of the gothic quarter of Barcelona. Or just look at this picture. Easier.
The sun was shining, the birds were singing, and we were on our jolly holidays. I paint this picture to try and excuse mother and I for the EXTREMELY BAD BEHAVIOUR that followed.
Hey guys – what’s the absolutely worst thing you could do before going on a detox retreat bar injecting heroin into your eyeballs? (potensh a tad too far).
I think it might be drinking a bottle of wine, eating a huge cheesy salad and chasing it down with a coffee the size of your head.
We headed back to the airport for pickup, early again. But as I sagely pointed out to my mother:
‘It’s best to be early. We are, after all, drunk. You can’t be late and drunk. Early and drunk. Late and sober. Those are the rules’
Seriously when is someone going to commission my little book of inspiring phrases. A welcome addition to bookshelves in JOY the Store the world over.
Anyway, we made it back to the airport in one piece and were met by Ray and Christina from Olive Retreat to embark upon our detox journey.
8 days of detoxing both our minds and bodies followed. Based in a beautiful farmhouse surrounded by mountains we hiked, did morning yoga as the sun came up, ate delicious food and dug into what it means to be happy.
The stay is supported by Christina (resident nutritionist and owner of the glowiest skin I have ever seen), Ray (all round wise man and inventor of some of the most delicious porridge I have ever eaten) and Dan (storyteller extraordinaire and potentially most chilled out man on the planet). There’s also Enrique and Anna, two of the nicest people I have ever met, offering massage therapies.
Our days are structured around exercise and meals along with a nutrition class and a mindfulness session but there’s plenty of free time and everything is optional. It’s a testament to the retreat however that everyone throws themselves into it. Even me, Cynic of the Year 2016.
It’s worth mentioning that if you’re looking for 5* star luxury this probably isn’t the right place for you. The location is beautiful but it’s rural and unpolished. Our group all agrees that this suits us down to the ground however if you’re looking for daily maid service and full Spa facilities then think again. This isn’t about showy instagrammable moments (cough millie mackintosh cough) but more about actually getting to grips with your own health and happiness.
I learnt so much at Olive Retreat. Allow me to impart my wisdom.
1)Looking after your body is a full time job
I’m not joking when I say I spend a lot of my time thinking about how I can subsist on a diet of pizza and cake and wear a bikini without looking like this:
So perhaps the most important thing I learnt at Olive Retreat was that, guess what, you just can’t do that. And neither should you want to.
In fact, the more we learn at Olive about the food industry, the way our bodies digest food and the effects of certain foods on the body the less and less appealing all my favourite foods seem.
Knowledge is power here. If you understand what that Dominos pizza does to your digestive system (spoiler alert – nothing good), it becomes a frankly unappealing prospect.
Perhaps one of the most important lessons I learn here, the one that really sticks with me, is to think of our bodies as separate entities. Like a child you are taking care of. Would you feed your precious offspring food that makes them fat, tired and unhappy? No. Would you let them drink so much wine that they were violently sick into their own handbag? Hopefully not, Parent of the Year.
It’s a fairly uncomfortable realisation, even for someone with no desire to procreate in the near future.
The rationale here is that looking after your body is a full time job. There is no mention of quick fixes, diets or radical weight loss programs. Rather Olive Retreat gives you the tools you need to change your life, to make healthier choices without it feeling like a chore and to lose weight safely and keep it off. Plus, they make it seem completely unintimidating. And that’s pretty invaluable.
2)Being healthy does not mean being hungry
Ok so this one comes with a caveat. Not being hungry does not equal unbuttoning your jeans on the bus lest you get sliced in half after you took on an all you can eat Chinese buffet.
Don’t get me wrong, Christina extols the principles of a balanced life. At no point during this retreat does she say ‘you can’t have this’ or ‘all carbs are evil’ or ‘put down that pizza you manatee’.
Olive retreat isn’t about deprivation; in fact I don’t feel hungry once during my entire stay. Apart perhaps from the liquid day when being unable to untangle my headphones lead to me throwing them on the floor whilst shouting ‘BULLSHIT’ and then tearily apologising to the resident dog Simba.
So if it’s not about being hungry what is it about? Christina tells us it’s about connecting our minds and our stomachs.
This is probably the hardest part of the retreat for me. I am not and have never been good at stopping when I am full. And it’s a fairly common problem for generation ‘clear your plate or you won’t get any pudding’. Combine that with my innate umm…how to put this…oh yes greediness means that I finish most meals feeling like if I made any sudden movements my stomach might spontaneously explode.
Before arriving at Olive Retreat I assumed that meals would be served in carefully designated portions but this is not the case. Food is plentiful, served family style in the middle of the beautiful oak table and absolutely delicious. It is completely up to us how much we eat and this, while daunting, is perhaps the best preparation for continuing a healthy lifestyle at home.
Christina encourages us to eat mindfully, to take notice of our bodies and how they feel. There is no judgement for going in for a second helping, as long as you are hungry and its eye opening to realise how much food it takes to fill me up.
Hint: a lot bloody less than I usually eat.
Another virtue of this method of eating is that, guess what, it’s quite nice not to feel so sluggish you may as well be a slug after a meal. I find myself bounding off for hikes, full of energy which is revolutionary considering that after lunch at work I usually have to fight to keep my eyes open.
4)Vegan food is bloody delicious.
I’d like to take a moment to make a sincere apology to my little sister. Along with being an absolute mega-babe she is also a committed Vegan, health blogger and the recipient of some pretty big piss taking from myself and other members of our family.
I kind of assumed that a vegan diet was low in protein, bland and boring and totally not for me.
I was so wrong.
Olive Retreat served me, single-handedly, the most delicious weeks’ worth of food than any holiday I have ever been on. That is no exaggeration.
Every single meal is colourful, packed with nutrients and so good that my mouth is actually watering just thinking about it now. Most importantly every meal is different from the last. We had sushi, fajitas, Moroccan and even chocolate mousse along with much more and all completely healthy and designed to make your body operate at its best.
So sorry sissy dearest. You had a point and calling you Voldemort the Vegan was not nice or kind. But it was hilarious. And this you must acknowledge.
5) There’s more to happiness than being thin
When I arrived at Olive Retreat I truly believed that all I wanted out of it was to lose a few pounds.
On our first night Dan asked us what we wanted to achieve at the retreat and I spent the time meditating on a tasselled mini skirt I had seen in Topshop and imagining myself wearing it down the pub. Yeah shallow as a puddle I know.
As the week went on, however, I came to realise that I needed so much more than that.
Olive Retreat encourages you to think about what makes you happy. About how you want to feel about yourself. Something I didn’t really understand until the third day when I went to put on a skirt and found it tighter than the previous week. TIGHTER.
I marched straight up to Christina, showed her the offending evidence and was horrified to find myself on the verge of tears.
We went outside to get some fresh air and have a chat about the possible reasons for my inexplicable weight gain.
It is then, to my horror, that I remember putting this skirt on a far too hot wash two days before I came to Olive. BUGGER.
The thing is though, the reason for the skirt being tighter has suddenly become immaterial. As I speak to Christina she asks me to think about why I so desperately want to lose weight.
She has a point. I’m not medically over weight. My body allows me to do things like run half marathons just as much as it lets me stumble home from the pub. So why have I spent most of my life on a diet?
I’m forced to admit that perhaps the need to lose weight comes from somewhere else rather than what I actually look like. Would being thinner magically solve all my problems? Probably not.
Whatever the reasons, being asked to think this reflectively was a departure from my usual ‘never mind, onwards and upwards’ mentality. Arguably it’s easier to think in terms of dress sizes and calories, in practical measurable targets than having to consider what’s actually going on under the surface. Christina listens to me, offers insightful advice and when, instead of making a joke about my appearance, I tell her (with high levels of embarrassment) that I’ve pretty much hated my body since I was about 11 years old she doesn’t tell me to stop being ridiculous.
Instead she says ‘Poor you. That is so tough.’ And suddenly it feels like something has lifted.
NB: I’d also like to attribute a small portion of blame to Beyonce’s Instagram. Damn you and your incredibly toned thighs!!!
I learnt so much more than this but I suspect I may have already gone on too long. I’ve come home with hundreds of tips on how to maintain a healthy lifestyle plus a cracking recipe for Vegan chocolate that I made for a boy from Glasgow who said ‘I’m not touching vegan chocolate with a bargepole’ (except with a lot more swearing) and even HE thought it was the tits. (all credit to Dan for this recipe).
The best thing about Olive is that they don’t just detox you and turn you out to fend for yourself. They teach you how to maintain a lifestyle that doesn’t feel out of reach.
Two weeks on I’m finding that, on the whole, I’m eating better and feeling better for it. Bouncing out of bed for work has been borderline shocking but a welcome change for fumbling for my alarm whilst hissing ‘I will end you’. I’m definitely thinner, my eyes are whiter and that annoying little double chin I had hanging around has miraculously disappeared.
But more than that I feel a bit more sure of myself, a little less cycnical. A lot less anxious and calmer in general. Which, for someone who created an alter ego called ‘anxiety girl’ at her last job is no mean feat.
Final verdict: I couldn’t recommend it enough. Just go. You’ll not regret it.
Keep your eyes peeled for healthy recipes and lifestyle tips that won’t break the bank coming here soon!