In the four months since I'd moved to London from sunny, active, health-conscious Sydney, my usual health and fitness routine had quietly been replaced by what many had warned me about: the dreaded 'Heathrow Injection', that need-to-buy-a-bigger-belt feeling that comes after sampling all the food and drink this city has to offer. My weeks were blurring into a haze of takeaways and pub visits and the most exercise I was getting was when I ran for the tube.
Less than two hours south of London, there's a retreat dedicated to taking those who've found themselves in a similar situation in London and around the country, and moulding them into healthier, more mindful and yes, lighter people.
Slimmeria Health Retreat
, located in Crowhurst, just north of Hastings, is a refuge for many a fed-up soul, looking to kick start healthier habits.
Following a strictly regimented diet and exercise program for stays of anywhere from a few days to several weeks, it delivers results - and fast.
Be warned: it is intense. Here's the basic itinerary for the Saturday I spent at the retreat:
- Wake up
- a cup of hot lemon water
- 3-hour hike across fields and hills
- Breakfast: a sliver of apple (You'll eat this very slowly, trust me)
- 1 hour weights/aerobics class
- Lunch (see picture below - these are healthy, delicious but VERY low-calorie meals)
- Free time, with several options in front of you: Another walk is encouraged for optimum weight loss, but you could also book a treatment at the onsite massage and beauty spa. I had a massage that involved being whipped with birch branches (I felt like asking if they were edible, to be quite honest).
- A carrot soup dinner (stay with me)
- Curfew! This is bedtime (trust me, you'll be pretty exhausted)
Sound tough? It is at times, but there's also an incredibly positive atmosphere among the staff and fellow guests that will help you through. Slimmeria's founder is Galia, an enthusiastic, slightly eccentric Russian woman with an arsenal of jokes and an undeniably infectious energy to lighten the mood among her sometimes weary charges. Honestly, this woman can sell you that aforementioned carrot soup and make it sound like you're getting a full roast dinner.
On our three-hour-return morning hike to the neighbouring village of Battle - one that I thought I'd handle with ease, but which proved quite a tiring slog without the morning cup of coffee I hadn't skipped in, ooh, about 10 years - Galia (pictured below) opened up about the philosophy underpinning Slimmeria.
Having had her own battles to control her weight, she looked to her ancestors for the answers. "Every culture, every religion - there's an element of fasting there," she told us. And yet, not only is it rarely practiced in modern Western society, most of us are so used to having our culinary desires sated (often by salty, sugary and overly refined foods) that it's rare we every truly feel hungry at all.
At Slimmeria, you'll feel hungry alright. If, like me, you're a caffeine addict, you'll also most likely feel all the side-effects (headaches, tiredness, nausea) that hit when you cut that out - they do pass, though. Chances are, you'll also hanker for a wine in those hours after dinner and before lights out.
Ours was a bite-sized taste of life at Slimmeria, but in the approximately 48 hours we were there, my companion and I both lost around two kilograms, or a good five pounds. Galia boasts that the average weekly weight loss for participants is 12lbs - and several of those who weighed in at the same time as us (and had been there all week) were thrilled to find they'd exceeded that magic number.
If you're looking for the sort of 'wellness retreat' where you're pampered, spoiled and delivered cocktails and snacks poolside while listening to chill out music, for the love of god, don't choose Slimmeria - you'll be miserable. But if you're looking for a fitness challenge, and you want to shock yourself out of unhealthy habits, it's an ideal option.
And guess what? It really does work. Since returning, those boozy pub meals and end-of-day takeout runs are still a still a feature of my average week, but at least a few times a week they're replaced by a run, a meal of steamed veggies, and a few tall glasses of water. And despite spending much of the two days we were there joking about running to the nearest all-you-can-eat buffet as soon as we left the retreat, in the end, after checking out we treated ourselves to a simple coffee and a piece of toast each. And you know what? My GOD did they taste good.
, Hye House, Royal Oak Lane, Crowhurst
Prices start from £535 for a weekend detox spa program in a basic room with shared bathroom, going up to £1980 for a bells-and-whistles one week spa retreat staying in the gorgeous Four Poster or Garden Suites.
The enforced health kick will leave you feeling strangely blissed out (we spent our Saturday evening bouncing on the trampoline in the grounds, giggling. A change from a usual Saturday night in London, that's for sure). The sense of camaraderie among guests is palpable, too - many return just for the supportive, collegiate atmosphere.
To be honest, the much-feared hunger is largely manageable - you're eating food, it just has less calories than what you're probably used to. HOWEVER: if you're a caffeine addict, at some point in your detox that's gonna hit you like a ton of bricks. Ride it out, and it'll pass.
The writer attended as a guest of Slimmeria.