We were a mixed bunch gathered at Grayshott spa in Surrey on a sunny winter morning – 16 of us in total, ages ranging from 30s to 80s, all female apart from one man with his wife.
The conspicuous blue rubber bands around our wrists marked us out as a ‘special group’ – not exactly ‘nil by mouth’, but we faced a week of challenging food restrictions as willing participants on the spa’s ‘digestive cleansing’ regime.
The premise of the Grayshott programme is quite simple – if your gut is not working, then neither will anything else. As the Grayshott team state: “Get your digestion in good shape and all other systems in your body can restore, cleanse, and balance.”
Sounds great. Now what do I actually get to eat??
Well the good news is, it’s not a fast – well, not totally. The regime always runs from Wednesday to Wednesday, and there’s partial fasting on Fridays and Monday – like the 5:2 diet, only in more pampered surroundings.
Food, or rather the removal of certain food groups, is a major part of the programme. So complex carbohydrates such as grains, dairy and starchy vegetables are out, as they require a lot of digestive energy. As is sugar, which we’re told will starve undesirable pathogens in the gut.
In are high quality lean meats, healthy fats, low-GI fruit and vegetables, a few legumes, and some of the trendy new ‘superfoods’ like chia.
Just a few of the things that past regime participants have reported include better blood sugar management, improved energy, reduced sugar cravings, better sleep, disappearance of brain fog, and better quality skin and hair, and of course, weight loss.
I didn’t feel that I had any major health issues to address, apart from still carrying a lot of my baby weight two years on! So the loss of a few pounds is a welcome prospect for me.
While weight loss is not the main aim of the programme, I’m told most participants skip out gleefully and glowing one week later, typically 5-7 pounds lighter.
My fellow participants have their own reasons for being there. One lady is a type 2 diabetic trying to avoid succumbing to the pressures of taking more and more medication, while another wants to take more care of herself after the stress of nursing her elderly mother.
Two of the ladies are returnees, delighted with the results they’d experienced on the regime last year, and one is a retired stage actress who admitted she didn’t really know what programme she’d booked onto!
Previously regimes that focus purely on the digestion have only been available in the more medicalised clinics, such as Viva Mayr and the FX Mayr Health Center (previously Mayr and More) in Austria. So Grayshott is really leading the way in the UK for this type of ‘treatment’, and I’m told they’re now attracting visitors from all over the world.
It’s a lovely place to be – just a short drive from the small village of Grayshott in leafy Surrey. The main manor house is beautifully restored with huge imposing oak entrance doors, a large reception area with galleried landing and ornate staircase, a large and elegant lounge area with comfy sofas and copies of Homes and Garden, a cosy cinema room, oak panelled bar and traditional restaurant.
It should feel rather stuffy, but it doesn’t. The traditional decor has lots of modern twists, and it all feels very friendly, with a relaxed yet bustling vibe.
Of course there’s a more modern bit too, where you’ll find the spa and swimming pool (there’s an outdoor pool for the summer too), all the wet and dry treatment rooms, the gym, and the regular guest accommodation.
I’m delighted with my room – one of the superior suites in the main house, overlooking the manicured lawns to the back. It has a huge comfy bed, plush armchairs, painted wardrobes, TV and lots of nice magazines to read.
As we’re on the regime, we all eat in the bright conservatory – well away from the main guests who are busy tucking into sumptuous yet healthy buffet-loads of food next door.
Actually our food is great too. It’s beautifully presented and mouth-wateringly good – there’s just not a lot of it.
Each meal started with some digestive ‘aperitifs’ of sauerkraut and herbal bitters to get the stomach juices flowing, and ended with the taking of probiotics to improve our gut flora.
In between, how could we complain about piquillo pepper and spinach omelette for breakfast, carrot and coconut soup with Thai spiced chicken breast and salad for lunch, and Barbary duck with salsify and hazelnut crumble for dinner?
My mouth is watering again just typing those words.
Alas there were no desserts on offer, although I couldn’t help but think a cacao-avocado mousse with natural sweeteners might have brightened up our day on the odd occasion.
Portions are carefully controlled, so in the first few days I feel the gnawing edge of hunger before each meal, but this did at least make the arrival of the semi-fast days less of a shock.
On Mondays and Fridays, breakfast is skipped, the group has a light lunch together, and a simple bowl of broth is served in your room in the evening.
Surviving the fast
It feels like a long time between lunch and ‘dinner’. By the time that tiny bowl of broth arrives I’m so hungry I practically inhale it. That leaves a long evening ahead. I could stroll down and see what film is showing in the cinema, but I content myself with an early night in a blissfully comfortable bed.
You can do a little or a lot on the regime. I opted for a little, given that this was my first ever break away from my two year old who was left in daddy’s capable hands. I had little energy in those first couple of days.
I found the treatments and activities included on the regime kept me busy enough. There’s a personal health consultation with blood analysis with the nurse and body composition analysis with head fitness trainer Rav (HOW much did you say I needed to lose Rav?), a bespoke nutritional therapy session, therapeutic abdominal massage to further aid your digestion, a soothing hydrotherapy bath and castor oil compresses (I was bit sceptical about the efficacy of these) to aid detoxification.
I managed one of the early morning guided walks which takes advantage of some of the 700 acres of neighbouring National Trust land. Although classed as ‘medium’ it was pretty fast paced and I found myself lagging behind at the back, having a fascinating chat with a day spa guest – a glamorous electric violinist who travelled the world with her classical girl group.
Aside from the great food, the best part of the regime for me was the very comprehensive range of daily talks and lectures delivered by the resident nutritionists and visiting lecturers, who were always available after the sessions and during lunch for further questions.
They covered topics like stress management, which fats and carbohydrates to eat and which to avoid and the healing nature of deep breathing. None of the talks were dumbed down, but instead delivered the latest scientific thinking on diet and health combined with practical tips to try at home.
The only thing lacking perhaps was the chance to do some practical cooking sessions too, and maybe a book of take-home recipes would have helped with the return to ‘normal’ life. I could tell some participants felt a bit unsure about how to proceed.
I’m told Grayshott’s talented chef Adam Palmer is working on a cookbook. I just hope it won’t favour fancy images and gourmet recipes over really useful information.
You can’t really come away from this regime feeling anything less than fabulous. It’s fascinating how quickly things can turn around too. From feeling weak and shaky on those first couple of days, to finding yourself brimming with energy by day three.
Among our group, eyes shine, cheeks glow and that patina of whatever is was that was weighing them down – a stressful job or home life, a long commute, a poor diet (frequently all of that) has been magically rubbed off.
Off course we all know that the shine of a spa visit soon wears off if we go back to our old ways. But I do think, if you absorb and act on all the scientifically-backed advice that Grayshott dishes out, you can significantly improve your health.
With prices starting at £1500, it’s not a cheap week, but if you do have the money, receive an unexpected windfall or get five numbers on the Lottery, and you really need some expert health advice and a guided regime, I do think it’s a great investment in your health.
Personally I arrived home feeling very rested, armed with fresh knowledge and renewed healthy eating resolutions, three pounds lighter, and ready to take on my energetic toddler again! I’d missed him so much.
For more details, visit: https://www.grayshottspa.com/grayshott-health/the-grayshott-programme/
Life and Chai stayed as a guest of Grayshott