This time last year, I thought my diet was spot on. I did everything 'right'; I avoided gluten assiduously, swapped out cows milk for the coconut variety, pasta for quinoa, and chocolatey treats for dates. I was quite literally a card-carrying member of the Planet Organic posse, drinking my Saturday morning matcha smoothie in Lululemon leggings post-yoga class.
Only thing is, it wasn’t working. I don’t just mean on the weight front - though I did have a stubborn tyre of fat around my stomach that no amount of ashtanga seemed to be shifting - but also in general. I was sluggish. I had indigestion on a pretty regular basis. My skin looked lacklustre and tired. I needed something more potent than kale - I needed a full overhaul.
Step in VIVAMAYR, the famed digestive clinic located on the banks of Altaussee, where the great and the good flock to cure ailments from chronic candida to migraines to obesity. It’s revered by a wide swath of celebrities from Kate Moss to The Rolling Stones, all of whom emerge looking visibly rejuvenated thanks to the one-week Cure programme that’s designed to intensively cleanse and heal the gut.
Before setting off, I was given advice by two of its disciples: Juergen Teller told me to commit to the regime 100% and that I’d ‘love it - it’s amazing’, Clive Sutton said that it was ‘a good, sensible way to address eating.’ I found this cheering after reading tabloid pieces that sensationalised the more draconian elements of hunger, chewing, and enforced diarrhoea.
As it turned out, both the tabloids and the veterans were right: in a mere week, VIVAMAYR managed to change the trajectory of my health through teaching me good eating rules and by giving me a bespoke list of things that bothered my system (all that quinoa did not agree with my gut - ditto matcha, which I was told to avoid entirely) - but, yes, it involved colonics, diarrhoea, a fair bit of hunger and a whole lot of chewing.
Since returning, I’ve taken the key tenets from their regime and made them mainstays in my diet. It’s surprisingly easy to do - I make time to chew, I don’t drink any water with meals, and I (mostly - with a huge exception for office chocolate) don’t snack. The results are impressive: I’ve lost over a stone since returning despite not feeling deprived in the slightest, my concentration is improved, and my indigestion a thing of the past.
I’d really recommend it - though it comes at a fairly hefty price (around £3,000 for a week’s stay all in - though bear in mind that that includes daily appointments with a doctor). If you can’t stretch to that, here are some rules by VIVAMAYR’s director, Dr. Harald Stossier, that you can easily incorporate in your daily life. Also, try avoiding these 'healthy' foods - and try some light exercise daily - running is a great, affordable way to up your fitness.
If you’re prone to wolfing down your food, consider that this is the primary place that you can give your digestive system a hand. "The digestive process begins in the mouth, and chewing will increase the surface area of the food so that saliva can coat it. It’s crucial; that bit can’t happen anywhere else in the digestive system."
As a rule of thumb, VIVAMAYR suggest 30 chews per mouthful - arduous, yes, but it really does help to minimise indigestion and maximise the amount of nutrients absorbed from food.
2. Skip superfoods and go back to basics.
I found it interesting that VIVAMAYR aren’t overly obsessed with the idea of ‘superfoods,’ tutoring their patients in eating in a more sustainable way. "Aim to eat fewer animal proteins and more vegetables and cold-pressed vegetable oils that are rich in antioxidants." I now follow this simple rule: make every plate 50% vegetables, and then divide the other half into thirds of fat, protein, and fibre. For breakfast, for example, I might have grilled asparagus and spinach, an egg and a few corn crackers with oil drizzled on top.
3. Eat thrice daily and skip snacks.
"It takes between three and four hours to digest food, and eating in between meals disrupts the process, leading to maldigestion and fermentation in the gut," advises Stossier. An ancillary benefit of avoiding snacking that has especially benefitted me is the hormone regulation that comes as a result of fasting between meals; eating requires insulin production which has a knock on effect on hormones. Since visiting VIVAMAYR, my polycystic ovarian syndrome symptoms have diminished considerably.
4. Avoid drinking with meals.
While the VIVAMAYR hammer home the important of hydration and remind their guests that the body is 60-70% water and that drinking enough of it is crucial to keep our metabolic pathways functioning well, they also explain that drinking with food has a hazardous effect on digestion. "Doing so dilutes saliva at exactly the moment where you need it to be in a concentrated form to help digest food - drink in between meals, but leave 20 minutes either side."
5. Eat food the size of your fist.
One of the lessons that hit home most firmly was that I was eating WAY too much food. "Healthy nutrition involves eating the amount you need related to your physical activity," says Stossier. I now use the fist rule for guidance on days when I’m moving moderately and eating thrice daily.
6. Don’t eat when you’re stressed.
I hadn’t properly considered the importance of eating when relaxed, but they are militant about it at VIVAMAYR, even suggesting that diners keep conversation to a minimum to allow for focus on food. Stossier explains that you shouldn’t eat when mentally, physically or emotionally overtired because "the digestive system works better when you are concentrating on the food you’re eating. Don’t read newspapers or look at your iPhone as you eat - just chew and meditate on your food."
7. No raw after four.
This handy rhyming rule is a good way to avoid that annoying heartburn in bed. "Our digestive capability is excellent in the morning, but lessens throughout the day. As raw food requires a lot of energy to be digested properly, it is better to avoid eating raw foods in the evening - just steam or boil them instead."
... And if you do all those things, you can expect your skin to glow. Here, skin guru Teresa Tarmey and nutritionist Rosemary Ferguson talk through the benefits of a good diet: