I’ve been promising to post my detox retreat weight loss experience review for a while now… many of you have told me you’re very keen to read it!
To summarise: I spent five days and six nights at Slimmeria, a vegan detox retreat in North Devon, at the end of last month. A place to get your mind, body and soul in order – it’s described as a “weight loss and rejuvenation retreat”. So, in a nutshell, how exactly was the experience I hear you ask?
It was tough, it was brutal, it was eye-opening. But quite simply, it was one of the BEST experiences of my entire life…
I loved every single minute of it.
I’m glad to say I ALSO had some incredibly positive results at the end of the stay which I shall share with you later in the post. But first, let’s talk about exactly what I’d let myself in for and why I went… I hope you’ll find it a fascinating read. It may not be what you’re expecting (it certainly wasn’t what I was expecting).
Disclosure: I was not compensated for writing this post but I was gifted the Slimmeria experience in exchange for a review. Everything I’ve written is 100% my own opinion and Slimmeria had no control over what I wrote.
Slimmeria: what it is, and why I went
Slimmeria is run by the magnificent Galia Granger (some of you may have seen her in Channel 4’s Extreme Diet Hotel on TV a few weeks ago) and there are two retreats: one in Ilfracombe, North Devon (where I went) and the other in Hye House, East Sussex. The thing to remember is that it’s not simply a “weight loss retreat”. Galia’s aim is to get you to retrain your way of thinking about food, about exercise, and about self-care. Yes, you can potentially lose up to 12lbs (or even a little more) in six days.
But so much more than that, the point is to get you to come away feeling refreshed, energised, incentivised, and positive.
At the end of my six days I came away feeling all those things, and MORE.
Merlin Court, Ilfracombe, North Devon – photo by Slimmeria
Galia is what you call a force of nature. She’s as strict as she needs to be to get you doing and thinking the right things, but she’s incredibly kind and understanding with it. There’d be no point having someone run the place who was a pushover, would there? I loved her the moment I met her.
What I didn’t expect was how much time she’d spend with us. She was there every step of the way (though obviously she’s not looking over your shoulder or breathing down your neck every second of the day…) and we saw her every morning and every lunchtime. Her presence was a perfect balance, and what she does so well is to encourage you when she’s around, but also to encourage you to self-motivate when she’s NOT.
She said on our first day about extra walks in the afternoon that aren’t scheduled: “The afternoon walks are not obligatory, but they ARE mandatory…!”
The reason I went was that, since my operation in January, my fitness levels have plummetted and my relationship with food has deteriorated. I’d been steadily putting on weight since I first had the problems with my leg back in 2015, but when I had the op I thought I’d snap back into my good habits, find my mojo, and start back on my road to being a fit, strong woman again.
This didn’t happen. In fact, the OPPOSITE happened.
I think I’d got so far down the road of comfort eating and snuggling on the sofa that trying to recuperate after surgery tipped me over the edge, making me more tired, lethargic and lazy than ever before. Pizzas became a weekly treat rather than a few-times-a-year treat. The endless good weather this summer meant that a whole lot more beer, gin & tonics and cold glasses of rosé were consumed than normal. Chocolate bars and treats became a daily part of my diet.
What I ended up with was three-day headaches several times a month, regularly blocked up sinuses, daily lethargy and the inability to crouch down to pick something up from the floor without feeling like I had 90-year-old legs. Therefore when the chance to go to Slimmeria was offered I practically leapt through the computer to snatch it out of the hands of the unsuspecting PR who got in touch… it was as if the blogging gods heard my prayers.
My goal was to lose weight, feel stronger and to protect my future health. Fitting into all the clothes I could no longer fit into would just be a huge bonus and make me feel positive mentally as well.
Check-in and the weigh-in
Upon arrival at Slimmeria on the Sunday afternoon, I was shown to my room on the top floor of a stunning renovated listed building with incredible views of Ilfracombe. My room was very pretty with my own private ensuite and a comfy bed… I knew I was going to be happy there for six nights.
There were five other ladies and myself – six turned out to be a perfect number to make a strong, supportive team. Introductions were made, a tour of the building was given, and instructions for the week ahead were discussed. The retreat itself is stunning; there’s a spa room, gym (weights and mats mostly, no large equipment like treadmills or rowing machines), a “chill out” room, dining room, etc.
We each then had ourselves weighed and measurements taken. We were asked to hand over any contraband (ANY food or drink – even tea bags for example), though I think most of what we’d brought was eaten on the journey up to the retreat…!
To backtrack a little… I was emailed a welcome pack a couple of weeks beforehand which gave advice on how to prep for the detox: Cut down on sugar and processed foods, alcohol, tea, coffee and fizzy drinks, and drink plenty of water. None of those things were a problem for me as I consume very little of any of those things (with the exception of sugar: I eat all the naughty cakes and biscuits on top of all the healthy stuff). But I don’t drink anything with caffeine in it, and very little alcohol. So two weeks before I went I was eating reasonably clean, the week before I was eating very clean. I felt prepared, and absolutely raring to get started.
We didn’t have to wait long: there was enough time that evening to have our first delicious dinner and go for a long walk around Ilfracombe and down to the harbour. Sounds like a nice stroll? No… Ilfracombe is FULL of steep streets. The hills are brutal, even round the town centre. We walked up and down Capstone Hill (which looks over the sea) three times in a row and my legs and lungs nearly died. But what made it worthwhile was the view and the sunset; it was up there in my top five of Most Amazing Sunsets I’ve Ever Seen.
The daily routine
This was one of the best parts of the week: the fact that we had an almost-identical schedule every single day. A typical day looked like this:
7:30am Wake up (a bell is rung in case you sleep in)
8:00am Lemon tonic
8:30am Walk (with the coastal paths and hills it’s really a brutal two-hour hike, accompanied by Galia)
11:00am Fitness (circuit and strength training)
12:00pm Yoga or pilates
3-4:00pm Afternoon tea
(Spa treatments and another afternoon walk of your choosing were fitted in between lunch and dinner)
7:15pm Evening class of e.g. dance, self-defence, mindfulness, etc.
So you can see it was really well structured. We all got used to our daily routine, and I actually thrived on this part of the week. Working late, eating late (or not eating at all!), going to bed late… these were all bad habits I wanted to kick. Having structure and a routine is SO important, and I’m not saying you can exercise for six hours a day in your normal everyday life, but this was all about getting into good habits.
I found it made me work especially hard knowing that lunch was going to be at 1 pm.
I found it made me take the time to relax and enjoy my spa treatment because I knew it was coming up at 4:30pm.
And boy, did I need to get to bed by 9pm. Work that hard and you NEED all the time in bed you can get. I loved the fact that the communal areas had lights switched out at 9pm so you were forced to retire to your room, have a read of your book, and then switch out the lights.
The food – a vegan menu
This is the part that is probably what most people are curious (and scared) about – the menu. Yes, it’s vegan, and designed to cleanse out your system. At Ilfracombe, the calorie intake is a little higher than at the Hye House location as there are serious hills to climb and you’re therefore burning more calories. And yes, the calorie intake is only around 500 a day.
Now this is the part that most people I’ve spoken to (before and since) react with horror about: How can you survive on 500 calories a day? There’s no way in the world I could do that.
Firstly… you CAN. It’s only five full days. Five days out of your whole life. And secondly – the food is absolutely DELICIOUS.
I can honestly say, with hand on heart, that the food was amazing (hats off to Alla the chef/housekeeper) – we all cleaned our plates on nearly every occasion. I didn’t leave one scrap of food the whole week – not because I was so hungry I would eat anything put in front of me, but because I loved the food so much. (But then I also love pretty much all food anyway… I’m an easy-to-please dinner guest.) Here are some examples of the meals we had:
There were obviously a lot of vegetables, but also pearl barley, buckwheat, rice, seeds, nuts, etc. “Afternoon tea” was not what you’re probably thinking (no Devon cream teas of course) – usually fruit and nuts or raisins. Breakfast was always juice (carrot and celery or grapefruit and orange). Lunch was usually cold and raw, dinner was usually something warm and cooked. But it was all very flavoursome with onions, garlic, chilli and seasonings.
So forget those dreaded visions of boiled cabbage and green juices… it couldn’t have been more different.
As far as hunger went, I only really ever felt hungry in the morning on our walks, and even then it didn’t last long. Just a bit of a tummy rumble. But to be honest when you’ve got such a full schedule you just don’t have time to sit and think about how hungry you might be. However, what was the main topic of conversation among the group? That’s right – FOOD. I think about 90% of our conversations revolved around food – good food, naughty food, alcohol consumption, our attitudes towards food. But in a way, it was good that we did because talking about your relationship with food openly with like-minded women really helped.
The walking and fitness programme
This was perhaps the toughest part. Fitness is a MAJOR part of the week because in order to lose weight you need to burn far more calories than you’re consuming. Galia puts a huge emphasis on walking outdoors and its health benefits (I didn’t need any convincing about that part as I agree 100%). We were lucky enough to have the most glorious week of sunshine and mild temperatures, but at Slimmeria you walk all year round, come rain or shine. There are no fitness machines or treadmills. You take walking boots (an absolute must), indoor trainers and outdoor trainers. You need to take countless changes of fitness clothes because by midday you’ll be sweating profusely and will want to change into something fresh and dry.
Our morning walks were my favourite part of the day. To get out into the fresh air and sunshine, to see the most incredible scenery (the sea views on the coastal paths are stunning) and to get your heart beating and your blood pumping produces an awful lot of endorphins. All those factors are guaranteed to produce positive mental results. What Galia made us do was to walk at our own pace, and then for those in the group that ended up further ahead, we’d walk back to join the others, give high fives all round for encouragement and then continue to walk on.
Team spirit was one of the best things about the week: connecting with a fabulous group of women who all had a similar goal (and who weren’t naysaying with “Oh but you look fine, you don’t need to lose weight…”) was SO brilliant and SO encouraging. Being a team player was vital to the success of our week, especially where tough workouts and steep hills came into it.
Photo by Slimmeria
We walked somewhere different every day and climbed hills, trekked over coastal paths, visited tiny coastal villages, walked amongst cows and breathed in sea air. As we were free to walk on our own or with others in the afternoons we did something different each time; Woolacombe beach (a short drive away) – being sandy, flat and three miles long – was a favourite.
The fitness, pilates, dance, etc. classes were all taken by professionals: personal trainers (ex-military) and qualified instructors. The classes were pretty tough, but still a lot of fun. We were lucky enough to do circuit training outside on the terrace in the sunshine nearly every day, adding to the positivity. By the end of the week my muscle-memory had kicked in and I felt stronger and leaner. I found a new passion for pilates (I likened it to a faster, more movement-y yoga if that makes sense).
The location (Ilfracombe, North Devon)
This was SUCH a massive bonus: Ilfracombe itself. There are good and bad points about being in such a picturesque, coastal on the beautiful North Devon coast, however.
The good: the scenery is stunning. There are loads of wonderful shops, art galleries (I may have spent a fair bit of money on some art for our new house…), independent boutiques and amazing-looking cafes and restaurants.
The “bad”: There are loads of amazing-looking cafes and restaurants. I say amazing looking because obviously there is the temptation of walking and passing all the bacon and fish and chips and bread smells. (Personally, I wouldn’t DREAM of going to the retreat and undoing all my hard work by popping in for a cream tea or fish and chips, but people have in the past apparently?! Our group was solid and supportive enough to make sure no one strayed. We were there for each other.)
The fact that Ilfracombe is so hilly is a huge bonus; your thighs and calves get the ultimate workout even just from walking daily. If we walked round the town we usually made sure we left our wallets at home to avoid temptation of eating/drinking anything naughty.
The harbour is especially fabulous – it boasts the controversial statue “Verity” by British contemporary artist Damien Hirst. She’s in bronze, naked and heavily pregnant, holding a sword up to the sky in one hand and a set of scales in the other. However, in true Damien Hirst fashion you get to see inside her as well as outside… she’s a love-her-or-hate-her work of art – we all LOVED how empowering she is.
So Ilfracombe is somewhere I want to go back to soon just to experience it as a coastal town on a weekend away. Admittedly I want to try all the restaurants and cafes: the seafood places especially. When I’m leaner and fitter I will… I’m desperate for Keith to visit it with me.
How I felt daily from Monday to Saturday
For me personally, I think because I was a very fit person until recently and I didn’t have a huge amount of weight to lose and the fact that I already don’t consume, tea, coffee, much alcohol, fizzy drinks meant I didn’t get the headaches or suffer from sugar withdrawal. If you’re a caffeine and sugar addict I can imagine it will hit you hard, so prepping yourself in advance by cutting them down as much as possible would make a huge difference I’m sure.
I was absolutely exhausted at the end of Monday (the first full day). But with each day I felt gradually fitter and stronger, and apart from my one blip (see highs and lows below) I didn’t suffer any side effects. By the end of Wednesday I was already feeling the positive effects and could see that my prone-to-bloating tummy had gone right back to being flat.
On Thursday afternoon I tackled Capstone Hill again by myself: the difference in my fitness levels was remarkable. On the first night I was wheezing and had to stop many times on the way up; by Thursday I practically raced up it without stopping for breath. I also found myself literally RUNNING up the three flights of stairs to my room to get something just before dinner one evening at the end of the week – without even thinking about it. At the start of the week I was out of breath by the first floor, and nearly dead going up the final, third (fourth?) flight.
The difference in how I felt from Sunday to Saturday was ENORMOUS.
The highs – and the one low
I’ll start with the one low, and it really was minor. Galia warned us that mid-week was the point where you might feel low or pretty rough, but it would be the turning point for sure. My only “blip” was on Wednesday after we’d been doing circuit training on our cores outside in the sun on the terrace. I was hot, tired and really, REALLY didn’t feel like doing pilates straight after as I was aching from all the exercise we’d done up to that point – but I got through it. Once I had lunch my mind switched (oh, the power of a good meal!) and from then on it was onwards and upwards for the rest of the week.
But it goes to show that this is not a sustainable diet/fitness routine, and it’s not designed to be. As Galia says, it’s a short, sharp shock to the system to kickstart good habits. No one should consume so few calories and do that much exercise for more than one week, nor should they do it unsupervised.
So that was the only (minor) low, so what about the highs? Where do I begin…
~ The food was tasty and beautifully cooked. I absolutely can’t fault it.
~ The days were well structured and gave us little time to get bored or give in to temptation. Plenty of rest time was scheduled in as well as the fitness regime.
~ The fitness was a perfect blend of strength training, calorie burning and walking – and made you feel AMAZING afterwards.
~ One complimentary spa treatment (massages, facials, etc.) was included with my stay, and you can then book more if you wish. I had two deep tissue massages and two relaxation massages, and the former were brutal (a word I know I’ve been using in this post a lot) and the latter were heaven. But they were truly needed because I had really aching shoulders (more than my legs like the rest of the group) and I’m so glad I had them.
~ The scenery: the walks and the surrounding countryside, seascapes and landscapes were out of this world. So many different walks, so many routes, so much to see you’ll never get bored of where you are.
~ The team spirit was everything and I loved the group of ladies I was with. I’ve made friends for life – we’d find ourselves hooting with laughter every single mealtime (and maybe even through fitness classes a bit too, oops). We now have a Whatsapp group to continue to support each other and speak to each other most days.
~ The weather was simply glorious. I know it’s not something that can be controlled, and you do go out in all weathers to walk all year round, but we had a week of Indian summer at the end of September and boy, did it help with the endorphins.
~ It made me appreciate everything so much more and be thankful for what I have in life. Not that I was taking anything for granted before per se, but there’s so much time for reflection (we had a mindfulness class and it really got me thinking) and relaxation that life becomes clearer. The stuff that had been weighing me down before seemed to ebb away day by day.
I came away feeling totally refreshed mentally as well as physically. I’ve honestly never felt better – and I’m 46. I’ve been very slim and very fit before, but much of that was due to stress and unhappiness in my life. This was the time to get both right at the same time.
The results (and the bonuses)
So here we go… what were my results at Slimmeria? To be honest, I felt SO amazing at the end of my week that in a way the potential weight loss was secondary to how good I FELT. But obviously weight loss, when you’ve been piling on the pounds for so long, is a massive bonus and something of a reward at the end for all your hard work.
In the end I lost a total of 8lbs and lost 3″ off my boobs and 3.5″ off my waist (3.6kg, 7.5cm and 9cm)… RESULT!! Pleased? You bet. SO proud of myself.
So it proves what can be achieved in just five days when you put your mind to it. I’ll say it again… this is not meant to be a sustainable diet and fitness regime. It’s a KICKSTART.
The rest of the group did brilliantly as well: 6lbs, 10lbs, 12lbs, 13lbs and 14lbs were lost by the others, and up to 6″ off waists were achieved. We were incredibly proud of ourselves. It’s safe to say we all left on cloud nine.
As far as my health went, I wasn’t getting headaches and I slept like a baby (nearly) every night, waking automatically at 6am just before my alarm would go off. I’ve had bunged up sinuses for absolutely ages, going to bed and waking every morning with a stuffed up nose. That soon went – someone in the group suggested cutting out dairy may well have been a factor, so I was pleased about that too (and am sworn off dairy as much as possible from now on).
I woke up on the last day (Saturday) feeling full of beans, incredibly positive (a bit sad that it was nearly all over though) and craving fresh food like eggs, lean chicken, and fish with lots and lots of vegetables. Rather than coming away wanting to eat all the chocolate and cake I could get my hands on, I just wanted fresh, clean food.
In fact, I was so desperate for eggs I asked Keith to bring a boiled egg in the car with him when he picked me up from the station…!
And finally: the pain in my leg which has plagued me for so long seems to have (=she knocks on wood=) disappeared. There would have been NO WAY I could have done all that exercise last year (pre-op) without my leg going into spasm or causing me severe pain, so getting back into exercise has made all the difference. I’m stunned at how my leg has improved.
The promises I have made to myself
I was full of ideas for my new healthy life by the end of the week. I pledged to do the following:
- Look into getting a personal trainer for one session a week (I’m waiting to hear back from those I’ve contacted). I want to “report” to someone while I continue the good habits.
- Continue with pilates by signing up to classes at my local gym which is a three-minute walk from our new house.
- Book fortnightly deep-tissue massages as recommend by the masseuse.
- Get back to regular running like I used to. I always enjoyed it and I miss it.
- Go for a fast, fat-burning walk early every morning before Keith goes to work – again, this was a habit that lapsed. Riley is old and slow so dog walking isn’t any sort of fat burner for me unfortunately.
- Get to bed early, and stop working at 6pm. I want to structure my days much better so that I’m not working late into the night and then find myself too tired to start early.
- Treat myself at the weekends with a little dark chocolate. Ilfracombe has the most incredible artisan chocolate shop where they make everything on site (oh, the irony) – I bought a ton of small, individually wrapped dark chocolate treats to eat at weekends only. Dark chocolate isn’t moreish like sickly milk chocolate so a little once a week will more than satisfy me.
It felt good to make these promises to myself. I may well do a follow up post in a month or two to let you know how I got on with all these things. To start, these were the first meals I cooked on my return…
Exactly the food I was craving. I can’t tell you how my eating habits have changed since I’ve been back.
Slimmeria prices and availability
There are several different packages and prices available at Slimmeria, and you’ll find they offer a lot of deals and discounted prices so it’s worth keeping an eye on their Hot Deals page. For example, prices start at £795 for an “Indian Summer madness” deal for seven days with two spa treatments at Hye House. You can also do short breaks if a week is too long for you… there is loads of choice.
Something to note: the Ilfracombe retreat closes this month for winter and reopens in March, but Hye House is open all year round. If you think what is offered to you and what you get out of this retreat when compared to a stay in an average hotel, it’s VERY good value for money (and you’ll feel so much healthier at the end).
My conclusions about Slimmeria
I think you can tell that I thoroughly enjoyed my week, and I was incredibly proud of my achievements. I came away with so much more than 3 inches off my waist and 8lbs off my frame; I came away with experiences I’ll never forget, a refreshed, revitalised body and mind AND friends for life.
I get that it wouldn’t be for everyone, I’m definitely not saying that. BUT if your goal is to remotivate yourself, to get your head sorted and to kick bad habits into the ground, then this is an amazing way to do it.
If you ARE thinking of embarking on a Slimmeria retreat, for goodness sake make sure you visit your doctor first. If you have any underlying health problems then it’s very important that they’re addressed because the extreme calorie burning and the low-calorie diet may cause you more problems.
Finally: I want to thank Galia and everyone involved in making this happen – and for making it so special for me (they know who they are). Even to Keith for taking the week off work to look after Riley so I could go. It was a week I’m not going to forget in a hurry.
Yes, I lost 8lbs which is incredible… but the experience meant so, SO much more than that to me. It’s up there in my top five life experiences, that’s for sure.