After feasting on Quality Street, hitting the sherry and bingeing on box sets, many of us are entering the new year feeling sluggish, bloated and decidedly lacklustre. 

But while the super-rich can recalibrate by jetting off to spas that cost thousands, what can mere mortals do to get 2023 off to a healthy start? We challenged three writers to attempt to recreate swanky wellness experiences at home — swapping expert chefs for cookery books and posh personal trainers for sheer willpower. Would they get results? 

The book: The Viva Mayr Diet (£7.50, amazon.co.uk). 

The spa: Situated on the shores of the Worthersee lake in southern Austria, the vibe at the world famous Mayr Clinic is more medicinal than spa, although beauty treatments are available. 

Helena Frith Powell (pictured) spent two weeks at the Mayr clinic, immersing herself in what is known as the Mayr Cure

Helena Frith Powell (pictured) spent two weeks at the Mayr clinic, immersing herself in what is known as the Mayr Cure

A standard room costs around £345 per night which includes meals, access to wellness area and lake, but does not include medical/spa treatments or diagnosis/medical tests. The Vivamayr classic programme starts at £2,220 per week. I first came across the Vivamayr diet almost 15 years ago when I was asked to write a book about it. 

I spent two weeks at the clinic, immersing myself in what is known as the Mayr Cure, the bedrock of which is the assumption by Dr Franz Xaver Mayr (1875-1965) that if the digestive system was working well, everything else would follow. 

His methods have survived to the present day and the celebrities (among them Rebel Wilson and Elizabeth Hurley) who flock to the Vivamayr Clinic have bought into them. 

I cannot afford the £4,000 upwards it costs to visit the clinic for a week and so I’m going to attempt to follow the regime in the (relative) comfort of my own home using a very wise book on the regime (AKA my own). 

On day two I am feeling grouchy, tired and hungry 

I convince my friend Josephine to join me because it is always easier to stick to something if you have a partner in crime. 

There are several reasons I want to do this now: health, post-Christmas detox — but, to be honest, my main incentive to spend a week eating very little and chewing frenetically (chewing is at the heart of the Mayr Cure) is that my body shape seems to be changing in an incredibly irritating way. 

While most of my body is still a size ten, my waist seems to have decided to go it alone and become a size 12. I simply can’t go through another year feeling like my trousers are a torture instrument. 

Happily, my husband has picked the week I want to diet to be away. Could the two be related, I wonder? 

On day one I am full of enthusiasm. I wake up and start the day with a cup of hot water, as suggested by Vivamayr, and some gentle stretches. 

The Viva Mayr Diet (£7.50, amazon.co.uk)

The Viva Mayr Diet (£7.50, amazon.co.uk)

Exercise is another pillar of the Vivamayr regime. When I was staying there, I would walk around the lake. From home, Josephine and I will have to make do with the countryside around our village. 

Dr Stossier, who runs the clinic, says the key to exercise is to do something you enjoy, so that you stick with it. 

Vivamayr breakfasts will always include spelt bread or an equivalent. Josephine has made the bread which, aside from being quite a time-consuming process, is a rather impenetrable substance that encourages you to chew because it is just that. 

If you don’t have the patience to make spelt bread, buckwheat bread is a good alternative or buy a spelt loaf from Waitrose from about £3. 

According to the guidelines, we should be chewing each mouthful between 30 and 40 times for maximum benefits, the most important being the more you chew before you swallow, the less effort is required of your stomach to digest. 

The longer you take over your meal, the easier it is to assess when you are full. How often do we eat more than we need just because it is in front of us? 

On day one I get to around 15 chews before the food vanishes. Josephine has three small children and a husband who — by lunchtime on our first day — are telling her she is holding them all up by eating so slowly. 

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With Vivamayr, you do the breakfast like a king thing on oat porridge with fresh fruit, spelt bread and avocado spread (a blend of avocado, lime, basil, sesame seeds and soft goat’s cheese) and then eat progressively less with each meal. 

The ideal dinner is some spelt bread with a vegetable spread and soup, all eaten no later than 5pm, ideally with some linseed oil, which is anti-inflammatory and packed with omegas. 

On day two I wake up with a slight headache. I am grouchy, hungry, tired and the headache lingers until I go out for a walk. Then it’s as if someone has flicked a switch; I suddenly get a huge rush of energy and happiness. I feel like I’m floating. 

On day three, by 6pm I realise I cannot cook one of their rather fancy recipes such as potato cakes with cottage cheese in time for an early dinner. 

I have also run out of Josephine’s spelt bread. In desperation, I eat a banana in between Zoom calls, thus breaking one of the Vivamayr strictest rules: No raw after four. 

The thinking behind this is that raw food is hard to digest and, as we tire during the day, it becomes harder, which means it sits fermenting in our intestines rather than being digested quickly and the nutrients absorbed efficiently. 

When I wake up on day four (having, for the first time in I don’t know how long, slept through the night) I have, inexplicably, gained ten ounces. Was it the banana? Josephine, meanwhile, has lost more than two pounds. 

That evening I bathe in Epsom salts — at the clinic you ingest them to prepare you for the colonic irrigation, but this is obviously not something to try at home — and before I go to sleep, I give myself a stomach massage. 

This is one of the treatments they give you daily at the clinic, but you can have a go yourself by lying down and moving your hand around your abdomen in circular movements 50 times and upwards. 

Use a massage oil if you like. It’s an excellent way to awaken your intestines, avoid inflammation and relax. 

The following morning, I am magically two pounds lighter. I try on a pair of jeans that used to be too tight and they feel at least bearable. I have so much energy I am not even sure what to do with it. 

Basically, if you can get through the first two days, you are home and dry. Josephine felt the same. She found her face is a lot less puffy too. Added to which, she lost almost nine pounds during the week. 

I didn’t do quite as well. I lost five pounds, and I am going to keep incorporating some Vivamayr tweaks into my life on a permanent basis, such as chewing as much as possible. ‘Wouldn’t it just be easier to buy some bigger trousers?’ my husband asks me when I tell him about my week. I’m too busy chewing to respond.

  • Helena is the author of The Viva Mayr Diet published by HarperCollins, £12.99. 
  • Always consult your doctor before making dietary or exercise changes. 

‘No cold chamber? I just nip into the garage in my pants’

by Marion McGilvary

The book: The 50 Healthiest 10-Minute Recipes (£22, available from the Lanserhof at the Arts Club, London). 

The spa: Lanserhof has three clinics — one in Austria and two in Germany — where you will get little change from £5,000 for a week’s stay. There’s also the Lanserhof at the Arts Club in London, which is a private members’ club with a £2,000 joining fee and £2,500 per annum membership fee. Membership to the Lanserhof centre costs from an additional £334 per month. 

Marion McGilvary (pictured) did three online classes and a Pilates session as a substitute for the four personal training sessions offered by the Lanserhof

Marion McGilvary (pictured) did three online classes and a Pilates session as a substitute for the four personal training sessions offered by the Lanserhof

With a dusting of frost outside, it is almost possible to make believe I’m at the exclusive Lanserhof Lans in Austria.

Sadly, rather than being at the clinic where the uber-rich and fabulous, including Cara Delevingne and Karlie Kloss, go to rest and repair, I’m at my own humble abode in Oxford. 

So it’s a DIY detox for me and I attempt to recreate the ‘Lanserhof Cure Active package’, which in-house costs around £3,516 for a week, excluding accommodation (from £371 per night per person for a single room). It’s designed for their ‘healthy, athletic and ambitious guests’. 

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Yes, I’m aware I’m none of those things. In fact, when I walked into David Lloyd for the programme’s recommended yoga session the instructor nearly fainted, but they don’t offer a Sofa Cure and I want to get fitter so needs must.

Though I obviously can’t replicate the vast array of medical checks and more exotic treatments the Lanserhof offers — such as four sessions in a cold chamber where one’s skin is exposed to temperatures as low as -110c (-166f) for up to three minutes — I figured my Siberian garage would perhaps be a fitting substitute. 

The 50 Healthiest 10-Minute Recipes (£22, available from the Lanserhof at the Arts Club, London)

The 50 Healthiest 10-Minute Recipes (£22, available from the Lanserhof at the Arts Club, London)

If my partner wondered why I was nipping in there in my pants, he failed to mention it. 

I may not have access to the highly skilled Lanserhof chefs either but, thankfully, there is a cookbook created by them, which feels like the next best thing. Now, as well as having joint degrees in failed diets and reluctant exercise, I am also the proud holder of a PhD in cookbooks. 

Harking back to my restaurant critic days, I have amassed several hundred, and, oh boy, I know how to use them. So yet another diet book did not thrill me. But let me tell you, this is not just another cookbook. 

As it contains the sort of meals you might be served in the spa, I feared it would be fiddly but, thankfully, this is The 50 Healthiest 10-Minute Recipes and at the words ‘mashed potato’ I sigh with relief. 

Full of fast, gourmet-style meals that make you feel like you have transformed into Gordon Ramsay, but better looking — the cauliflower burgers were a particular triumph. The diet involves good organic protein, vegetables and fruit. 

Even my partner loved the food, though I gave him more carbs. Mine were minimal and based around grains such as spelt bread, which I confess I bought — I’m not that wholesome. 

Drinking with meals is verboten, as it dilutes the digestive juices, as are all the fun things — get thee behind me coffee, alcohol and soda. I did, however, quite enjoy the special Lanserhof tea which can also be purchased for £16 from their London outposts and is one of the recommended drinks (though between meals, of course). 

I did three online classes and a Pilates session as a substitute for the four personal training sessions offered by the Lanserhof. And yes, the expectation is that you start your day with a dose of salts, literally — the Epsom variety. I found an acceptable variation in the form of prune juice, which also gets things moving.

After a week of daily exercise, lots of rest, and clean eating, I lost five pounds and felt re-energised. Lanserhof may be on to something.  

‘I rise at 5.30am. My local park turns out to be closed til 7.30…’

by Caroline Phillips 

The book: Food Food Food (digital download £16, theranchmalibu.com). 

The spa: With outposts in Malibu, Italy and New York’s (not yet open) Hudson Valley, The Ranch offers transformational and immersive wellness programmes in lavish nature – drenched locations beloved by A-listers such as Brooke Shields and Elle Macpherson. The Ranch Italy, which opened last year, has a 4.0 programme for four nights costing from £4,800 for a single room. 

Caroline Phillips with her daughter Ella. Caroline would be offered expensive blood tests to uncover any hidden conditions if she attended The Ranch

Caroline Phillips with her daughter Ella. Caroline would be offered expensive blood tests to uncover any hidden conditions if she attended The Ranch

Barring a lottery win, a trip to The Ranch is out of my reach. So I’m having a bargain basement bash at it by trying to follow the fitness schedule from the Italian Ranch (nabbed off the website, er, free of charge) with meals from the cookery book at home. 

‘The next best thing to having our Ranch chefs in your kitchen,’ the blurb promises. A three-star Michelin one at that. 

I’m very healthy. I walk, swim and can still zip up my size 12 jeans, just. But, doing things The Ranch way, as its website details, I would be offered expensive blood tests to uncover any hidden conditions. Waiting 13th in the phone queue for my NHS GP surgery, I feel guilty about being one of the worried well — so jettison having any diagnostics. The cookbook tells me to exclude alcohol, caffeine, soy, processed sugars, sweeteners, diary and gluten, so next on my list is a withdrawal headache. 

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Shopping for my DIY retreat is a nightmare. According to Food Food Food, I need plant-based meals of organic, local, seasonal ingredients. My local Tesco doesn’t stock organic so I rush to Waitrose. After splashing out £114.34 I still can’t source many important ingredients. 

Then I tear around Planet Organic hunting down tomatillos (Mexican husk tomatoes), cauliflower flour (a substitute for amaranth, was it?) and sorghum flour (even the assistant has to look it up). I cheat and buy Planet Organic’s granola, saving over £14 on the one on sale direct from The Ranch. But there’s no ‘caviar’ — The Ranch’s coarse black sea salt from the Pacific Ocean with activated lava charcoal (£13.25 plus delivery). 

A further £171.26 later, I start cooking. The Ranch’s plantbased cookbook uses goats to denote recipe difficulty: one goat means it’s simple. There should be a herd on most pages. The recipes are in American cup measurements and Fahrenheit, which requires some Pythagorean calculations. The Ranch rules say you’re not meant to cook days in advance, as it must be ‘freshly prepared’. And no meals or snacks are repeated, to boost nutritional gains. 

Food Food Food (digital download £16, theranchmalibu.com).

Food Food Food (digital download £16, theranchmalibu.com).

I’m buckling at the prospect of cooking 14 different meals. My younger daughter Ella’s nicked the (essential) coconut oil. She’s removing her make-up with it. Frazzled, I sink into bed at midnight. According to the programme I should be tucked up by 8pm. 

Which would have been wise, given I rise as instructed at 5.30am to fit in stretches and breakfast before my daily four-hour ‘mountain hike’. Visitors to The Ranch purr about the social aspect of these treks. If the definition of a good friend is someone who will walk with you at that time, I have none. It’s pitch black as I set out. My local park turns out to be closed until 7.30am when normal people get up. I trudge the grey streets, inhaling exhaust fumes. Who needs forested canopies, meadows and medieval villages? 

I am delighted to have a nap at the prescribed 1pm, then do a bit of yoga on Zoom to tick off the afternoon activity (2pm-6pm is earmarked for strength classes, yoga and massage) before dinner and an early curfew at 7pm-8pm. 

Next day, breathing oxygen-rich air and chatting animatedly, I walk among trees with Ella — until she leaves. Two hours early. It’s challenging as her left arm is my substitute Alpine-mountain walking pole. 

Back home, I’m desperate to bolt down lunch and jump into bed for my Ranch-ordered nap. But the cashews need to soak for two hours. So I wolf down a homemade (think almond flour and coconut sugar) banana blueberry breakfast muffin. 

That afternoon I try a core strength class, as a nod to The Ranch’s afternoon fitness schedule, but mine is plucked at random from YouTube. The teacher powers through exercises that don’t so much get my abs burning as self-immolating. 

I’m resurrected on Zoom by Francesca Quaradeghini — sublime yoga teacher to a roster of A-listers — who has decided to ‘give back’ by offering by-donation classes. An hour and £3 later, it’s time for my daily massage with a top masseuse — AKA me. I roll my spiky physio balls under my feet, then fall into bed. 

Mostly, I find myself cooking, exhausted, at 10pm. A regime boasting this many pulses, grains and Brussels sprouts is such a duvet-lifter that I could start wholesaling natural gas to China. And I don’t quite log The Ranch’s 60 miles of hiking, more like 31. 

There’s plenty, though, to recommend it. I feel upbeat from so much exercise. My veggie lasagne with cashew ‘ricotta’ is a triumph. I don’t have cravings or feel hungry — and without wheat and meat, I’m more energised. The Ranch focus is on fat loss not weight, which I like because I’ve gained 1kg. Muscle, I console myself. 

Would I do it again? Yes, downwind of my neighbours on a remote-island holiday and with one of my daughters cooking.


‘Surviving celebrity fat camp’: Woman documents her $7,600 a week stay at the A-list-loved wellness retreat The Ranch Malibu, from 5AM wakeups with Tibetan chimes to 12-mile hikes 

It’s a tough regime but I lost 8lb at this Alpine spa! A far from indulgent retreat – at a clinic which gets results 

The superspa treatment: inside Austria’s famous Mayr Clinic 


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