The urge to purge

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 February, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 15 February, 2008, 12:00am

Breakfast time on a cold weekday in Hong Kong and the scent of freshly baked chocolate muffins emanates from a cafe.

It's only February and already those eagerly pledged New Year's resolutions are out the window.

But take heart. There is an endless choice of middle to high-end resorts around Asia that cater to the weak-willed and wobbly among us, and those who take the plunge often say they have never felt better.

Officially, detoxing is now a term used to describe a period of internal cleansing using food and liquid 'tools' such as juices, vegetarian or raw food diets to rid the body of toxins. Medical experts disagree on its usefulness - particularly the concept of toxins blocking our systems - but tourists flock to detox spas to continue getting their fix despite there being no hard scientific evidence it actually works.

'Detox programmes and weight loss boot camps have long been associated with deprivation,' says Susie Ellis, president of international media group SpaFinder. But many spas are beginning to treat weight loss and detox less as punishments and more as celebrations.

'If you can get the same results with high thread-count sheets, lovely rooms, spa treatments and a nurturing environment, why not live a little while you're trying to improve your life?'

Here are five of the best in the region, so take your pick:

The Farm at San Benito, the Philippines

While specialising in relaxation and tropical luxury, The Farm describes itself as a facility with a medical focus and mission. 'Detoxification is a core competency,' says spokesman Dominick Venditti. 'We have a team of five medical doctors who provide medical consultations, formulate and manage personalised treatment programmes for each guest, on the basis of their current health and their health-related goals.'

Hong Kong resident Chris Watts, who runs Active Isolated Stretching group Stretch Asia, says he tried The Farm after realising he was in dire need of simple relaxation. 'It was great value for money,' Watts says.

'You're in a 40-hectare coconut plantation and it's been beautifully landscaped. It's the most incredible vegan and raw food cooking. For example, they can make cream cheese out of cashew nuts. You have a main course with five dishes and every one is just breathtaking. It's energising and it hasn't been cooked beyond 80 degrees, so you know that you're getting raw fuel for the body.'

Watts only did a partial detox programme, but a colleague undertook a full detox - she was woken at 5am to ensure she had her morning juice, integral to the five-day programme.

Kamalaya Samui, Thailand

Kamalaya offers four different types of wellness programmes - Balance & Revitalise, Detox & Rejuvenation, Ideal Weight and Relax & Renew.

'More than half of our guests will choose detox,' says spokeswoman Donna Wells. Every detox programme begins with a specialised consultation. 'This allows us to establish goals, identify any contra-indications and, where necessary, customise the programme for the individual.'

Some of the detox guests are regular 'detoxers', who embark on a programme once or twice a year. Other guests choose detox as a 'quick fix' weight loss programme, she says. While weight loss is one of the benefits of detox, 'we encourage a more long-term lifestyle approach to weight management'.

The common immediate physical benefits guests report, she says, are feeling revitalised and more energetic, weight loss, better sleep patterns, improvements in skin conditions, digestion and allergy symptoms, and headaches disappearing. You can choose from three, five, seven, nine and 14-day detox retreats.

Atsumi Healing Centre Phuket, Thailand

Opened in 2003, Atsumi describes itself as offering a specialised form of healing. Its philosophy and body psychology is firmly grounded in Buddhist principles and the concepts of traditional Chinese holistic healing. 'Atsumi-Ki' encompasses meditation, yoga and loving kindness as a way to be in the present moment.

The healing energy is created and maintained by a one-hour daily morning ritual of self-shiatsu, yoga, ki kung and meditation. The fasting and detox programmes are popular, centre supervisor Anna Wasin says, because people are becoming more aware of the 'extremely toxic environment in which most of us live today. Guests come from all walks of life - from airline pilots and chief financial officers of large, multinational corporations to retirees and young travellers.'

Programmes run from four to 21 days, the most popular being seven and 10 days. 'Ten days is the optimum because your blood is fully cleansed afterwards,' she says. 'However, you will notice major results after just four.' For its raw fasting programme, they serve local organic fruits and vegetables. All staff - from the manager to taxi driver - have personally performed a fast 'so we all understand what guests are undergoing physically and emotionally'.

Como Shambhala, Begawan Giri Estate, Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

You don't have to do a detox at Como Shambhala (part of Singapore-based Christina Ong's luxury hotel empire) because there are different programmes to suit. However, all are based on its wellness approach. Guests can choose from the Cleansing, Ayurvedic, Rejuvenation, Stress Management and Get Fit programmes that last for three, five or seven nights. Food is organic and sourced locally. Meat, fish and vegetables all feature.

The range of foods caters for intolerances (including soy milk and yeast and wheat-free breads). If you do want to detox, the cleansing programme has herbal cleansers that may be recommended to help restore the liver, gastro-intestinal tract and digestive system. There are also wellness consultations and spa treatments included, and yoga and Pilates. More active pursuits such as mountain biking and hiking are available.

Former visitor Sharon Chan, a Hong Kong marketing executive, spent five days there last year.

'The hard part will be foregoing the food on the non-detox menu, which includes - among others - a chocolate banana pudding,' Chan says. 'The grounds are very peaceful and serene. Accommodation is also private and you have a butler who gives you a print-out of your schedule for the following day.'

Four Seasons, Koh Samui, Thailand

Just announced this month, the Puriti purifying programme at this luxury resort is a three day/four night or seven day/eight night package for the more spa-minded detoxer who isn't so hard core.

The three day 'boot camp' option includes two days of a 'raw eco diet' (including shakes made with fresh green coconut water, considered a super-healthy option), three detox yoga sessions, a sea-salt peel and three massage peels, two educational classes and lectures, daily workouts, and a four-night stay in a villa for two.

What sets this apart are some spa treatments designed to be done in conjunction with the moon cycle. For example, when it's waning from full to new, they say this promotes detoxification, deep cleansing and purification. When it's waxing, nurturing, regeneration, absorption and relaxation are promoted.