"Time for a comfort break!" My companions around the conference table, after a long morning’s brainstorming fuelled by bad coffee, biscuits and pastries, looked up gratefully as they took their leave. None, however, as grateful as me and none (hopefully!) would have realised how accurate a description this was. I’d been shifting in my seat uncomfortably for at least an hour, trying at once to ease my increasingly intense tummy pain and cover up the gurgling noises it was emitting. This was not an isolated incident – more the stomach-crampingly sweet icing on a particularly indigestible cake.
For several years, abdominal pain, bloating and fatigue have become my own particular brand of norm. A GP identified my symptoms as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and prescribed healthy eating and a balanced approach to work and home life. Easier said than done. While psychologically I thrive on busy-ness and a managed level of “healthy” stress, even eating puritanically healthily (largely vegetarian meals, limited caffeine and alcohol, snacking on fruit) invariably made the pain worse, a depressing cycle that would have me reaching for the ham and cheese baguettes before a fortnight was up.
Thanks to thrice-weekly gym classes, I was fitter and stronger than I’d been since having children nine years ago, yet my complexion was grey and puffy, my waistline distinctly blurred, and even when I felt at my most relaxed, family and friends would ask me why I was “edgy”.
The tipping point for me was when a friend regaled me with talk of her transformative health kick and I burst into tears at the realisation of how bad I felt. And so I did something I’d always mentally filed under “for the rich, bored and spoilt”: booked myself into a hotel hundreds of miles from home in the pursuit of well-being.
“Self-care is healthcare” my friend Tracey reminded me by text, as I boarded the plane to Innsbruck, Austria, wondering what I was letting myself in for. “You’re doing this for them,” my husband reassured me, as I phoned home during my airport transfer, my children’s reproachful farewell faces still fresh in my mind. “Maybe this won’t be so bad after all,” I thought, as I inhaled my first breath of soft pine-scented mountain air.
But my first impression of Lanserhof – a luxury modernist bolt-hole nestled into a Tyrolean mountainside – was dismay. In the inviting dining room, people were eating! What about the fasting I’d come here for? My confusion continued through the first evening. Emerging from my cocoon-like bedroom (harmoniously designed hardwood-and-white-linen interiors, state-of-the-art fixtures, full-height windows overlooking pine forest vistas and a roof terrace for soaking up the alpine rays), I was shown to my seat (guests are allocated a place, the idea that you focus on chewing, not chatting) and served a super-healthy but definitely solid three-course meal.
The next morning, my regeneration started in earnest. After a medical examination and analysis (I do love an analysis) each guest is given a programme based on the six pillars of modern F X Mayr therapy: rest; purification; awareness; integration; sports and soul. A holistic health-over that you can continue at home.
My programme comprised an array of detoxifying treatments: massage, reflexology and steam wraps, alongside daily Kneipp and cryotherapy sessions, and analytics combining natural healing techniques with the latest medicine and nutritional insights, working alongside optional group classes such as Pilates, yoga, talks on gut health and early-morning walks – nature is central to the Lanserhof approach and this forest power walk is a wonderful way to wake up.
Food – or lack thereof – punctuates the day (and your mind), with appointments with supplements (Epsom salts to start the day, Basenpulver alkaline powder three times a day, bitters before you eat). Clear vegetable soup is served from 10am to noon to great excitement (“It’s savoury! It’s salty! It’s not tea!”). Oh yes, the tea. Tea is a big deal at Lanserhof. Myriad varieties are available from self-serve stations around the clock. It’s delicious and I couldn’t get enough of it – apart from during soup time, of course (and mealtimes – you’re not allowed to drink half an hour before or after).
As it turned out, I was allowed food – breakfast (a menu of carbohydrate “chewers” and spread) and lunch (jacket potato and the same choice of spreads). No dinner. Each mouthful is to be chewed 30-40 times to encourage saliva to aid digestion. For the first couple of days, this feels very odd. After that, it’s addictive (if not very sociable).
The days that followed were full of discoveries. Not eating in the evening was surprisingly easy. And once I’d got through day three, when my caffeine/histamine/sugar withdrawal symptoms gave me the worst headache I’ve ever suffered (it turns out there is a supplement to cure that), I woke up hungry but full of energy.
Tested for intolerances, I found I have off-the-scale fructose malabsorption (no wonder my fruit-ful healthy eating plan always failed). Dairy protein and gluten are not my friends either. The puffiness? Histamine intolerance (look it up: it’s everywhere). Onions and garlic were once the bedrock of my home cooking – not any more! And while calories are no longer the focus of healthy eating, it turns out on a good day I can only burn 1,500 of them. No wonder then, that during my short stay I averaged weight loss of 1lb a day.
After 24 hours, I had the feeling of being able to stand up straight – the first time in years I’d not been cowed by internal discomfort. After 36 hours, a fellow guest proclaimed I looked like “a different Claire”. I certainly felt like one. The tea and easily digested food – along with the nightly application of a hot water bottle – eased rather than irritated my insides. My tummy deflated like a balloon. I felt light – in body and in spirit. After five days, I knew it had changed my life.
Lanserhof Lans was the original Lans Med clinic. It’s now one of three resorts – and has been renovated and extended to meet demand. Many of my fellow guests had been before, some returning two or three times a year. Talk was always of debilitating diseases their stays had cured – diabetes, cirrhosis, colitis. There were whispers of even more serious ailments that had been reversed. Ten days out of life and several thousand pounds out of pocket is difficult to justify. But if it gives you the rest of your life back, it’s a small investment in your future.
Thanks to the Energy Cuisine plan, continuing the good work when you leave is straightforward, if not easy. I’ve reintroduced some histamine and fructose gradually. Cookery lessons mean you know what to look out for when you shop if your lifestyle doesn’t allow for daily baking of buckwheat bread. And as Dr Georg told me, “it’s impossible to overeat if you chew correctly”. Alcohol is now a weekly treat, not a daily pick-me-up. Intermittent fasting by eating two meals a day is easier than you think – my husband and I now do it Sunday to Friday.
Herbal tea, not so much. There are only so many shop-bought bags one can take. Get me back to Lanserhof, danke schön.
• Read the full review: Lanserhof Lans, Austria
Seven nights at Lanserhof Lans (0049 8022 18800; lanserhof.com) from €4,305 (£3,883), based on single occupancy in a double room.
WHY IS GUT HEALTH SO IMPORTANT?
Gastrointestinal health problems – so prevalent in our time-pressed, high-stressed, processed lives – are not just about digestive issues, but can be the root cause for other physical and mental health issues. Bowel problems can mean you’re more likely to suffer from autoimmune diseases, depression and anxiety. Symptoms of poor gut health include abdominal pain, bloating after meals, reflux, or flatulence, but also less obvious ones, such as headaches, fatigue, joint pain, and immune system weakness.