The great purge

7th January 2000 at 00:00
The party of the century is over, and many of us will have paid the physical price. Others will have spent a small fortune on detox treatments. But getting the festive season out of your system doesn't have to mean pain and penury. Nicki Household looks at the options

It's not easy to stick to a regime of brown rice, broccoli and brisk walks, especially when you're trying to celebrate a new millennium. So congratulations to anyone who did, particularly those who also managed to be merry. Festivities and over-indulgence have always gone hand in hand; you feel obliged to eat the fat of the land, knowing full well that most of it will end up on your waistline.

Too much food and alcohol can leave even the leanest and fittest of bodies feeling bloated and lethargic. So what can you do to revive yourself and enter the 21st century with renewed vigour?

One agreeable - if not exactly cheap - solution is to do your detoxing at a health farm. Despite their upmarket image, these establishments cater for you and me as well as for the Liz Hurleys of this world, and many of them offer affordable short-stay packages (see box).

And they have plenty to offer both sexes. Andy Coombs is deputy head of Redmoor high school in Hinkley, Leicestershire. He has made two one-day visits to nearby Ragdale Hall; the first a present from his wife, the second a treat from himself. "I was slightly apprehensive that it was a 'woman' thing the first time," he admits. "But there were a fair few men there when I arrived, so I relaxed." His treatments included a fitness assessment and massage. He also played tennis, went cycling in the country and attended a relaxation session.

"I walk a lot and aspire to a healthy lifestyle," he says, "although it's hard to achieve during the term. A day at a health farm at the beginning of the school holidays not only undoes the ravages of the term, it also sets me on the right track. It's a very good day."

If it's a detox you're after, health farms offer a variety of "natural" therapies that claim to cleanse and purify your system. Seaweed wraps are the in-thing at the moment. At Cedar Falls, near Taunton, this involves something called a "thalgo micronised marine body wrap", which is designed to "refine the skin, detoxify the body and improve circulation". It begins with an exfoliating body scrub, followed by basting with a rather yucky seaweed mud, then dousing in polythene and towels, and finally being left to relax on a heated bed, lulled by soothing music. Twenty minutes later, you're unwrapped and put in a shower before being finished off with a "firming" gel.

It can leave you feeling calm and refreshed, but of course you have to take their word that you've been detoxed. Leah, a therapist at Cedar Falls, says the seaweed is French and collected by deep sea divers at the equinox, when the vitamin and mineral content is at its highest. Impressive.

But health farms aren't just about detox, which suggests pain and sacrifice. They are places for relaxing and pampering, and it's entirely up to you how you spend your time. Treatments might be expensive (unless they're included in a package), but there are plenty of (free) healthy and invigorating activities such as swimming, aerobics and walking. Most health farms are housed in former stately homes with beautiful grounds and boast facilities such as saunas, jacuzzis, and gyms.

You don't have to eat "slimming" food at meal times, but it's there if you want it. Cedar Falls offers its own "cleansing diet", which can be followed over three, seven or 14 days. It starts with raw fruit and vegetables for a day or so, then moves on to steamed vegetables including potatoes, gradually adding things such as poached or grilled fish, sunflower seeds, brown rice and pulses. You drink only mineral water in the first stage, but later you ca add diluted fruit juice, vegetable juices and herb tea.

Naomi Clough, a 26-year-old primary school teacher from Bath, spends a couple of nights at a health farm twice a year at half-term. "It's a wonderful antidote to the stressful aspects of being a teacher because nothing at all is demanded of you, whereas in school you're always concentrating on the needs of others," she says.

"I lead quite a healthy lifestyle anyway, so I don't go there to undo damage so much as to de-stress. But I do more exercise there than I would at home because I take advantage of everything that's on offer. It's a real away-from-it-all experience. You can switch off your mind and just concentrate on your body."

Heather White, who teaches at Sketchley Hill primary school in Burbage, south Leicestershire, takes herself off to Ragdale Hall twice a year. "I prioritise, and as far as I'm concerned it's a priority," she says. "Being a mother and a teacher, I have to be so many things to so many people, and Ragdale is the only place where I really have time for myself.

"As soon as I walk through the door, I begin to slow down. I particularly like the aromatherapy and massage treatments because I think they put my body back into balance. And there's something about the whole atmosphere - the friendliness and the wonderful fluffy towels - that makes you feel you matter. I go away feeling re-energised and happier with myself."

The truism that a healthy workforce is a happy one is being taken seriously in the West Midlands. Teachers at Bellevue primary school in Stourbridge have an afternoon of treats in store next week to put them in the right frame of mind for the new term. Therapists from a local health club, Fortnocks, where deputy head Peter Brownjohn is a member, will arrive on Thursday at 3.30pm just as the children are going home. Laden with potions, lotions and exercise tips, the health club staff will work on the teachers until 6pm, free of charge.

Warren Crewe, club manager at Fortnocks, is particularly aware of the stresses on teachers. "We have many teachers among our members and I know something of the pressures they are constantly under," he says. "I believe we can do something to help."

The after-school session is part of Bellevue's stress-management programme for teachers and will include facials, massage and exercise classes plus a seminar on stress management. "As a health-promoting school, we feel we have a responsibility to staff as well as pupils," says headteacher Jan Compson. "I've no doubt there will be lots of laughter, which will make us all feel better."

Beautician Jenny Richards, who will be giving back massage to female staff, believes that "if people look good they feel good". She admits that she is hoping to acquire new clients out of the visit, but insists that a partnership with the school "is a great idea for all concerned".

Meanwhile, Dennis Carty, director of the education action zone, Dudley Partnership for Achievement, has also had preliminary talks with Fortnocks, where he too is a member. "It has a very good reputation in terms of personal recommendations and winning regional awards," he says.

After discovering that the club offered preferential rates to the police and fire and ambulance staff - he suggested that the 400-plus teachers employed in the EAZ's 20 schools might also be worthy of a discount.

While partnerships between public institutions and private companies are at the heart of action zones, Dennis Carty also believes that his targets for youngsters will be easier to meet with a fit and healthy teaching force. "We have less chance of making progress if teachers feel over-burdened and stressed," he says. Raising the self-esteem of youngsters in schools is a key target. "To do that we need leading adults who feel valued and cared for."

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