Diary of a juice fasting week with Jiva Healing in France

Jiva Healing run juice fasting holidays at changing locations around the world – Caroline Sylger Jones reviews one in rural France and finds tip-top nutritional advice and a squidgy-free, lucid self at the end of it

Saturday, and I arrive a little nervous at the thought of spending the next six days living off juice. I’ve just been reading Nigel Slater’s The Kitchen Diaries and I feel very into my food. An easy cab ride from Bergerac airport takes me to my home for the next week, a large, white single-storey stone house with pale green wooden shutters, red and yellow flowers growing along its walls, giant lilac plants and sweet-smelling herbs. My heart lifts.

Inside, I see the Jiva Healing team have set up a home-made shop of goodies from their trips to Goa, Laos and Thailand. Nothing like a spot of retail therapy to calm the nerves, I think, and get a little over-excited riffling through colourful piles of fishermen’s pants and silk dresses. Settling on a fetching swirly kaftan, I lie by the pool with Haruki Murakami’s novel The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and fantasise about living in France.

Other people start arriving, looking tired like me. Jiva Healing co-hostess Melissa Gamble takes a photo of each of us – the ‘before’ shot we’ll all get to laugh at in a week’s time. Early evening we all sit down to our Last Supper, tucking into a carrot and sultana dish dressed with a delicious lemony tahini dressing, a couple of tasty salads and some quinoa. We talk a lot about food, a bit about ourselves, and go splendidly early to bed.

Sunday, which is day one of not eating. Jiva Healing’s lovely if annoyingly healthy-looking nutritionist and co-founder Rebecca Andrist, gives us an easy to understand talk on why we fast, and I can feel my body vibrating with toxins. I’ve developed a grey, drawn, worried look over the past few months, and a squelchy feeling around my stomach. Like an elderly person who’s not so hot at remembering things, I have to write down what time we’ll be taking our daily doses of lemon & hot water, psyllium husk, juices, herbal supplements, spirullina and mineral broth. I find myself thinking of marmite on buttered toast.

Come 9 30 a.m. we’re in the conservatory doing our first daily yoga class with the friendly Heloise, who teaches in the Iyengar tradition. After a series of effective hip openers I’m flat on my back in savasana, feeling strangely tired. Heloise plays ‘Summertime’ on her ipod – a nice and uplifiting touch. I do a 30 minute circular walk from the house through peaceful countryside, then indulge in a bath of Epsom salts to help the detoxing process. I sweat and feel vaguely uncomfortable, but at least it gives me a chance to read more of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.

Supper is hot vegetable broth spruced up with cayenne pepper, which ends up giving me hiccups throughout most of our first Happy Eating session. Rebecca is a mine of information – amongst other things we talk about tap water, a big no-no, and someone pipes up that Joan Collins doesn’t drink it because it’s full of recycled urine and hormones. I feel faintly nauseous, and determine to buy Rebecca’s recommended water ioniser once home.

That night I do my first enema, with camomile, and on Monday morning my second, this time with coffee. I’ve done enemas before, but they always make me nervous and uncomfortable. Rebecca has explained very clearly how it’s done, and I breathe deeply through all the contractions, trying to hold the water inside my belly for as long as I can. But I feel myself getting impatient, and am glad when it’s over.

It’s rainy outside and we’re hoping it stops, because it’s only been a day without food and we’re already a bit whiny. We are saved by two more Happy Eating classes, especially because of the little recipes that Rebecca drops into her lucid talks, making it near impossible not to fantasise about food. The physllium husk we’re taking deliberately dampens our appetite, but I can still taste and smell the sweet potato and pumpkin mash with ginger and lime juice she describes, and my tummy rumbles.

We’re introduced to the concept of a dehydrator, a raw foodist’s way of cooking but without the heat. There’s a woman training to be a naturopath on the fast and she tells us how she makes her own raw chocolate using one – and there I was thinking I was being healthy buying Green & Blacks. I try my first dose of powdered spirullina and nearly gag – it’s our main source of protein for the week, and tastes of sour plant stem. I’ll be sticking to the pills from now on.

All is well again after a soothing holistic massage with Twimi, a Vietnamese woman living in France, who plays energetic Thai music and pounds my flesh into submission. Feeling a little nauseous approaching evening, I’m glad to get to bed and back to The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.

Tuesday, and having got up three times in the night to pee I feel tired, and a little faint. The sun has come out though, and most of us lounge by the pool, swapping life stories and feeling a bit smug. Trying to get through the required four litres a day, we sip constantly from our very own recycled Perrier glass bottles decorated with different coloured dots. People start talking about what they’re finding from their enemas – I bury my nose in my book.

Later, Happy Eating part four is another eye opener – I never knew that cashew nuts, macadamia nuts, lemon juice and rock salt all mixed together tastes like cheese. Yoga is very restorative. I realise I’m feeling rather dizzy again, and later in afternoon, I cry for no reason. I spend the rest of the day generally lazing about, wavering between feelings of serenity and frustration. Rebecca has been talking a lot about avocados – never has my desire for one been so intense.

‘Rebecca has been talking a lot about avocados – never has my desire for one been so intense’

That evening we have our sustainability class, focusing on chemicals to avoid, and learning practical stuff – Farrow & Ball make non-toxic paint apparently, as does B&Q. I’m impressed to hear that Jiva Healing buy chunks of rainforest to offset their client’s CO2 emissions from flights, and depressed to find out that 20% of the world’s population consume 80% of the world’s resources. I feel like I’ve read this before, but it’s never sunk in.

Wednesday, and it’s a day free from Happy Eating classes, though sadly not the enemas. I bunk off yoga and go for a bike ride with Rebecca through gorgeous countryside, surprised at how much energy I seem to have. Others go horse riding at the stables next door, and a few take a trip into Bergerac. When I hear they are going to try a Citron Pressé without the sugar I’m tempted, but I feel too weak to attempt proper human contact, and stay behind for an excellent deep tissue massage with visiting therapist Susan Hampshire instead. Susan tells me my body type doesn’t suit high-impact exercise like jogging – sweet music to my ears.

In the evening we have the intriguing Happiness class, in which Melissa draws on theories of Buddhism, positive psychology and the water experiments of Japanese researcher Dr. Masaru Emoto to explore how to get happy. It feels somehow wrong taking notes, but it’s too fascinating not to. Happiness is 90% attitude, we learn, and if you’re miserable, you’re more likely to be sick even if you eat healthily. I try and see how this could justify my continuing to drink wine at the rate I usually do, but sadly it doesn’t.

At night I feel deathly bored, and text a couple of friends. I discover my man has been surfing with mutual friends and is now having supper with them. I want to join them. Especially the ‘having supper’ bit.

Thursday, and I finish The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle – gutted, as it was taking my mind nicely off things. I get out of bed too quickly and feel faint. I’m bored with enemas, bored of yoga, and tearful again. I buy another kaftan, and, strangely, a peeler which makes your carrots all crinkly. Our morning In The Kitchen class is fascinating if cruel, demonstrating lots of recipe ideas to take home. We learn how to soak beans and make them taste of something you want to eat, why Portobello mushrooms are better than buttons, and how to make ice-cream from bananas. My favourite part is making ‘veggie pasta’, using a peeler like the one I’ve just bought to strip raw courgette into spaghetti-like strips and marinade it with lemon juice, raw garlic and olive oil. There’s no way of telling whether it tastes like pasta as we’re still fasting, but it sure as hell looks like it, and isn’t that a start?

Later I have my one-to-one nutrition session with Rebecca, where I am treated to more of her tips – a more alkaline diet should help my stiff neck and shoulders, and I should try Tulsi tea, made from Indian basil and good for stress. I have a hot bath again, and drool over a raw food cooking book taken from one of the many lying about the house. I never thought grated raw swede would sound so appetising.

During yoga I hear another gorgeous song that I decide I want to play at my pending wedding – Snatnam Kaur’s Long Time Sun, based on an Old Irish Blessing. In the evening we learn all about The Art of Eating – eating late at night stops the body’s natural detox process, and lunchtime is the best time to have a good sized meal. Melissa is half Japanese, and we’re encouraged to dine more like them, who eat till they are 80% full to give their stomachs the space to perform their ‘blender’ action – in other words, don’t stuff your face. I retire to bed after a cosy chat with a fellow faster. She is thinking about Chelsea Buns. Sadly, I’m still caught up with avocados.

Friday, and I’m rather weak and cold, but my brain feels really awake, and the enemas are much easier. Another great massage from Susan, and then some of us watch Penelope Cruz in Volver on DVD to pass the time. It leaves me feeling thoughtful, and I take a walk in the large back garden which is divinely flat and quiet. Later we learn how to break the fast, and are disappointed we won’t be able to indulge in a full meal for three days – for every day you fast you need half a day to break it, says Rebecca, as your very clean body will be more susceptible to toxins and too much food.

Fasting is a way of clearing out the negative in our minds as well as our bodies, and that afternoon we write down what we want to let go of, and what we want to welcome into our lives. Everyone shares what they’ve written, which makes it feel more real. It seems some people have decided to reshuffle their entire lives in six days, though others cop out and say they’ll just ‘eat more organic’. Strangely, still craving that avocado.

In the evening we do The Angel Walk, which sounds terrifying, but which turns out to be moving in all the right ways. Everyone creates an aisle either side of you, and as you walk down with your eyes closed, each person gently touches you as you pass. Even the most hardy of us has tears falling down their faces by the end. Time for an evening cup of herbal tea, and a pill of spirullina.

Saturday, and I have my last enema, then at 11 am we break the fast. I have mistakenly chosen the grain option, a sort of thin porridge made from brown rice that has been soaked overnight and cooked in water for two hours. Everyone who is having raw carrots looks far more excited than I do as they eat.

Packing, I decide to leave out a few things I haven’t used all week and that I don’t even like. Clutching a little bag of peeled carrots, my food for the entire day, I say goodbye to others and wait by the pool for my taxi. I check myself – calm, clear, lucid, clean, content, no squidge. And in my ‘after’ photo, my skin is pink, no longer grey. I’d certainly do this again.

I have a list of menu ideas for the next few days tucked in my pocket, which we’ve been encouraged to put together. Tomato and basil salad, steamed veggies, spiced soups, mashed sweet potatoes. I’m even allowed a quarter of an avocado on day three. I shall look forward to that, Rebecca.