[OPINION] Detox retreats: The icing on your wellness cake

It's hard to see the picture when you’re in it, which is why I only began to notice the alarmingly high number of Filipinos getting sick and dying young when I started living abroad.

I remember expressing shock to my mother during one of my annual trips home. “I don’t know anyone in London who is sick. But in Manila, I know so many people who have cancer or heart disease. We are sicker than other populations for sure!”

“Correction, you don’t know anyone in London, period," my mother clarified helpfully. "That’s why you don’t know anyone in London who is sick.” I could always rely on her to keep it real for me.

Since I couldn’t refute her assertion about my social life, I decided to dig up some data to prove I wasn’t just going full-hermit delusional. I found some answers in Key Indicators for Asia and the Pacific, an annual publication produced by the Asian Development Bank. It tracks economic, financial, social and environmental indicators for the Bank’s member countries. In their latest installment in 2018, among all the South East Asian countries, the Philippines had the second highest mortality rate due to cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular and chronic respiratory disease.  

Why are so many more of us dying due to these chronic illnesses compared to our Southeast Asian neighbors?  (On the flip side, you may be happy to know that we have the lowest suicide rate compared to our neighbors.)

According to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, an independent health research center, the number one factor driving us to our deaths is diet, or as my brother likes to put it, die with a t. Most of the top 10 risk factors for Filipino deaths and illnesses are behavioral or metabolic. Aside from diet, other risk factors highlighted were high sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels, tobacco use and alcohol intake, and body weight. I’m not sure why these were classified separately as they all seem to boil down to diet to me. There was only one environmental risk factor which, as you may have already guessed, was air pollution. (READ: Experiencing the wellness wake-up call

Partly because of this data, but really mostly because I quite like feeling well, in recent years I’ve started taking a more active interest in wellness. One wellness trend that captured my imagination was detox retreats.

Last summer, I finally found myself with some free time to try one such retreat, after many years dreaming about it. I started my preparations with a comprehensive search of detox providers across the US, and poured over Google reviews for a couple of weeks. Then I shortlisted 3 providers based on affordability, quality of service, and expertise. I did a round of calls to interview those that I short-listed, before finally deciding to go with Rejuvenate with Jan in Palm Springs in the California desert. Then off the husband and I went, to the desert, at the height of summer, for a week of fasting and daily colonics. 

Did I mention that colonics is a procedure that empties your bowels? Strangely, this detail didn’t bother me until I was actually at the retreat having only watermelon for dinner the night before my fast began.  By then, it was too late to back out, but luckily, this turned out to be the kind of situation where not thinking too much was the best way forward.

What are my big takeaways from the detox? First, that I could come out of a week of fasting and daily colonics feeling better than when I went in. Amazingly, I was never hungry, although admittedly I did have a headache for the first couple of days as my body expelled toxins. After the detox, the effects I enjoyed most were feeling light and free from bloating and having better mental concentration. I also felt increased flexibility even though I did only one yoga class during the retreat as opposed to my regular 3 times a week. My taste buds felt brand new. Food was more delicious than I had ever sensed in my life, and for a few months, I lost my interest in junk food. (READ: Surviving the 10-day lemon juice cleanse)

Second takeaway: Colonics are emotional as much as they are physical. Avert your eyes and skip on to the next paragraph if you are squeamish, but the procedure really does feel and look like your intestinal walls are being scrubbed of feces that has been stuck to them since birth, and that all the gunk that has been inside of you for years is finally being expelled. It’s a big deal, so it’s really important to go to a colon therapist who is not only an expert, but also sensitive and empathetic.

My third takeaway: Wellness doesn’t have to be hard; small lifestyle changes can translate to huge improvements in how well we feel. Jan’s detox had an education component to it. She hosted daily talks on wellness principles and best practices that we could carry on with after the retreat. Some I tried but didn’t stick to, like adhering to a raw diet and detox brushing. (READ: Pets for mental wellness: How dogs play a role in healing, therapy

But other habits were so easy to take up that they’ve become part of our family life and have improved our collective wellbeing immensely. I’m talking about little things like taking fiber daily, using a toilet step, drinking coconut milk instead of dairy milk, taking coconut sugar instead of white sugar, cooking with coconut oil instead of vegetable oil (yes, coconut is a miracle food!), eating fresh frozen vegetables instead of canned ones. The list goes on – Jan provided a lot of lifestyle options. (READ: Don't have time to exercise? Here's a regime everyone can squeeze in)

Would I do it all again? Absolutely, a resounding yes! But I do view it as something similar to fireworks for the new year.  They’re a great way to kick things off, but after that, it's important to pay attention to the little things that make every day count. – Rappler.com

Based in New York, the author is a writing enthusiast using this space as a good excuse to embark on some adventures, gain wisdom, and make friends along the wayFollow her on Twitter @beingleticia.