What do you pack for a seven-day detox in Italy? A representative from the hotel advised, beforehand, to “pack very few clothes, because you’ll be in a robe most of the time.” So, I thought I’d covered all my bases: Bonpoint baby product travel kit (have you TRIED the body oil?!). Check. Makeup for a rip-roaring, mocktail-fueled New Year’s Eve. Check. Laptop. Check. But five minutes into checking in at the Palace Merano, I realized I’d forgotten an essential: sneakers. Probably because my own sneakers, the make of which I can’t remember, are buried under endless pairs of slightly different black pumps and three pairs of the same zippered Zara boots (when you find something good, buy in bulk—especially the cheap stuff). “The pool and fitness center are downstairs, and every day, a guide can take you Nordic walking,” Maximilian, the hotel manager, told me. Nordic walking? Fitness center? “Yes, of course—you know, for some sport.” Sport. Gulp. Oh, hm…well, I didn’t bring sneakers. “Well, what size are you, Madame?” he asked me. Um…40? “Let’s see if we can help you.”
The next morning after breakfast, I open the door to my room only to discover two shoe boxes on my bed—bathed in sunlight, like a gift from the fitness gods. “Dear Emily, we weren’t sure what color you’d prefer, so here are two choices,” the note read. God bless you, Maximilian. I peeled the paper off a pair of optic-white Kappa lady sneakers.
"Hello, friends," I said, like a crazy person. Are you ready to see something funny? It’s me, being active.
Now, let’s just get real for a second: I never made it to the fitness center. I was cranky, toxins were apparently flooding out of my body—I felt it was not a good time for yet another shock to my suddenly caffeine-, alcohol-, and sugar-free system. But “Nordic walk” I did, with a lovely local woman named Daniela, who gingerly steered us clear of the apple streudel stands (a local specialty) and up into the mountains. It was the very first time I’d stepped out of the hotel’s doors since arriving four days earlier: the skies were clear, the birds were chirping, and those turquoise-tipped sneakers took me far and wide for a total of 30 minutes before I said, "Okay, we should probably be getting back soon."
I don’t like working out, never have, which you might already know from this post back, way back, in September 2011. Cardio, in particular, is my enemy; running makes me nauseous. I’ve always justified the no-working-out thing with the New-Yorkers-walk-a-LOT argument. We do. We do! However, Pilates, particularly the bar class at YogaWorks, is awesome: two weeks of that and it’s like tightening the strings on a guitar (I imagine, having never owned a guitar)—my body feels strong, all my muscles feel engaged, like soldiers saying, “Attennnnn-TION!” But that doesn’t mean I do it. Haven’t in months. I should be doing it, it’s great for you, but once you’re in that downward spiral of eating crappily, sleeping right up to the last minute you must get out of bed, it becomes this all-or-nothing thing (which brings me back to my resolution: everything in moderation). The "I’ll start tomorrow" mentality kicks in, and tomorrow is always too busy.
But when you start making different, healthier decisions about what you’re eating, you start to think of your body in a new way. It is, in fact, a machine. Someone at Chenot compared it to a car. It needs the right type of gas, and enough fuel, to run properly. I had nothing but time to think about these very intuitive principles that I’d first learned in grade school— stuff that we all know but somehow don’t always care to act on. But at Chenot, all you do—and I do mean all there is to do—is talk about your health, and your body. All day, erryday. I was handed a small hardcover binder when I arrived, with the week’s schedule inside. When I left, the binder was stuffed with energy-level reports, blood-work diagnostics, a meal plan, bone-density test findings, toxicity levels, fat-to-muscle ratios, and a note saying I had an “excess of yang.” It was literally like a week of doctors appointments under one roof, everyone there working together toward this greater good of you, and the first thing anybody asks when you walk through his or her door is, “May I see your book?” Going through airport security, that full-body scan with your hands over your head, is only slightly less glamorous, comparatively.
You know the five love languages? It’s really fun cocktail-party fodder, when “What’s your sign?” is too boring: “Which one are you?! There’s 'Words of Affirmation,' 'Acts of Service,' 'Receiving Gifts,' 'Quality Time,' and 'Physical Touch.'” If you’re 'Physical Touch,' then Chenot is the place for you. I haven’t been touched so much since I was in diapers [photo 4]. Every day, I would wake up at 7:30, put on my robe and “hydro-therapy slippers” (just wait), have some fruit and herbal tea, and go downstairs to the spa. Sylvia, an Italian-grandmother-type, would pull away from the group of chattering technicians and say with her thick accent, “Good moooorning!” She'd take me into a private room equipped with a pre-run whirlpool bath and a plastic-covered massage table, dim the lights, hand me a pair of disposible panties and a shower cap, and wait. The first few days, you do the panty-shower-cap-thing but after that it’s like, who cares. Silvia’s seen it all. It goes like this: you slip in to the bath and let the jets massage your body from neck to toe for twenty minutes, the aromatherapy “detox” bath-milk helping shake things up, as tiny Christmas-tree-esque lights tint the water blue, green, yellow, and orange. Silvia reappears, every time, right when the jets turn off, scoops you out of the bath, dries you off, and situates you on the table, where she proceeds to paint your entire body with warm seaweed-mud. We’re talking back, front, everything. She pulls the edges of the plastic tarp up over your body, then the blanket, and, finally, she takes an enormous down comforter out from under the table and pulls it up to your chin. “Voilà. Like a baby. Goodniiiight,” she says, pressing a button to deflate the table that you thought was solid, your body floating in a heated, makeshift womb. Each time she left the room to let me marinate, I thought two things: 1) What if my nose itches, and 2) It’s crazy that they have white sheets, white robes, and white-leather Mies van der Rohe Barcelona chairs given that they're flinging this green mud everywhere.
On day six, though, I thought something entirely different: this feels really good. As I lay in my little mud cocoon, I could actually sense—and this is going to sound really hippie-dippy—the currents of energy, or was it blood flow?—coursing through my limbs. It was actually Maximilian, the hotel manager, who had told me on our preliminary tour of the 'hydro-mud-therapy wing' (this place is huge) that by the end of the week, your circulation is greatly improved. He was right.
After these treatments, at around 10:30 AM, I’d head over to the medical wing for one of the dozen visits I must have had—one of which included a vigorous colonic—then lunch, and then a massage, which of course was no ordinary massage, because few things at Chenot are ordinary. They incorporate Chinese cupping (remember that famous picture of Gwyneth Paltrow?) to draw toxins to the skin's surface. This afternoon massage was always the highlight of my day, because, firstly, it felt weird but really good, but also because seeing the cups being moved all over my body was kind of entertaining. I tried to do the mind-body thing while it was happening, visualizing toxins, whatever they look like, rising up and out, but kept getting distracted thinking about that blue alien opera singer from The Fifth Element, one of the many movies I watched on satellite TV during the trip. And then, of course, I’d think about Milla Jovovich as Leeloo, and how crazy her body was, and how on Earth did she get into such gangbuster shape to play this superhuman, powerful chick? Also, shame on Lisbeth Salander (that was playing on TV, too) for subsisting on ramen noodles and Coca-Cola—surely she’d have had more energy with even an Annie’s Homegrown microwave protein/veggie situation.
I don’t know how anybody sleeps during a massage.
But what I do know is that, for me, the more I start to take care of my body, the more I want to keep at it. The white Kappa sneakers are the first thing I see when I open my closet right now. It’s time to start working out. How do you say 'tomorrow' in Italian?
[Ed. note: Emily's program and diet was overseen by a medical doctor. Given its extreme nature, we don't recommend, and in fact discourage, anyone try any of this at home (even if you have colonic machines or seaweed mud wraps at your disposal).]
Emily Weiss in Merano, Italy. Accommodations provided by Espace Henri Chenot, thank God, because otherwise it would have been hella expensive.