Dec 8, 2019 by Hamza Sheraz.
Having always been sceptical of the self-care revolution, Jade Hutchinson spent 24 hours immersed in essential oils and granola to see if her mind could be changed
Living in the moment is the key to happiness, they say, but the only time this ever seems to apply to me is when I have to make the decision between getting up early to go to yoga or an extra hour in bed. Or tossing it up between going spinning after work or going for an impromptu dinner and drinks with friends, instead. When it comes to wellness, I will always "live in the moment", with exercise and diet residing in that magical land of mañana. Hard as I might try, I have never been able to make good habits stick.
So, when I was offered the chance to experience Champney’s new Health & Wellbeing Day, which promised some straight-talking around the state of my health, I was intrigued. Earlier in the year, I’d caught a rather nasty chest infection and cough, which took a long time to get rid of and had got me thinking a lot about what was going on inside my body. So, with a healthy dose of scepticism (and an empty stomach, you can’t eat for 12 hours before you arrive), off I went to the Hertfordshire spa and prepared myself for a wellness overhaul. This is what I learned.
The reason you can’t eat or drink for 12 hours before arrival is so that the spa’s resident GP, Dr Riccardo, can take some blood and send it off for same-day testing. As well as this, you also get an ECG, which I learned (as the sticky pads were being applied to my chest) stands for electrocardiogram and checks your heart's rhythm and electrical activity... which, for me, all turned out to be as it should be.
As Dr Riccardo filled in the forms for my blood to be sent off, he explained that the UK is one of the few places where regular health checks are not the norm, and that usually we only get tested when we suspect something is wrong. If you applied the same logic to a car and never got it MOT’d, would you be surprised if it suddenly broke down one day? This analogy really stuck with me... and it was only 9.55!
Breakfast time (finally) and, unsurprisingly, the options were more granola-and-fruit than a full English. I also got my first experience of the “Champney’s plates”, which designate the proportions your meal should be:
This has always been a stalwart of the Champneys regime, ever since the spa launched in the 1920s, although it's been updated as we’ve learnt more about balanced diets. Full disclosure, though: I didn’t adhere to this, thanks to a delicious-looking kedgeree that I piled on my plate. I also added a side of melon. Baby steps.
We are given a tour of the spa by the in-house personal trainer, Craig, followed by a talk about The Champneys "Holy Trinity": exercise, nutrition and detoxification. Craig explains that the detoxification they endorse is not the same as the clean eating/juice cleanses you see on Instagram. Instead, it’s a process of taking the strain off your lymph nodes, which, when overflowing, will send toxins to your fat cells, causing water retention and subsequently making weight loss more difficult.
To prove this, we were given an "in-body" analysis, which involved standing very still on some scales for a few minutes while they took a remarkable number of measurements. From this, I was told that I am pretty much bang on average height and weight for my age, although I do have 5.9 pounds of water retention. And, apparently, the best way to lose this is to drink lots of water, reduce processed food like white bread, ready meals, fizzy drinks, and dry-brush to improve circulation. So, nothing too radical and (aside from my love for the odd G&T) a pretty achievable action plan. I haven’t incorporated dry-brushing into my morning routine yet, however I do have friends who swear by this, so it’s on my list of things to do this year.
Lunch consisted of a wide variety of hot and cold buffet options, with all the allergens clearly marked – useful for those of us who have dietary restrictions (having been diagnosed with IBS at 14, I am always grateful for a range of gluten- and dairy-free options).
Fed and watered, it was time for the scheduled "hike", which, due to inclement weather, was limited to a walk around the grounds. While it didn’t exactly work up a sweat, it was very pleasant and I got my first spin on a pair of trekking poles, which were harder to use that you might think!
Jade getting to grips with her trekking poles
My results were in, so I returned to the on-site GP where I spoke to a different but equally friendly doctor about my results, which focused on blood, kidneys, liver and heart. She was more than happy to discuss other questions I had, such as how to alleviate severe period pains. For this, she suggested I consider changing my copper IUD for a Mirena (an alternative IUD device), as the hormones will lighten my periods. Overall, my results were reassuringly normal. I’ve been advised to take iron for a low red-blood-cell count and a slightly higher QRISK heart age could be helped by reducing the excesses of London living (drink less, exercise more). So again, nothing I didn’t really already know, but put into the context of numbers and facts, it’s certainly had more of an impact.
A yoga class (which was included in the package) signalled the end of my wellness day and it was time to hop back on the train to London. However, the grounds of the spa are so beautiful and spacious, so unless you’re driving I would recommend you book yourself in for the evening, which includes an evening meal and the Champney’s massage, which was genuinely one of the best I’ve ever had (it was so good I fell asleep!).
I’d be lying if I said my day in Tring completely overhauled my approach to wellness, life is too short to cut out everything fun and a spa day is a luxury not everyone can afford. But when it comes to a kick up the arse about your health, never before have I experienced it in such comfort. The most useful thing I took from the day was not to take being healthy for granted and to have a "prehab" approach to health – listening to your body and making little lifestyle tweaks when needed, rather than carrying on at full-pelt only to end up ill. And if that means cutting down on the booze and takeaways every now and again so that I feel tip-top, then it feels like a worthy trade off.