How a seriously fit 70-year-old woman created the detox I needed | Women's Agenda

How a seriously fit 70-year-old woman created the detox I needed

I decided to go to Kangaroo Island’s 5-day health retreat in a moment of quiet desperation. The tell-tale signs of burning the candle at both ends were showing after six months of launching a business, extensive travel, moving continents and switching apartments three times. Coupled with all the socialising and late nights I looked tired, felt sluggish and my brain wasn’t firing on all cylinders. It was time to pull the plug.

I heard about Kangaroo Island Health Retreat from a friend who’d attended the previous year. He’d lost five kilos in five days and came home with a new attitude to food, nutrition, health and exercise. (Two years on he has kept the weight off and is still living by the KI retreat teachings).

So I contacted course owner Sue McCarthy and she invited me to the retreat and document how I went for Women’s Agenda. My instructions were to be at Adelaide airport at 5pm on Sunday afternoon to catch my flight to Kangaroo Island and to bring a natural fibre body brush, a one-litre water bottle, two pairs of swimmers, plenty of active wear and warm clothes.

Here’s how it went.

Day 1:

I arrived to the island at 5.45pm after a 20-minute flight from Adelaide. Retreat owner Sue McCarthy met me in the arrivals hall. She was warm, friendly, energetic and I immediately liked her. With her tanned skin and massive blue eyes, she was the picture of health for a 70-year-old and exuded the energy of a 20-year-old.  

Sue’s husband Austin (who is 80 and also remarkable for his age) drove us from the airport to Shamrock Lodge 15 minutes from the airport. I was joined by four fellow detoxers – a couple in their late 30s from Melbourne, an entrepreneur from Adelaide and a 44-year-old sales executive guy from Melbourne.

The accommodation was spotless but basic. Described as “a purpose-built dwelling for people to comfortably heal their bodies. It is not a hotel or holiday facility.” We each had our own bedroom and en-suite. A big kitchen dominated the main living space with a TV and a bookshelf stacked with self-help and cooking books and DVDs. There was a therapy room, exercise bike room, lecture room and an outdoor deck for yoga.

After showing us around we were given our daily timetable for the next four days:

6.30am: Dry skin brushing, drink 1 teaspoon of epsom salt with water, rub teatree oil on tongue, ears and nose, drink 1 litre water

7am: Sunrise exercise bike 30 mins, drink 1 litre water

8am: 6km-10km walk to beach, beach swim, drink 1 litre water

10am: Nutrition and anatomy lecture, drink 1 litre water

11am: One-hour sauna, body brushing and cold shower, drink 1 litre water

12pm: Yoga, drink 1 litre water

12.45pm: Paste (Sue calls it a paste but really it’s a delicious tonic)

1pm: Sleep/rest

2pm: Fruit

3pm: 6km-10km village walk, drink 1 litre water

6pm: Soup and culinary lesson

7pm: Therapy room, foot massages and heated massage beds, drink 1 litre water

9pm: Repeat Epsom salts and tea tree oil, bring 1 litre of water to bed.

Next it was health check and weigh-in time. One by one we went to Sue’s small weigh-in room. I closed my eyes and stepped up on the scales – 64kgs. To put that into perspective I’m 168cms and have always been around the 62kg mark.  So I wasn’t overjoyed with these new found extra kilos. But that’s one of the reasons why I’m here.

By 9pm after a sauna, foot and back massages, we were tucked up in our warm beds with alarms set for 6.30am. Having just got a taster for what’s in store I’m excited about the week ahead.

Day 2:

Lesson of the day: Skin brushing: 10 minutes’ dry skin brushing every morning is the equivalent to a 30-minute jog. Who wouldn’t?

My alarm went off at 6.30am. Following instructions, I dry brushed my skin for 20-minutes and headed to the veranda where my fellow detoxers were peddling away on their exercise bikes overlooking the beautiful Emu Bay. The sunrise was mesmerising and with little chat amongst us I didn’t feel the 30 minutes go by.

Sue arrived bang on 8am bouncing with energy to take us on our first beach walk. In case you don’t know much about Kangaroo Island, it’s Australia’s third largest island situated about 110km off the south coast of Australia with a population of about 4000. The pristine countryside is unspoilt and home to abundant wildlife – including kangaroos, llamas, wallabies, koalas and echidnas. So needless to say that first morning walk in the fresh air through the paddocks to the white sands of Emu Bay was spectacular.

When we hit the beach after a 6km walk it was swim time. By the way – this is July, it’s cold, it’s windy and the water looks freezing. I foolishly thought Sue was might let us away with the swim but I soon learned that would never ever be the case. Without fuss nor drama she stripped down to her swimmers and waded into the freezing water. We followed suit, jumping, shivering and yelping and wondering what the hell we were doing this for. But Sue ploughed on steadily and focused. I decided my best bet would be to walk beside her and hear her thought process. It was simple – focus and mind over matter. Then she dived straight in. I screamed and followed. And that was to be my tactic for the rest of the week.

When we got back to the retreat, into warm clothes, downed our 4th litre of water, attended Sue’s nutrition lecture (see day 5 for a recap on her teachings) we hit the sauna for an hour of dry skin brushing. I’d never spent more than 15 minutes in a sauna in my life but when I heard one hour burns 1600 calories I stayed in for every last second.  We learned about the brilliance of dry skin brushing and how it improves skin circulation, cellulite and fatty toxic deposits trapped in the deeper layers of the skin. Seemingly, 10 minutes’ brushing is equivalent to a 30-minute jog – who wouldn’t go for that option?

Sue preparing our food.

After the sauna we were sent for a freezing cold shower – another torturous yet seemingly beneficial ritual.

Next we did an hour yoga and then finally time to eat our first meal of the day – the “paste”. Why Sue calls it a “paste” is beyond me because it’s more like a delicious dessert or tonic consisting of greek yoghurt, honey, cinnamon, ground sunflower seeds and sumac which she says is the perfect health blend. We savoured every last bit and it would be our staple meal for the next four days.

I slept blissfully for the full hour of “rest time” and the sight of the fruit platter when we woke up was heavenly – watermelon topped with some cranberries, ground almonds and a couple of other dried fruits.

Sue, full of energy which I realised was consistent morning to night, then led us out on our next 8km picturesque walk through the village. It was a charming walk but by the time we got back we were exhausted, cold and hungry.

A wholesome soup made from all fresh ingredients warmed us up nicely. Whether or not it would have been as delicious any other day I don’t know but I was beginning to think Sue’s scrumptious food compensated for her gruelling daily regime. Today’s was potato, pumpkin, parsley, lemon, cayenne pepper and nutmeg.

By 9pm after our massage therapies I was ready for bed. One day down, 8 litres of water drank and 16km walked – it wasn’t too hard and I felt good but it felt one like one of the longest days of my life. I’m a little anxious about the rest of the week – surely we can’t survive on that little food for a week?!

Day 3: Lesson of the day: You can build an empire if you have the energy. And the correct food eaten in the right way gives you that energy.

Ok so the timetable today was the exact same as yesterday and the only difference was my mental and physical state. My legs were a bit stiff from the day before, my stomach felt hollow (which was kind of nice) and when I woke up I felt a small sense of dread of the day ahead.

But got through the day we did. My fellow detoxers seem to be in good form with a quiet sense of achievement among us all.

Although we’re eating very little I have to say the food we do eat is to die for – all fresh from Sue’s garden. Fruit today was orange, dried apricot, mandarin and banana. The evening soup was possibly the nicest thing I’ve ever tasted made up of grated carrots, sweet potato and parsnips. Eggplant, onion and garlic sautéed in butter. Chilli, jalapeno, turmeric, bit of coriander, parsley, butter beans, leftover pumpkin stock, masala and green ginger. (I think)

Today was colder than yesterday and when I hit the beach I almost ran away and hid. But I knew this time I could do it. I waded into the ocean with Sue and the others, each of us screaming (bar Sue) as the cold waves hit our bodies. Afterwards I felt amazing.

The lecture today was what stood out to me and got me thinking. I was beginning to think of life back in Sydney and signing up to all the latest fads and superfoods. Sue keeps it simple and is convinced that if you eat correctly and simply, at the right times you will give yourself energy to achieve whatever you want. And it’s simple. Three litres of water a day, three balanced meals a day at 7am, 1pm and 6pm and one-hour exercise will give you energy from sunrise to sunset. (See recap on day 5).

By the end of the day, falling into bed I’m feeling physically wrecked but mentally energised. At certain points of the day all I wanted was a coffee and toast. But I feel more determined and clearer in the mind. It’s been a very long two days but I’m looking forward to getting through the next two.

Day 4: Lesson of the day: Walk your way to health

I had a pretty rough night’s sleep. Woke up at 2am with a splitting headache – a classic sign of detox of course. I text Ange (editor of WA) in the middle of the night and said “I need to get off this island – I think I’ve had enough”. But by the time 6.30am rolled around I found the energy.

Today we had breakfast! Greek yoghurt, rice puffs, rockmelon, little bit of dried blackcurrants, pinch of coconut and sumac on the top. Afternoon fruit was honey dew melon, tangelo, chopped dates and sesame seeds. Everything I’ve tasted so far has been exceedingly tasty and best of all super healthy. 

The ritual today was the same as Monday and Tuesday. Despite the dull headache, as the day went on I began to feel more energised.

It’s impossible not to be uplifted by Sue’s energy and determination. Over those 16-20km walks, stopping every so often to take pictures of passing llamas and kangaroos you feel immersed in nature. It’s the perfect time to think, reflect, meditate and Sue gives each person hours of one-on-one time as we walk – coaching us on life and health.

By the end of day four, another 20km walked, another 8 litres of water drank – I’m feeling exhausted, lighter and optimistic. I realised the biggest mistake I made coming here was bringing my laptop and thinking I’d have time to squeeze some work in while I was here. I should have resigned myself to the fact that work was going to be put on hold instead of having it in the back of my mind. I have one day left and I want to absorb everything, take it all in, be present and get the most out of every minute with Sue and her teachings.

Day 5: Lesson of the day: Resilience

Last day. As we set off on our first 10km walk it was particularly cold. I said to Sue “are we swimming today?” and she looked at me and said “why are you asking that question now? We have a beautiful walk ahead of us, be present, forget about the swim.” Why worry about something that was happening in a couple of hours instead of enjoying the present moment and cross that bridge when it comes. And she was right – I put it clean out of my head and by the time we got to the beach I just did what I did every other morning.  

Jumping into bed that night I felt slightly invincible. I thought back to a conversation on the beach I had with Sue (one of the many) and she said that this week is not just about detoxing and learning about nutrition and food – it’s about building resilience. We’ve been toughening all week and that’s the reason she designed the course the way it is. To get up in the morning knowing you have to go through the same exact same agony of the previous day but getting through it with determination is what builds resilience. Today was so much easier than Monday morning and I feel I’ve broken through a wall – a feeling of sheer determination and simply “I can do this”. Last week I would have screamed and ran as soon as my toe hit that water. We leave tomorrow and I feel a bit a sad – I feel like I’m only scratching the surface of a lot of untapped energy and focus. 

Day 5:  Leaving day

When the alarm went off at 6.30am I felt excitement and a sense of relief. We’re finished. Our 5-day detox is over.

I hopped out of bed, stripped off my pyjamas, did a quick skin brush and put on my bikini for my final weigh-in. I pulled out my phone and took a quick selfie to compare it to my Sunday selfie. My skin looked clearer, my eyes looked brighter and I’d lost that annoying bloated look in my face. Around my chin and neck is where I noticed the biggest difference – the little double chin that was forming was gone.

With a pep in my step I made my way to Sue’s “weigh-in” room. I hopped up on the scales – I’d lost 4kg and inches from thighs, arms and waist. So I’d hit my target of 60kg. I know a lot of that is water but it’s the perfect kick start to a healthier me. Sue congratulated me on completing the journey, for not whinging, partaking in all activities and jumping in the cold ocean every day without complaint. (I’m glad she couldn’t read my mind midweek).

We packed up our gear and gave Sue a hug goodbye.

I’ll be sad to leave this beautiful island, Sue’s delicious fresh food and cooking, her infectious positivity and daily mentoring – but at the same time relief that the tough daily ritual is over. And now I’m being rewarded. I’m excited about my renewed energy and looking forward to getting stuck into work and exercise when I get home. I went through every emotion this week and almost in this order – anticipation, excitement, feelings of depression, exhaustion, anger, despair, determination, optimism, joy, motivation and exhilaration. I arrived on Sunday feeling lethargic, bloated and lacking in motivation – now I feel unstoppable. 

The verdict:

Sue McCarthy is an absolute guru in health. You might baulk at the price of the 5-day detox – $2,700 for five days of walking 15-20km a day, jumping in the cold ocean, dry body brushing, hour long saunas, yoga and drinking 6-8 litres of water a day. You might think you could do that at home.

But that’s not what you’re paying for – you’re paying for Sue. She’s the embodiment of what she teaches; 70 years old with the energy levels of a 25-year-old and the most positive and practical outlook in life of anyone I’ve ever met. If Sue had to use one word to describe her life it would be “exquisite”. And she puts it down to some very simple things – food, life force, water and exercise. She’s not just a nutritionist, she is a life coach and a mentor. You have five days of her undivided attention. And she will be brutal – she will tell you exactly what she thinks about your lifestyle and especially your attitude to life. And she will encourage you and give you advice on how to fix it.

One of her key messages is – don’t ever blame anyone for where you’re at in life and she is living proof that what she teaches works.

The five days on Kangaroo Island was a life-changing experience. I’m leaving feeling exhilarated. Not just because of the four kilos I’ve lost – but because I feel Sue has ignited a new fire in me. A fire that is built on simple elements of life than I can easily continue at home such as water, stretching and simple food – that will give you energy for the day.

And as Sue says, if you have energy and health – you can build an empire.

Recap on some of Sue’s life lessons

Oxygen: get out into the fresh air and learn to stop and breath.

Drink 3 litres of water EVERY day: you will notice health benefits like better digestion, quality insulin and a glow to your skin.

One hour of exercise EVERY day – no excuses: walk, swim, stretch, yoga, dance – variety is key.

The 70/20/10 food rule: each meal should be 70% carbohydrates, 20% protein and 10% fats or fatty acids on a plate.

The 20/80 rule: If you consume 3 meals a day, 7 days a week – that’s 21 meals. Sue recommends sticking to the 70/20/10 rule for 15 of those 21 meals – the remaining 6 meals you can do what you want.

The fluid rule: Don’t drink anything 15 minutes before eating and one hour afterwards (Sue explains the biological reasoning behind this which made perfect sense to me – but is far too detailed to document here).

Skin brushing: 10 minutes’ dry skin brushing every morning is the equivalent to a 30-minute jog. Who wouldn’t do that?

Sarah O’Carroll completed the five-day detox as a guest of Kangaroo Island Health Retreat.

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