At the lesser end of the spectrum, we’ve all experienced the discomfort of bloating, while “leaky gut syndrome” (when the intestinal barrier becomes damaged and lets toxins and bacteria into the bloodstream) is believed to be one cause of conditions ranging from acne to autoimmune diseases.
Nowadays it seems there’s no end to fad foods and quick-fix diets and with the focus on what we eat, it’s easy to neglect how we eat.
Modern life sees most of us consume too much, too often, too quickly and too late in the day.
Around the turn of the 20th century, Austrian physician Dr Franz Xaver Mayr was one of the first to uncover the link between nutrition, digestion and overall health and in doing so developed his FX Mayr principle, a holistic approach to food, diagnostics and wellbeing.
Medical advances have seen these ideas tweaked to become what is now known as modern Mayr medicine, a period of detoxification based around four key principles: cleansing the digestive system, training in proper chewing, taking vitamins and minerals for what your body is lacking and rest.
Which is what makes the rich and famous spend thousands to stay at one of two VIVAMAYR medical centres in picturesque lakeside locations in Austria, checking themselves in for the Mayr “cure”.
Guests spend between one and three weeks on a diet free from sugar, alcohol, coffee and dairy products and days free from work, technology and stress.
This is accompanied by laxatives to cleanse the colon, daily consultations with a doctor and a personalised programme of state-of-the-art medical treatments.
The aim is to restart the digestive system, address ongoing health concerns and – hopefully – encourage good eating habits.
The results are impressive and guests report that conditions such as allergies, high blood pressure and even Type 2 diabetes have been alleviated.
As a regime of 600 calories a day, vitamin drips and colonic irrigation is hardly practical for daily life, this detox is designed as an occasional reset rather than a continuous way of life.
But plenty of what is learned at VIVAMAYR can be introduced into everyday routines.
The goal is to make digestion as easy as possible. The harder the gut has to work to process food, the longer food remains sitting in there.
Left too long, it will ferment, producing alcohol and gas, which in turn can result in inflammation, and that’s when wider health issues can occur.
By making simple changes to your eating habits, you can help create a happier, healthier gut.
Don’t eat later than 7pm
Like the rest of the body, our metabolism is at its most efficient in the morning and gets tired as the day goes on, meaning digestion becomes harder and slower in the evenings.
Eating a rich or heavy meal late in the day means food can sit in the gut overnight, fermenting or putrefying, causing this gas and inflammation.
Remember the old saying, “Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper.”
Interval fasting is encouraged, too – eating between eight hours during the day, say 10am and 6pm, and having 16 hours off.
Chew food properly
The digestive process begins in the mouth and chewing food well increases its surface area, enabling enzymes in the saliva to work more effectively.
The Mayr principle suggests chewing 40 times per mouthful (harder than it sounds) or until the food becomes an easily swallowed paste in the mouth.
Eating slowly also means you feel full more quickly and have fewer cravings as nutrients are absorbed better.
At VIVAMAYR you may hear it joked that “a well-chewed burger is better for your digestion than a badly chewed salad” – not that you’re likely to find a burger on the menu.
Nothing raw after 4pm
While juices and raw vegan diets may be something of a current health trend, uncooked food is harder for the digestive system to break down than cooked, especially later in the day.
Soup or a piece of fish or meat with vegetables are excellent options for your evening meal.
VIVAMAYR Maria Wörth hotel director Serhan Güven does “the cure” himself twice a year but this is one habit he is fastidious about sticking to all year round.
With food continuously entering the stomach during the day, it doesn’t get a chance to properly digest what’s already in there, and “old” food can build up.
But leaving four and five hours between meals, with no snacking, allows the digestive system to completely process the previous meal, explains VIVAMAYR’s Dr Doris Schuscha.
“We need to embrace the feeling of being hungry.”
Drink plenty of fluids – but not during meals
Liquids are essential for metabolic processes, including flushing out the kidneys.
The Mayr principle recommends two litres of water or herbal tea a day but drunk outside of mealtimes, as doing this dilutes digestive juices.
Other drinks like fruit juice, milk or alcohol should be consumed and counted as part of your meal – remember, we shouldn’t be giving the gut anything to digest between meals.
If you drink enough water during the day, there is no harm in a glass of wine with dinner.
Balance acid and alkaline foods
Maintaining an acid-alkaline balance is essential for body processes to function as they should, but modern life leans towards the acidic.
Coffee, alcohol, nicotine and refined carbohydrates are all strong acid providers – as is stress.
Ensure each meal consists of one-third acid and two-thirds alkaline foods.
Proteins, legumes and citrus fruits are acidic, while most vegetables, including potatoes, are alkaline, as are ripe local fruits, herbs and spices.
Beauty and travel editor Laura Mulley experience at VIVAMAYR…
“I’ve been to VIVAMAYR Maria Wörth twice for a week of simple food and simple living. Here’s what happened…
“It certainly wouldn’t be many people’s cup of (herbal) tea. Much of your stay is spent feeling hungry and headachy and there aren’t many frills – rooms are basic, you live in loungewear and the doctors and therapists dole out no-nonsense advice.
“So what is it that keeps drawing guests back time and time again? For me, it’s the indulgence of allowing yourself time solely dedicated to looking after your body without any of the stresses of the modern world, combined with the addictive results.
“Both times I’ve left feeling cleaner, clearer headed, lighter and all-round healthier. Both times I’ve learnt new things about myself, too.
“Admittedly, these habits are easy to stick to when you’re in the clinical, controlled confines of VIVAMAYR’s walls but much harder in the real world, when work, families and social lives get in the way.
“Nonetheless, both times have been truly enlightening and given me a much greater awareness of how I eat and its effects on the body.”
• Rooms at Vivamayr Maria Wörth start at about £164pp per night based on double occupancy. Medical services are extra. For more information, visit vivamayr.com.
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