CATHERINE EDEN spent a week at a health farm and emerged thinner and wiser, with a lifelong commitment to broccoli


It began, as many great plans do, in a coffee shop. A woman I know walked in looking magnificent, and two friends and I decided there and then that we wanted a dose of whatever she was on. St Francis Health Centre in Port Alfred had brought about this radiant transformation, so filled with high hopes and good intentions to turn over new leaves, we booked, packed our bathing costumes, track suits and dressing gowns (you don’t need much else) and set off on our health holiday.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure how much of this detox business was fad and how much was fact. I’d heard arguments that it could be too much of a shock to the system; that it was unnecessary to fast if your body was in balance, and even that hunger could trigger uncharacteristically violent behaviour, like bursting into the kitchen and demanding a banana at knifepoint. But I wasn’t going to let my friends get all glowing without me, and besides, although I am totally committed to a healthy lifestyle in theory, I’m easily tempted to postpone putting that theory into practice.

I needed to lose a few stubborn kilos, I wanted some advice about nutrition, and I hoped for a kick-start to a new way of thinking. All three of us were in need of a cleansing diet; also, having heard about the intuitive and healing gifts of St Francis’s director, Anneliese Cowley, we wanted to meet her.

Enthusiasm turned to apprehension as we rattled down the farm road and approached the impressive gates of the centre. Dusting the last crumbs of padkos from our lips (who knew when we’d get another square meal?) we debated paying Mrs Cowley not to tell us what was wrong with us in case the news was too shocking. But there was no turning back, of course. Vowing to see the process through together, we crossed the threshold into the calm, clinical environment that would be our home for the next six days.

The detoxifying regime started explosively on the first morning. The horrible rumours we had heard about having to drink a glass of Epson salts were true, and the results more effective than you can imagine. Feeling relieved of everything I’d ever eaten, I embarked on my programme: a massage, steam bath, aquarobics class and exercise on a passive toner machine. In addition to this daily routine, every guest has a private health consultation, a reflexology treatment and an aromatherapy massage as part of the package. Then there are the optional extras: facials, mudpacks, slimming wraps and so on. By day three you are in such a stupour from all this pampering that all you can do between treatments is lie in a reclining chair and smile.

Frankly, you’re too weak to do anything else. The vegetarian cleansing diet, although not strictly fasting, is designed to release toxins from the different organs, first with liquids and then with easily digestible food. It’s Spartan: water, a glass of carrot juice and a mug of vegetable broth on day one; water, a serving of paw-paw and pureed vegetable soup on day two, building up gradually to salad, steamed vegetables, a baked potato, and, on the last day, brown rice and mushrooms. There’s no wheat, dairy, sugar or fat; no meat and, of course, no caffeine or alcohol. The body reacts surprisingly quickly to withdrawal from its usual stimulants, cooking up dragon breath, a headache or, as in my case, sharp pain in the lower back and buttocks, after just 36 hours.

If I had tried this process at home, I would certainly have given up. In a supportive environment, however, with professional monitoring, massages from therapists with magic hands, steaming to help eliminate the toxins, and the opportunity to rest and allow the body to do its work, you push through until the glorious day arrives when you suddenly feel the benefits. This happened on day four for me. It could have had something to do with real food – oats for breakfast and a delicious vegetable platter for lunch – but I felt energised enough to jump out of bed at dawn to watch the sun come up over the silent valley, painting the feathery clouds cerise and cinnamon.

My hair was shiny, my skin clear and all traces of puffiness in my hands and feet had vanished. And all the other stressed, toxic people looked as healthy and translucent as I felt.

On the evening of this fourth day we were treated to a guided meditation with the remarkable Mrs Cowley. I have done yoga and breathing exercises for years, but I have never been lifted out of my body as I was on this occasion. Her wisdom, simplicity and love for each person in her care is the defining ingredient of the St Francis experience, and you come away having absorbed something of her philosophy along with practical advice about managing your health.

She combines a nursing background, knowledge of homeopathy, herbalism, acupuncture and energy work with a rare intuitive gift that allows her to identify your health issues in minutes. My sensing that I should eliminate dairy products from my diet was confirmed and explained; the cause of some troublesome arthritis was pinpointed, and since using the homeopathic medication she prescribed to correct a hormonal imbalance, my menstrual cycle has evened out and I’ve lost the craving I had for sugar.

The diet left me feeling clean and rejuvenated. Cell tissue stores the memory of physical and emotional trauma, and the effects of poor nutrition and environmental pollutants. The body becomes exhausted and eventually, it becomes ill. To function efficiently, it needs to release destructive patterns and restore its natural rhythm. It’s no coincidence that all the world’s major religions incorporate periods of fasting that cleanse and purify the system, leading to clearer thoughts and a better connection with Truth.

Thanks to this experience, my focus has shifted from getting thin to getting healthy. There is no point in treating a detox regime as a pause button between excesses. It requires a change of mindset that I am willing to make, as an investment in my future. The encouraging part is that being in balance means that I no longer want the foods that are toxic for my particular system. As a result of choosing to treat my body to the fresh food it really needs, I’ve kept off the 4,5kg I lost during that week.

My two squeaky-clean friends also had their health issues ironed out and lost weight in the process. We plan to go back, and we agree that St Francis is the first place we would head for in the event of a serious illness.

In this tranquil, healing environment, there were no aberrant outbursts, other than the attempted theft of an unattended paw-paw. The hungry guest tucked it under her arm and sprinted down the corridor as if heading for the try line, but was apprehended by a fleet-footed nurse who is wise to the doings of detox desperadoes.

Hilarity is an essential ingredient in healing. As Anneliese Cowley points out, ‘Health is more than just an absence of disease; it’s an embracing of life.’

Back in the coffee shop a friend looked at me suspiciously and asked, ‘Have you found a man?’

‘No,’ I replied, sipping my black rooibos tea. ‘I’ve found a mantra.’



  • ‘The body needs occasional servicing, just like a car. Through rest, a detoxifying diet, massage and other therapies, we activate its natural self-healing and balancing powers and processes, both as a therapeutic and preventative health measure.’ Anneliese Cowley, complementary health consultant
  • ‘Today’s processed foods and polluted air fill us up with toxins. It’s an excellent idea to detox occasionally, unless you are pregnant or have a known health problem like high blood pressure, in which case you should be carefully monitored. Detoxing improves the circulation, which improves the immune system. And when the immune system improves, everything improves!’ Moyra Metcalfe, aromatherapist.
  • ‘A detox diet may produce extra free radicals, so take antioxidants and milk thistle and dandelion to support the liver.’ Janine Dobson, natural health counsellor
  • ‘There’s limited scientific evidence that detox diets cleanse and rejuvenate the body – most doctors argue that it can eliminate toxins on its own. However, given the environment we live in, it’s not a bad idea to detox occasionally, for a limited period of time. The diet is not recommended for children or people with kidney problems. Check with a medical practitioner before you start.’ Megan Pentz-Kluyts, dietician and nutritionist


For information, ph 046 625 0927, fax 046 625 0953, email:


 Published in Clicks Club Card Magazine – this is an old story, written soon after the millennium, but included for all of you who have expressed interest in the work Mrs Cowley still does at St Francis.


Categories: Health

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