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Matt Guy Wright

The idea of going abroad without drinking, for me, has always been just about as likely as taking a trip to the moon on gossamer wings - just one of those things that was never going to happen.

Nevertheless, I found myself last Sunday in a suite in the Viva Mayr — a health farm so luxe and lovely it makes The Sound Of Music’s Von Trapp house look like the council estate on Shameless — which was to be my home for a week, searching in vain for a mini-bar.Julie Burchill on an underwater excersie bike

What a good job I pre-loaded, I gloated irresponsibly - three Scotches in a lounge at Gatwick airport, two gin and tonics on the way to Munich, and a vodka shot in Munich airport waiting for the transfer to Vienna.

But now I’m alone in my suite with only the prospect of a daily dose of Epsom salts to look forward to.

Oooh, tell a lie, I’ve also got to drink a teaspoonful of magnesium powder in warm water four times a day. My cup runneth over!

Which is the problem, really. I’m at the Viva Mayr - set on the shores of Lake Worthersee, known as Austria’s Monte Carlo - because my efforts to lose a quarter of my 16st body weight with a personal trainer, which I wrote about in the Mail in December, have stalled.

I started my diet and fitness regime before Christmas as a size 20, with ‘alarmingly high blood pressure and alarming low lung capacity’, according to my trainer, Matt, and am much the same three months on.

Holding me back, along with my natural laziness, is the fact that a bout of Charcot syndrome (a neurological disorder which affects the muscles) some years back left me with both a ruined left foot that cannot bear weight and one leg shorter than the other, which leads to frequent spinal pain due to the misalignment.

Another factor, I admit, is the fact that I eat portions the size of which could make a navvy heave. All combined, it means I’ve lost just six pounds in two months.

My big problem is that I am a convivialist (I made that word up myself!) who likes nothing better than eating and drinking to excess with my husband or my friends.

A male pal of mine once complained: ‘Can’t you ever meet a mate for a cup of coffee without making the whole thing into a two-day drinking spree?’ That was after I suggested that a quick espresso might be improved by adding alcohol, dinner and eight additional people.

My idea of heaven is a big table in a warm restaurant, the table shimmering with the laughter of friends and the glugging of wine, and me picking up the bill. But the way I look at it, it’s not such a bad way to live, if it wasn’t for my weight. I’m 53 now, and it’s hard for me to change, as I enjoy living this way so much.

Walking back one day from a training session with Matt to my virtuous, home-made lunch of salmon and spinach, I looked through the windows of Brighton pubs and saw men with shabby clothes and red noses laughing over their first pre-lunch drinks of the day. I felt like an exile. These are my people, not the sober sweaters of gym-land.

Hence my decision to go to the Mayr, where I would be out of harm’s — and ham’s — way. If the mountain won’t go on a diet, then the mountain must go to the mountains and have someone impose that diet on her before she explodes in a shower of cheese, chocolate and champagne.

On Monday, my first day at the Mayr, I feel fine — the sugar and alcohol in my system, I imagine, are keeping me buzzing. I start with a consultation with Dr Christine Stossier, wife of the Mayr’s founder, Dr Harald.

There’s a print of  Michelangelo’s Creation Of Adam on the wall, just to give a bit of perspective on the Mayr’s reputation for dramatic transformation, and a box of tissues on the table where we sit facing each other.

Was I supposed to weep over my appalling physical state? On the plus side, I am examined and discover that I don’t appear to have high blood pressure any more.

But I’m shocked by the lack of food. I imagined that there would at least be a bowl of fruit in the room, or a carob square on the pillow at turn-down. But there’s nothing on offer here apart from three small meals a day and an endless supply of water and cold herbal tea.

Dinner is served at 6pm, and my fellow guests — there must be about 50 of us here — get down to the restaurant at a quarter to and stand around tormenting each other with tales of great meals they’ve had in the past. Then the doll-sized portions are presented with a flourish as the huge metal globes on top of the plates are removed, which just looks sarcastic.

I am on the strictest diet the clinic offers, which means that for the first three days I get spelt bread and a protein supplement for breakfast, spelt bread and soup for lunch, and soup for dinner.

Perfect food, perfectly prepared, on perfect china, with a view so glorious it makes me want to tear down the curtains, make clothes from them and run around singing about female deers (or eating one, preferably).

By Tuesday, all the lovely toxins in my blood have gone, and I feel worse than I have in years.

When I filled out my check-in form, I found that some cheeky swine had put my year of birth as 1899 before Tipp-Exing it out, but it’s a pretty fair estimate of how old I feel today, rather than a sprightly 53.

My hunger pangs are so extreme that by sundown I am giving the gorgeous blooms in my room a longing glance — isn’t cooking with flowers all the rage in Japan or somewhere? And when I see the body lotion has organic almonds in it, I’m tempted to squirt the whole lot down my mouth. Instead I eat a bowl of gruel at 6pm and am in bed by 8pm.

The next day, I have an electrolysis footbath which somehow extracts even more of my ‘toxins’.

This is a hi-tech twist on those strange bits of paper it was all the rage to stick on the soles of one’s feet overnight a few years back. You’d peel them off in the morning to take a grisly delight in the horrible colour one’s ‘toxins’ had turned them.

I mope when the sludgy brown-green contents of the previously pure-looking water are taken away after 20 minutes — think of the lovely toxins therein, now all gone down the plughole!

Julie Burchill relaxing after exercise

Then at the sleek indoor pool, I meet my instructor Sara; the sort of lithe, blonde beauty old fat broads like me are meant to hate — but, frankly, her liveliness and loveliness makes me want to stand up and cheer, if I had the energy.

She instructs me on the use of stationary bikes in the swimming pool, where the buoyancy of the water comes in handy for blimps like me.

It’s not so bad — even though I have to wear my pet-hate, Crocs, as everybody appears to here — and half an hour passes quickly with her.

I then go for my Applied Kinesiology Test — which claims to be able learn everything about me by, among other things, testing my muscles for strength. They say it will somehow discover what I’m allergic or intolerant to. It’s a funny old business — Dr Christine pours a lot of different coloured powders on my tongue, then gets me to push my leg as hard against her hand as I can.

It seems a little quacky, so I ask when it was invented — in the Eighties, is the answer. I loved the Eighties, personally, but a lot of flim-flam came out of them, and I’m not sure this isn’t more of it.

Finally, I am diagnosed with exhaustion! Of course, I’m exhausted, I’ve been on a water bike for 30 minutes and I haven’t had a drink for three days!

In the evening it starts to snow again, on top of the thick layer which already exists. It makes the already exquisite landscape look even more breathtaking, but it makes me sad thinking about my husband at home.

A holiday without the one you love — it reminds me of Narnia, where it’s always winter but never Christmas. On Thursday, the temptation to call a cab and make the 20-minute drive into Klagenfurt, the closest town, is extremely hard to resist, but I know I would run riot among the restaurants and bars, so go to bed early again.

Being snowed in helps — if I’d come here during the summer, when the shores echo with the sound of popping corks and laughing revellers,

I don’t think I’d have been able to stay away from the fleshpots of Klagenfurt for a single night.

'So I have to say, as one previously sceptical, the Mayr definitely works — and my pie-eating-prize-winning-size appetite has gone from hero to (almost) zero. It isn’t my kind of place, but that’s probably more to do with me than them'

I resist the urge to make friends with any of the other inmates for the same reason — I always bond with people over booze, and I know that the chances of me going AWOL will be greatly increased if I manage to find a partner in crime.

The clientele is made up of the well-off ‘worried well’. In the one area where you are allowed to use mobiles and computers, lots of expensive-looking Italian and Russian ladies speak tersely into their phones, while two English girls with Made In Chelsea accents complain about feeling ‘stressed out’ and ‘exhausted.’

The patients are overwhelmingly sylph-like, with the exception of maybe five per cent, who are fellow porkers. Everyone except me drifts around in fluffy white robes and matching slippers, forever suspended between life and the lavatory (those darn Epsom salts).

I don’t know whether it was the Germanic setting, but they made me think of characters from the ballet Giselle — the ghosts of jilted brides dressed in white gowns who, after committing suicide before their wedding day, rise from their graves at night and seek revenge upon men by dancing them to death. Here, they’d just bore them to death by banging on about their food allergies.

Star guest is Annabel Elliot, sister of Camilla Parker Bowles. I first heard her distinctive voice on the day I had another poke at her sister and her husband in this paper.

I wondered whether I should leave the place pronto, I was so convinced it was the Duchess of Cornwall. But Annabel is prettier than Camilla and gives me two sweet pep talks. When I say I’m missing alcohol, she laughs and says: ‘We all are!’

On Friday — the day proper food is reintroduced; perfect fried local fish fillets for lunch with vegetables so tasty they make you see the point of vegetarianism — I realise I am no longer hungry between meals.

This is a landmark. Just last week I ate a Pizza Express Fiorentina in seven minutes, then some of my husband’s, then dessert.

Now I dawdle down to the restaurant, finding checking my emails in my room more pressing than food.

At the final weigh-in on Saturday morning, I’m amazed to find that — with barely any exercise — I’ve lost 3lb. They say those who stay the recommended two weeks can shed a stone.

So I have to say, as one previously sceptical, the Mayr definitely works — and my pie-eating-prize-winning-size appetite has gone from hero to (almost) zero. It isn’t my kind of place, but that’s probably more to do with me than them.

The vow of silence one has to make in order to be considered a civilised eater turned me right off. While talking isn’t banned in the dining room, it isn’t encouraged either. But I like human interaction, in all its messy imperfection, and I would rather remember an evening for the conversation and company, than for the food.

When I was there, I kept thinking of that old saying by the great Dean Martin: ‘I’d hate to be a teetotaller — imagine getting up in the morning and knowing that’s as good as you’re going to feel all day.’

In the mornings at home, I am like Tigger after just one cup of instant coffee — here I was like a limp rag, albeit a large one.

There was something really exhausting about doing nothing — and the lack of protein alone made me think of a poor madman who used to parade around Oxford Circus with a banner reading: PROTEIN CAUSES LUST.

But if you are fond of quietness, sobriety and simple fare, the Mayr is definitely the place for you.

Personally, I’ll content myself with a butterscotch schnapps and a giant Toblerone at Vienna airport, and continue to go to the gym when I get home. Bottoms up!

“Meals so meagre she wanted to eat the flowers in her room: Could the world's toughest fat camp cure the Queen of Gluttony Julie Burchill?”.

By Julie Burchill

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