Hippocrates Health Institute: Five reasons not to spend $4,000
Last week, a friend of mine came back from a two-week holiday looking a little too thin, a touch too pale and more exhausted than rejuvenated. After our six-mile run turned into a one-mile speed-walk before she stopped at a park bench, I remarked on her fatigue.
“Jet-lagged?” I asked.
“No,” she said. “Hippocrates.”
Turns out that the girl – a fellow runner and vegan, with, I’m sorry to admit, an irksome blind faith in myths like lemon tea cleanses and the power of positive thinking – had just spent two weeks at the Hippocrates Health Institute. There, she underwent a myriad of cleansing processes, followed a strict all-raw all-alkali diet and spent most of her evenings curled up in a very hungry fetal position. She booked the trip – which ran $4,000 not including her flight – because she’d been feeling burnt out. And now?
“I feel like shit.”
I’m all for alternative health practices, when there’s evidence to suggest that they can help (yoga, meditation, and – maybe – acupuncture), but any “retreat” that leaves one feeling worse than they did upon entering is subject to some serious Extreme Self investigation. The Hippocrates Health Institute is a compound in West Palm Beach, FL, that was founded five decades ago and based on the Hippocratic adage “Let food be thy medicine.” Pretty sure he wasn’t talking about coconut milk and wheatgrass, but that’s what the HHI advocates. Especially wheatgrass. They love wheatgrass. So much that they often shove it where they ought not to. Allow me to explain, by offering you five reasons to avoid making the mistake of my good friend. Who, if you were wondering, is going to Vegas this weekend – another kind of detox.
1. That wheatgrass thing
I don’t doubt that wheatgrass is probably alright for you. Most green, from-the-soil, plant-based foods are. But there’s been no proof – absolutely none – that wheatgrass can cure cancer, prevent diabetes or grow back human hair. And, of course, it also tastes like grass. No need for proof in West Palm Beach, apparently, because the HHI is big on wheatgrass: “In our programs, the juice is consumed orally, and used in enemas and rectal implants.” Relax. If you’re more of a straight-up enema devotee, they also offer them in “Original” and “Coffee” varieties.
2. Would you trust Geraldo with your personal health?
HHI employs over a dozen full-time staff members. There’s Michael, the greenhouse manager, who grows tray after tray of “the lifeblood” of rectal implants. Jolene Jackson, the spa director, who apparently has 17 years experience in spa therapy, despite not looking a day over 21 (must be the wheatgrass). And then there’s Scott, the general program director for the entire holistic trainwreck. Among Scott’s resume padding is “hands-on work” with Geraldo Rivera. I don’t want to get melodramatic or theatrical here, but I think health and Geraldo in the same sentence is pretty much a deal-breaker for me.
3. Devastating illness + wheatgrass = Fail
If you were under the impression that the HHI was little more than a very eccentric spa, allow me to correct you. The Institute also purports to treat “devastating illnesses” – you know, like cancer, heart disease and HIV/AIDS. It all comes down to “live blood cell analysis,” which is basically the process of checking out a drop of blood underneath a dark-field microscope. That’s followed by drinking an ounce of wheatgrass (but seriously, that’s what they do) and seeing one’s blood miraculously revitalize.
Live blood cell analysis has long been associated with quack medicine, and isn’t even legal in many states. From a professor of Complementary Medicine at the University of Exeter: “the bulk of this money is made not through charging for the test itself but by selling expensive nutritional supplements…with the promise that these will correct whatever abnormality has been diagnosed.” Expensive supplements, like, say, a $180 bottle of something called Yings-Tea Y Caps?
4. As if $4,000 wasn’t bad enough
When you spend $200 for an afternoon at the spa, or a really nice haircut, do you ever find that you leave having spent a few extra bucks on gel, lotion or callus removal cream? Exactly. Spend $4,000 for a week at HHI, and you’ll probably be so jazzed about wheatgrass and your shit-free colon that you’ll head over to their conveniently located shop for a few goodies. Were you looking for a BioPro Cell Chip to treat your electro-pollution? Yes, they have that. A $450 juicer for at-home wheatgrass? Yup. Enema syringes specially designed for infants? Oh my god. A crockpot? Uh, somehow yes. A Hippocrates baseball cap? Seriously, they also have that.
5. And then there’s the “food”
In the description of their program curriculum, the HHI describes their classes on food preparation, a process they refer to as “cooking” (quotation marks included). There’s a big difference between cooking and “cooking” – and therein lies the problem. And then there’s the overarching HHI definition of food itself:
Food, according to Webster’s Dictionary, is any substance that enables one to live and grow — anything that nourishes. Based on this definition, hardly anything in the standard Western diet can be considered food!
Hardly anything? Confusing, because I’ve been living and growing pretty well on a lot of things – many of them cooked – for over two decades now. My alkaline-acid balance might of out-of-whack, and my enzymes might be releasing negative bio-energy into my kidneys, but hell – at least I’m not living off spelt tortillas and sea-sar salad.