NEW YORK CITY — After a holiday season of eating too much baked ham and Christmas cookies, 29-year-old Regina got the ultimate detox — she had her insides professionally cleaned out.
Regina is a devotee of the colonic, a health technique that flushes out the colon with warm water. Fans say the routine offers benefits such as renewed energy, clearer skin and a more focused mind, and experts say it's been practiced for thousands of years, and is never more popular than at the start of the year.
"It helps clean out all the toxins — the bad stuff, the gunk — and I can use it to get back into my regular life," said Regina, who asked that her last name not be used.
"Everything absolutely feels different. You feel lighter, you have more energy."
Francis Gonzalez, a certified colon hydrotherapist who has supervised more than 200,000 colonics in five years at Fluid Water Therapy on West 21st Street, said she sees an influx of patients in January and February.
"It's January, and everyone is begging for forgiveness for what they ate," said Gonzalez, adding that the procedure also can help ward off illness.
"A lot of people this time of year also come for an immune boost," she added, claiming the body's biggest weapon against the common cold is a healthy balance of probiotics in the intestinal tract.
At the Manhattan office of Inner Fire, colonics are booked up until the end of January, said Diane Paxton, a veteran hydrotherapist for the past 25 years.
"The majority come in with the interest of hitting a reset button," she said, pointing to the new crop of young customers who find deals through coupon websites.
Both hydrotherapists advised that three or four sessions are needed within the first month — each costing more that $100 — to truly clean out the intestinal tract. After the full detox, a monthly or yearly colonic schedule can be kept for maintenance, they explained.
"Doing one colonic is like going to the gym once," Paxton said.
At Fluid Water Therapy, the spa-like atmosphere sets clients at ease.
Clients lay on a specially designed bed that connects directly to the city's sewer system. The client can self-administer the colonic with their own sanitized tube, giving them as much privacy as desired.
The water, averaging 100 degrees, then flows through the tube and into the colon. The intestines fill, then the water — and whatever follows — drains out and down the drain, Gonzalez explained.
"It is a repeated process of filling and emptying — you fill, you empty, you fill, you empty," she said of the 45-minute session.
A clear pipe gives clients the option to view what exits, or guests can tune in instead to whatever is on the flat-screen TV on the wall.
Some clients even use the time to catch up on conversations.
"I even hear clients on their phones — during," Gonzalez said.
Among her clients are models who come in the days leading up to Fashion Week for an even flatter stomach, she added.
Others come in for a range of issues including skin conditions, such as Kim Weiler, a 36-year-old actress, who gets regular colonics to help battle psoriasis, a disease that causes a red, scaly and irritating skin condition.
"I was really nervous going in, even sitting in the waiting room," she said of her first colonic experience late last year. "It is uncomfortable to expose that part of yourself to a stranger."
After that first session, Weiler said her psoriasis cleared up by 90 percent, and the benefits now outweigh the initial anxiety.
Other patients seek out the treatment to help with food allergies or even toxins that accumulate in the body following cancer treatments, according to Dr. Jeffrey Morrison.
"This is a technique that is supposed to enhance how the body is meant to function," he said.
Morrison, a medical doctor with a specialty in alternative medicine, refers a few patients each month to Paxton's Inner Fire for colonics.
Toxins build up inside the body, sometimes for years, against the intestinal wall, preventing the body from absorbing nutrients from food, he explained.
Regular colonics "improve drainage and speeds up the body's ability to detox faster," Morrison said.
Despite celebrity devotees such as Madonna and Britney Spears, Morrison said colonics are yet to find their place in conventional medical treatment.
"Mention colonics to 99.9 percent of doctors, they are going to give you a blank stare or a complete lack of knowing," he said, adding that his faith in the procedure comes from the positive feedback he gets from patients afterward.
Gonzalez warned potential colonics clients to do their research before making an appointment, to ensure their hydrotherapist is certified by organizations such as the International Association for Colon Hydrotherapy. Equipment should also be FDA-approved, she added.
Joe, who works in financial services in Manhattan and declined to give his last name, believes regular colonics enabled him to ditch a lingering sickness that included coughing and tiredness.
After a holiday season filled with partying and heavy travel, he said he relies on colonics to get him back on track.
"I will go in and flush that out of the system," he said, "so that I can start my healthy eating again."
And while he's sometimes one of the few males in the waiting room, he said colonics aren't just for women.
"Females tend to be more health-orientated, but also bolder," he said, "We males tend to be scared of things going up the tubes."