I've eaten some pretty scary stuff in my day, but I can't recall being as squeamish about food as I was when I signed up for a juice cleanse. For three full days I was going to forgo all real and delicious food, living instead on little more than the nectar wrested from ingredients better suited for a salad bowl. It's all the rage to poke fun at vegans, but for a brief time, I was going to be one of them.
Mostly, I was terrified that I'd starve to death — not literally, but most certainly figuratively. Eating is my stock in trade, and I can't recall going even a few hours without digging into something chewy, let alone 24 or, god help me, 72. I counted on being famished, but after doing a little research I also discovered that I could look forward to headaches, dizziness, mania and unpredictable mood swings.
I made the decision to go on a juice fast for two reasons. One, I'm a curious food writer who never shies away from trying something new. And two, I've been having mysterious stomach pains that may or may not be related to my ill-advised diet and near limitless appetite.
"Sometimes, like with a computer, you have to hit the restart button," says Anna Harouvis, whose raw foods shop Anna in the Raw would supply my sustenance.
I asked Harouvis how, exactly, a juice cleanse "reboots" my body like a hinky smartphone.
"I think the body is meant to cleanse itself," she says, adding that she is not a doctor but rather a raw-foods expert relied upon by such notable organizations as the Cleveland Cavs and Indians. "You're giving your body a rest from all that food so it has a chance to repair itself. The juice just allows you to properly nourish yourself while it does that."
When I picked up my three-day supply of liquid food I couldn't believe my eyes. There were at least 21 pints of colorful juice on the counter. My first thought was How the hell am I going to drink all that? My second thought was How the hell am I going to get it all to the car?
Juice cleanses ain't cheap —roughly 50 bucks a day for the good stuff — but after seeing what goes into each and every pint, it's easy to see why. There are between six and 12 pounds of raw, organic, non-GMO fruits and veggies in each bottle, with no pulp or added water. The juices are cold-pressed and non-pasteurized, giving them a limited shelf life.
My first day started off on a high note, literally. In place of my morning java, Harouvis gave me some cold-brewed coffee, which is less acidic than the regular stuff. It's also jacked with caffeine. From that moment on, my job was easy: go to the fridge every hour or two and grab the next numbered bottle in line. There's real joy in never having to decide what to eat, go to the store, cook a meal, or wash a dish. Instead, I drank dark green Hercules fortified with kale, spinach, parsley and apple. I sipped my way through Aphrodite, a bright and fruity mix of green apple, pineapple and mint. My Spirulina Lemonades were sweetened with stevia.
Apart from a brief and blinding headache, I felt completely fine that first day. In fact, I felt great, almost giddy at times. Given that I was drinking my weight in fluids, I guess it's not at all surprising that I wasn't hungry. Nor was it surprising that I was peeing like an 80-year-old. What was surprising was the foul smell.
"Oh, that's great!" Harouvis said when I told her about it during one of our daily check-ins. "That means your body is alkaline."
I guess I should have known not to thumb through my Instagram feed on that second day, where pictures of beer, fried chicken, hamburgers, pizza and ice cream cascaded by. For the first time ever I appreciated all those yoga, painted fingernail and artfully posed feet pics because they weren't food. Occasionally, I'd catch myself blindly reaching for the bag of potato chips instead of yet another goddamn juice.
How could anybody hate juice? By Day 3, you loathe it. Apart from a few desiccated kale chips and a handful or two of chalky macadamia nuts, mine was a liquid-filled existence. It's all you can do to force another 12 ounces down by the end, which can't come soon enough. I found myself planning my first meal like a pre-release inmate. Fried chicken. Definitely, fried chicken.
"You have to ease back into food," Harouvis warned. "No fried foods."
Instead I had pasta — and could barely polish off an appetizer-size portion.
The truth is, I did feel better. In fact, I lost three pounds and my stomach issue went away. But then I returned to my regular routine, which is to say eating and drinking way too much, and it all came roaring back.
Would I do it again? That's a very good question.