Extreme Juicing Challenge

If you have noticed that the posts over the last week have been a little sparse, you may feel that I have some explaining to do. The reason I haven’t been writing is that I haven’t been cooking or eating food. It’s not you, it’s me. I haven’t been bringing much to the table lately besides this:

A few weeks ago, I went to a screening of Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead, a film about a man who drastically improves his health by consuming only fresh fruit and vegetable juice for 60 days straight. At the conclusion of the screening, my friend and I participated in a Q&A with Joe Cross, the man behind the movie. After hearing about the health transformations that people have made while inspired by Joe’s film, we decided to give it a try. We considered doing a ten day “Reboot” but eventually committed to doing just seven days of nothing but juice.

This is the part of the story where I feel obligated to tell you that a juice fast is not for everyone and you should consult a physician before embarking on a any diet plan. I also should mention that I did a lot of research before choosing the plan that was right for me, and although I may refer to this as a diet, weight loss was not the goal of the fast. I did this for three reasons:

  • To cleanse my body of toxins and give the digestive system a rest so that my body would have energy to heal itself naturally
  • To become more attuned to my body’s nutrient needs and to explore my relationship with food
  • To experience the changes and feelings that other juice fasters had described in online articles and in person, because I was fascinated by some of the typical side effects of an all juice diet

My friend and coworker Liz committed to doing the fast with me and I was looking forward to having support at work for the inevitable times when I would feel like giving up. As we talked to more people about what we were planning to do, we found another coworker who had completed a 3-week juice fast a few years ago and who was interested in joining us. After that, two more women decided to join us with a modified juice diet, in which they included healthy foods and smoothies. In this recap, I will cover the diet that Liz and I followed.

Phase 1: Before the Juice

I knew that my greatest challenge would be giving up caffeine, specifically coffee. Ever since I started working as a barista in a neighborhood coffee shop in my hometown , I have had a love affair with coffee. In fact, before the juice, I had not gone a day without coffee in about ten years. In some states, coffee and I would be just one joint tax return away from common law marriage. One week before the juice fast, I weaned myself off of caffeine by stepping down my coffee consumption and then substituting green tea followed by substituting herbal (naturally decaffeinated) teas. I was still on the green tea at the beginning of the fast, but I was off it for the second half of the diet.

The Join the Reboot website recommends that you slowly transition yourself to a plant based diet during the week before the fast. I do not eat a lot of fruit, so I started incorporating more fruit into my diet the week before. As a vegetarian cook, I typically make sure that my plate is half full of vegetables, so I did not need to make many diet changes during the transition.

On the night before the fast, I got together with Liz to shop, cook and juice. Check out how much produce we bought for three days worth of juice for two people! We spent about $100 on the first trip ($17 per person per day) and bought as much organic produce as we could. It costs less to do this with conventional produce. If you want to do some organic and some conventional, use the EWG’s dirty dozen and clean fifteen as your guide.

The last supper was artichoke spinach lasagna with feta and a glass (or two) of sangiovese. The juicing was a ton of fun and for the apple-carrot-ginger juice, I used fresh ginger for the first time ever. I know, that is ridiculous. I just always used the jar because I didn’t know it made that much of a difference. Now I don’t think I’ll ever go back to the jar again.

Phase 2: During the Juice

Days 1-3

The first three days were the hardest. I started out really excited and motivated, but soon I desperately missed chewing and I started having food cravings.I had lunch on the first day with two coworkers who were doing the plan with me. We were all expecting to have some digestive issues the first few days based on what we had heard. I planned to be near a bathroom for the first three days, but the only thing that I felt was going straight through me was water. No emergencies, no discomfort, no digestive cleanse. I had expected to, as a coworker put it,  “hit the big flush button” on that first weekend. No such luck. My relationship with the porcelain throne was as normal as ever.

The transition to waking up in the morning and having nothing but juice was a little difficult for me. I am used to starting my day with a protein, a carb, and some coffee. The juice just seemed incomplete to me. I realized by the second or third day though that it was all I really needed in the morning.

On the second day, Liz and I headed to the farmers’ market and the smells of all the foods we couldn’t have were so overwhelming. I almost couldn’t handle it! We must have looked like some crazy sweets junkies as we drooled over the mulled apple cider with brown sugar, palms sweating, eyes twitching, jonesing for some added sugar. We tore ourselves away from the cider, the doughnuts, the bagels and the Bombolini pasta and focused on the produce. We picked up some local organic veggies at the market and then we made more juice on the third day.

rough morning

By the third day I was easily fatigued and I was experiencing mental fogginess. I woke up congested in the mornings and my skin was less than perfect. Allegedly these are common signs of toxins leaving the body. I also lost 8 pounds in the first three days. A portion of that was a loss of water weight due to the fact that my body was no longer retaining water to aid in the digestion of insoluble fiber (which was left behind in the pulp and was no longer a part of my diet). By the end of this phase, I could easily differentiate between food cravings and hunger and this was a big revelation for me. I started to feel more in control of my health when I was able to make that distinction without difficulty.

We also killed my juicer on the third day due to prolonged use and possibly the presence of water/juice in the motor. It sounded a little funny, then it smelled like burning, then it started smoking. It was ugly. Check out the crime scene photo from my juicer’s violent death:

We had ordered a new Breville though that was due to arrive on day 4 so we were not without a juicer for long.

Days 4-5

Days 4 and 5 were when it really started to turn around for me.I felt like quitting altogether on day 4 and it was really good that I was surrounded by people who were doing the diet with me. I kept trying to visualize plants capturing the sun’s energy and converting it to nutrients that my body could use to heal and re-energize. It helped a little. I was still making lists of all the foods I wanted to eat when the diet was over. Surprisingly, most of them were healthy whole foods. Baked sweet potato, spinach salad, a ripe banana.

My energy improved and my head was clearer by day 5. I started to get creative with the juice combinations and did fancy little things to make juicing feel more special. I created recipes for “mojito juice” and my own version of mean green juice. I got some adorable color-changing straws at Target. I poured my juice into fun glassware, and I tried adding coconut water and sparking water to my juices. I truly started to have fun with it by the end of day 5.

I think my favorite cashier at Whole Foods in Short Pump started to catch on to what Liz and I were doing. What else could we possibly be doing with all this produce?

One of the biggest challenges I had while on the fast was baking a coworker’s birthday cake on day 5. I have mentioned before that in my office, we have a homemade cake for every person’s birthday and last week it was my turn again. Hello carrot cake! I didn’t even taste the batter or the frosting. If you’re ever in the mood for torture, try frosting a two layer cake and then washing your hands instead of licking your fingers. It is tough!

During this phase of the fast, I felt like I finished climbing the hill and started to breezily slide down the other side. My body adapted to the diet and started to crave juice. My hair was really shiny and my skin started to look better. Although (gross-out alert), it appeared that all of the toxins in my body were trying to escape through one facial pore. Ugh.

I also realized how little food I need to get through my day. I hoped that this would translate to better portion control down the road. On day 5 I felt the energy that I had heard other juice fasters describe. I was sick of beets and a little tired of carrots so I started to experiment with new fruits and vegetables. I made a mental note to try and eat a greater variety of foods in the future.

Days 6-7

I felt completely awesome on days 6 and 7. I had energy and I was alert all day. Most of all, I was amazed at how much energy I could have from eating right, with no coffee at all. I learned that when you don’t have the crutch of caffeine to lean on, you are forced to eat good-for-you foods and get a full night’s sleep in order to have energy. As much as I missed eating some foods, I was much better at resisting temptation during these days. Kyle’s dinners didn’t bother me at all.

His and Her Veggies?

I supplemented the homemade juice diet with juices from our local grocery store Ellwood Thompsons. I even made fewer servings ahead of time just so I could try out new combinations at the ET juice bar. So imagine my disappointment when I walked in on the morning of day 7 and discovered that Ellwood Thompsons’ juicer was broken. I had not made enough juice for the day because I was counting on ET to fill in the holes. So I made the decision to break the fast at dinner that night with a whole lot of vegetables and a wee bit of tofu.

My First Real Meal in Seven Days!

What I really missed the most on these last few days was cooking. Cooking at night in my kitchen is such a stress reliever for me, and I love to do it as much as possible. It engages my mind and body in a creative way and I missed having that outlet while on the fast. So I decided on a simple salad for my reintroduction to solid food, but I also cooked a Thai-inspired sweet potato, tempeh and kale stew for Kyle on the last night. I did not taste a drop of that stew on the first night but the experience of cooking it was ultimately very satisfying.

On these last few days, I felt radiant. I was lighter on my feet and more energetic and passionate about everything. My senses sharpened (allegedly a symptom of starvation) and I could smell and taste every little thing. This continued through my first solid food meal, which happened to taste a little too salty. The flavors of everything were so intense and I really enjoyed tasting every component of the plate. My family and friends told me I appeared to be in a better mood than usual and I absolutely was. I felt a renewed commitment to health by the end of the experience.

Phase 3: After the Juice

I eased back into a solid food diet, starting first with raw or steamed vegetables and fruits and a small amount of nuts and legumes. Then I gradually added soy protein, then cheese, then wheat. I did start drinking coffee again, but not every day. I love coffee too much to give it up forever. I have been eating solid food for four days now and everything is going very well. I am eating mainly vegetables and fruits at the moment, plus a bit of whole grains and plant-based proteins here and there.I have had three fresh juices since completing the fast. I can’t quit you, green juice!

As I reflect on the juice fast, I am very happy that I did it. I believe that I accomplished what I set out to do. I learned a lot about my relationship with food and proved to myself that I have the self-control to make better diet choices every day. I got to experience the energy and heightened senses that always fascinated me when I heard about other juice fasters’ experiences.

I think I detoxified a bit, but to be honest I don’t think I got much out of the cleanse portion of the fast. Because I had no “big flush” and I felt pretty good throughout the whole fast, I don’t think I had many toxins to release. Vegetables, especially the green leafy ones, act as little scrub brushes in your digestive system, cleaning everything out as they pass through your system. Many fruits, vegetables and herbs have detoxifying effects on your liver. Regular cardiovascular exercise keeps your lungs and heart healthy. Because I eat a vegetarian diet with at least 50% consisting of fruits and vegetables, and I live a somewhat active lifestyle, I think that I am naturally cleansing, healing and detoxifying my body all of the time.

However I won’t ignore the notion that the juice could have been healing my body in ways I will never know. All of those nutrients couldn’t have hurt! I don’t know if I will do a “reboot” again, but I do know that juice will continue to be a part of my diet moving forward. I plan to work on portion control and building healthy plates at every meal (not just dinner). I also plan to stop eating when I am no longer hungry, which will be a big challenge for me (especially at dinner). But after successfully completing a seven day juice fast, I have the optimistic mentality that no challenge is too large for me when it comes to my health and wellness.

Cheers to that!