The one – and worst – time I tried a juice fast

I’m just going to go ahead and say it – I have no idea why anyone is taking health and wellness advice from Gwyneth Paltrow.  After all, she is one of the main reasons we have to deal with the staggering idiocy of the Tracy Anderson Method (which really ought to be renamed the “Muscles are Ugly Tee-Hee Method”). That alone should disqualify her from ever being considered an expert on anything, ever.

Don't hurt yourself there, ladies.

But in case you needed another reason, I offer up: the GOOP cleanse.

The GOOP cleanse is a 21-day program that has its adherents choking down shakes of rice bran and rice syrup  twice a day, plus a handful of enzymes, extracts and barks.  (Don’t worry, you get to eat lunch, as long as it comes from a “set list of foods,” so you won’t be completely crazed from hunger.)  I checked out the nutritional information, and honestly I don’t know if these are typos or not, but I’m pretty sure it’s not possible for something to only have nine calories?

Here’s the best part: all of these rice powders and encapsulated bark enzymes will only set you back $425.  (Recession?  What recession?)

I’d like to think that it should go without saying that a cleanse is really not necessary.  Millions of years of evolution have given us these built-in cleanses called “kidneys” and also “livers.” And if your kidneys and liver aren’t functional?  You may want to consider closing the tab for the GOOP cleanse and calling your freaking doctor.  I’m just saying.

But as much fun as it is to make fun of Gwyneth Paltrow’s cleanse, it leads me to feel like I ought to make a confession.  Because there was once a time when I would have regarded the GOOP cleanse with more than just the bemused skepticism it deserves.  There was a time when I would have maybe even considered doing it.  The only thing that would have stood in my way was the $425 price tag.

I totally looked like this during my juice fast. Except not smiling. And with dead, murderous eyes.

I still remember my attempt at a juice fast as clearly as if the glass was sitting right in front of me.  I was in my early 20s at the time, and my now ex-husband had gotten it in his head that he needed to lose weight.  This was a regular occurrence in our lives, as we would go for several months at a stretch where we never did anything more strenuous than pass the bong back and forth and maybe get really excited while playing Madden, and then one day he’d wake up and decide that we needed to change everything so he could lose weight.

But he never wanted to change the way he ate, and he wasn’t really interested in exercising.  He just wanted to be slim and cut, like he was in high school, and he wanted to do it as quickly as possible.  So he’d do things like eat tablets of chitosan before eating fast food (because the chitosan was supposed to keep the fat from being absorbed into his body).  There were a few weeks when he’d chew up bites of his Big Mac, then spit it into the garbage.  In retrospect, I realize this was some seriously disordered eating, but at the time I just thought it was gross.  Because, hey, it totally was!

One day, after listening to Robin Quivers talk about doing that cayenne pepper-and-lemon juice cleanse on the Howard Stern Show, he decided that we should do the Hollywood 48-Hour Miracle Diet.  I, being the supportive wife, agreed to go along with it.  After all, I figured a juice cleanse could maybe counteract all of the bong resin and hops and fried cheese clogging up my body’s various parts.

We plunked down $40 for two bottles of the stuff and set aside a weekend where we would do nothing but the juice fast.  The plan called for four ounces of the vaguely carrot-juice-looking concentrate mixed up with four ounce of bottled water, and then we were to drink it every four hours.  At the end of the two days, our bodies were supposed to be leaner, sparklinger and better looking in tight jeans.

The next Saturday, we arose for our ritual wake-n-bake (god we were SUCH stoners) and then we got down to the business of cleansing ourselves.  We carefully measured four ounces of water and four ounces of concentrate, mixed them up and started drinking the juice, which was kind of orangish and tasted not all that great.  I can’t remember the exact flavor cornucopia, beyond that I was not all that thrilled to know that the juice would be my only sustenance for the next 48 hours.

Less than an hour passed before I realized I thinking about all of the food in the kitchen.  It was a weird thing, because I was never much of a breakfast eater and in fact could go until noon without eating, but here it was, ten a.m. and I was already doing a mental inventory of the contents of the pantry.  Another hour passed, and I found myself wandering near the kitchen and looking longingly at the fridge, which was teasing me with its promises of pickles and lunch meat and leftover tuna macaroni salad.

You know how when we were kids, we paid no mind to the people who had crushes on us until they had crushes on someone else?  And then almost instantly, we become obsessed with the fact that that person no longer has a crush on us?  (Or was this just me?) I had taken food for granted my whole life, had just assumed it would be there whenever I wanted it and that I could eat it whenever I liked, but now that it was off-limits to me, it was all I could think about.

The four-hour mark found us sitting in front of a digital clock, staring at it like a pair of obedient dogs, waiting for it to hit the predetermined time.  Once the numbers changed, we ran into the kitchen and mixed up our next batch of juice-drank.  I tried to sip it but I was so hungry that I ended up chugging it.  When I put the glass down, I felt so disgusted with my lack of self-control.  And worst of all, I was still hungry.

A couple of hours later, after a weird non-nap in which I just flopped around on the bed like an impatient fish, I got up and paced around the apartment.  I picked up a book, saw nothing but the word “food” on all the pages, then put it down.  I went into the front room to watch television, but found myself abnormally focused on every commercial for fast food, every scene that involved eating.  I ended up breaking the fast and smoking a cigarette.  It was either that or wear a groove into the floor by the kitchen through the sheer force of my anxious pacing.

We finally made it to eight hours, and I sadly drank my juice-sludge down while sitting listlessly on the couch.   Everything annoyed me – the air conditioner, the hum of the television, my skin – but I was too tired and cranky to do anything about it.

Darkness fell and found us lying on the couch, staring at the TV.  I thought of another day like this, one where I wanted nothing more than to pick up the fridge and tilt the contents directly into my mouth, and I felt tears burn my eyes.  He must have been thinking the same thing, because we looked at each other with glassy, irritable eyes and almost simultaneously said, “Fuck this shit.”

Then we got off the couch, marched outside and went to the nearest McDonald’s, where we picked up Big Mac Value Meals, the made a quick stop at the nearby 7-11 to buy some beer.  We came home, sat down and gorged ourselves until we fell asleep.

The next morning, we poured the rest of the juice down the drain. Neither one of us lost a single pound.  In fact, as I recall, I gained two.

Juice fast adherents might say that I would have gotten more out of it if I had stuck with it the whole way, or maybe if I had committed to a different one, or maybe if I had made my own juices, or blah blah blah blah blah.

All of that is just a diversion from the real point, which is that good health is not something that you can achieve by abstaining from solid food for 48 hours or 21 days or whatever.  It is not something that can be purchased in the form of pills or powders.  It’s about a commitment to making changes in your lifestyle that you can actually maintain throughout your entire life.

It’s so tempting to think that a lifetime of crappy habits can be reversed through a fast or a cleanse, and it’s tempting because it seems easy.  But you know what?  It’s not easy to not eat food.  It’s actually really, really hard.  We’re so much better off just making better choices in our day-to-day lives, and not just because it’s healthier, but also because it’s easier.   Yes, I said it – easier.  I’ve been eating fairly clean for a couple of years now, and never once did I find myself feeling quite as deprived as I did I was in the final hours of my aborted attempt of that juice fast.

So, I’m chalking it up to a lesson learned.  To paraphrase the late, great David Foster Wallace, it was a supposedly healthy thing I’ll never do again.

23 responses to “The one – and worst – time I tried a juice fast

  1. Thank you for this post. Juice fasts are such bunk, and the more people who spread the word, the better.

  2. I have tried juice fasts from actual juice a couple of times and found them not terribly better. A little in the sense that I do enjoy juice (and even juiced vegetables) made from actual fruit (and vegetables) and have even found such to be a good occasional snack or meal replacement (esp. for times when drinking lunch in a bottle was necessary). Not good in the sense that doing that for an entire day… well, only when I’m dealing with the flu or something.

    • I also love juice and have used it in the same way you have, but I will never go more than one meal without eating something solid. Even when I’m sick I try to eat some soup or something.

  3. Wow. Thanks for this. I’ve always been curious about these cleanses and assume this is what they would be like. I don’t know if I’m glad to know I was right, consider I have a friend who actually does them. (Or lies about it on FB.)

    • I know people who do them, too. I guess that maybe there’s something about juice fasts and cleanses that appeals to some inner part of people who secretly wish they were Zen Buddhist monks? IDK.

  4. It really sad that people do this.
    I’m intrigued by your ‘fairly clean’ – I’m really tempted by the ideas, but don’t want to deny myself anything or never be able to eat out. I generally have mostly veg at a meal but couldn’t give up rye bread or an evening gy chocolate with a couple of squares of dark choc. Do you use protein shakes at all? I’m tempted to as I know I don’t get enough protein in my usual diet but t doesn’t feel so healthy as just organising myself better and eating some eggs!

    • Well, I said “fairly clean” because I’d say I eat about 80% clean. I’m not fanatic about it or anything – like, I go out to eat once or twice a week, and I sometimes eat things like Twinkies (even though I have to confess, I didn’t really enjoy the Twinkies as much as I remembered) or a fast-food breakfast sandwich – but I do find that I feel much better and I enjoy my food a lot more if it’s clean and not processed. I don’t like to deprive myself, either, but I’ve found that as I’ve eaten more whole foods, my tastes have naturally started to gravitate that way. Like, when I’m in a gas station, I’ll usually pick up a thing of cut vegetables before I’ll eat a candy bar.

      re: protein shakes – I do, actually! I drink a pre-made protein shake within 30 minutes after lifting, or if I can’t do that, I eat a tuna sandwich or some vegetarian chili or something that’s full of protein. I’ve found that my muscles recover a lot faster when I get a mega-dose of protein after lifting. I also love to eat hard-boiled eggs – not only are they tasty as hell but so handy. I always have at least one in my insulated lunch box.

  5. I think it’s important to be able to tell the difference between some bunk “cleanse” versus juicing. I do believe there is some benefit to an actual juice diet, where you are eating real foods that have just been turned to juice. Like in the film Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead:

    These “cleanses” on the other hand are scary and I can’t even imagine the horrible toilet time while doing them.

    • Yes, there is definitely a difference between juices made from whole foods and cleanse juices out of a bottle. However, I still don’t understand the point of a juice fast. I mean, if your juice is made from whole foods, then why not just eat the food? It strikes me as super-gimmicky, and I am pretty much anti-gimmick because I’ve found that wherever there’s a gimmick, there’s someone waiting to make a buck off of it. But maybe I am wrong? What do you think?

      • For me, even when I did juice fasts — which did include juicing a whole fruit (minus, like, pits and peels one wouldn’t normally eat) — I had trouble getting some essential macronutrients. To a lesser degree, protein (and heme iron); to a greater degree, fat. And I’m not really good at functioning that way for 2 full days at a time.

        So I have become a fan of juicing (because sometimes, the juice bottle is easier to carry around than ,say, the kale and berries) for individual meals and snacks. But after one, my body really wants me to reincorporate different foods.

  6. God this reminds me of a conversation (an appalling conversation) I had with some friends over the summer. They’re a married couple who in the last year have both lost a bunch of weight through healthier diet and yoga. Good for them! In fact the wife is now training to be a yoga instructor.

    However it wasn’t until they started telling us (or raving AT us) about how people really don’t need to eat food and can subsist for long periods of time on juices and vitamins/supplements that I was like, “Oh! You’re like that now. Ok.” And to reference the comment above mine, they also cited Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead. I watched that doc after they talked about it and I have so many issues with it. On so many levels. I couldn’t even finish it.

    I agree with Caitlin that it’s just very gimmicky. I feel like people have a tendency to just over think what a healthy diet is. I don’t think there’s any magic bullet. The fact is the process of eating isn’t simply for sustenance. It’s social, it’s creative, it’s fun! And I question any belief system that wants to deny me that in the name of “health.”

    • I’m so with you on that. Food is actually a really important part of our lives, and not just because of the whole “nutrition” aspect. Anyone or anything that tries to tell me I can go without food will get major side-eye from me, because honestly. It’s like telling me I shouldn’t bother with sleep or that water is kind of dumb and I shouldn’t need to drink it.

  7. AMEN! Power to the non-juice people!

    I loathe cleanses and I also detest that Tracy Anderson is making a gazillion dollars by giving people eating disorders and “exercise” addictions.

  8. Your reaction to the juice fast pretty much exactly describes the “famine brain” that Martha Beck talks about in 4-Day Win. Essentially, she says that expecting to be deprived from food causes a primal fear reaction which causes you to obsessively think about food and gives an instinctual compulsion to binge – even if you’ve always had a relaxed or indifferent relationship with food before then. The reaction used to be helpful to make people facing starvation extra focused on finding sustenance so they wouldn’t die. In the modern day, it means people trying to lose weight through extreme calorie deprivation diets will almost inevitably be miserable, experience backlash and develop compulsive eating patterns (eg bulimia, overeating), because their brain is trying to save them from starving. (Who would have thought self-induced famine wasn’t a good thing?)

    Fairly random post, but it came to my mind because I just finished reading the books and so it was funny to hear you describe the symptoms so exactly.

  9. (On the teeny weights thing, not the juice fast thing.)

    I happened to be at a store that sold home health aids and medical equipment today. As I was waiting for a sales associate, I couldn’t help but notice — right there on the shelf of rehabilitative exercise equipment — were pairs of six pound hand weights. That is, people who are looking to get their muscle strength back to normal after an illness or injury (or who are looking to ward off atrophy) are at least sometimes encouraged to lift twice what Ms. Muscles are Ugly Tee-Hee recommends.

  10. I have to comment because I dont want your post to discourage someone from seeking out fasting.. Ive fasted before.. I made the leap and purchased an omega juicer.. I went and stocked the fridge with fresh fruits and veggies and dropped 10 pounds in 10 days AFTER the water weight came back not to mention my skin was glowing, I felt EMPOWERED, I had crazy mental clarity, the juice was so nutrient packed I actually felt a body “high” minutes after drinking it, and best of all a lot of my cravings for sugary crap and carbs was annihilated … so fasting does work.. just not some expensive fad thing… but the genuine article…yes food is important, but this is like an internal restart on your body in which your cells literally search and destroy other damaged and cancerous cells in your body… dont knock it till you REALLY try it…

    • Okay, so I have a serious actual question, but if you are juicing fresh fruits and veggies, why not just eat the fruits and veggies instead of juicing them? The whole juicing thing strikes me as so gimmicky that I can’t help but be skeptical. And also I know that what I did is not even close to what a lot of people are doing these days, but I’m still not very interested in drinking all of my nutrition.

      • Okay, so I’ve not been here before and a bit of an interloper, but I can answer the question. Why drink all your nutrients instead of just eating them? When you go on juice-fast, a real one, not some cockamamie scheme, you get the nutrients from probably 10xs as much veg as you could eat. for instance. One glass of juice can have 8 kale leaves, a cup of spinach , 4 sticks of celery, 1 whole cucumber, 2 apples, a half a lemon plus whatever else you decide. or a whole sweet potato, a large beet 6 carrots and an apple, plus whatever. There is no way you can eat that much at a single sitting let alone 6 times a day. So you get TONS more nutrients, hence the body “high” Fabled Beauty spoke of.

      • Hey, thanks for the info, Melissa. I can see why someone would drink juiced vegetables as a supplement to a healthy diet, but maybe you could explain why someone would go for several days with nothing but juice?

  11. Caitlin,
    Juicing removes the dietary fiber,which is very important if you are trying to heal a chronically inflamed digestive system.Since there have been a lot of recent studies linking digestive health with the health of other systems of the body(I am specifically interested in immune system)I think juice fasting for extended periods of time could most definitely be beneficial.A balanced view,as always,needs to be taken.Juice fasting may not cure everything,but definitely try it before you speak against it so vehemently.

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