October 23, 2011

Juice Fasting – Why? and How?

Having read quite a bit about people juicing on vegan and raw forums, last fall, I purchased a Breville Ikon multi-speed juicer.  We promptly named him Akon and I started using him like crazy.  All went well until one fine spring day when I had a big pitcher of green juice and then 2 hours later came down with a horrid stomach virus.  After that event, the very idea of a green juice made me gag and I haven’t really done anything with him until August of this year.

In August, on the advice of a friend, I watched the film Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead.  The film tells the story of Joe Cross, an Australian financial investor, who is about 100 pounds overweight, on a long-term course of steroid treatment, and suffering the effects of Chronic Idiopathic Urticaria, an autoimmune condition in which the body perceives harmless external exposures as threats and ramps up the histamine response creating severe hives.  In the engaging and inspiring documentary, Cross undertakes a 60 day juice fast (sometimes called a feast or a flush), during which he travels the United States, meeting people and discussing eating, nutrition, and health.  His transformation across the period of the film is startling and speaks pretty strongly of the power of a fruit/veg diet to help the body.    I will say, in the interest of honesty, that I didn’t find the movie to be the pinnacle of perfection.  I would have liked to hear a bit more from nutrition professionals about the values of juice fasting, saw a bit less promotion of Breville juicers (and I have one and love it, but really…), and gotten some additional discussion of the potential negatives about juice fasting.  But, for what it was to me – interest and inspiration and not direction – I really liked it.

So, what are the perceived benefits of juice fasting?

Juice fast proponents suggest a number of physical benefits of undertaking a juice fast.  The least important of these is weight loss, as losing weight via juice fast alone would take a very long fast, which has its own issues.  Most of the weight lost on a short juice fast will be regained after ending the fast, so that’s not a primary reason to start one.  The more important gains believed to arise from juice fasting are:

* As you fast, the colon can begin to clear of undigested fats/fibers.  This is thought to be helpful for digestion, as well as for general well-being.

*Juice fasting aids the body in processing toxins that have been ingested, helping them to pass through and out of the system.  We all build toxins from the environment, food we eat, medications, etc.

* Juice fasting dramatically increases the amount of veggies and fruits that one can consume in a day.  Yesterday, I had 14 carrots, 6 tomatoes, 2 yellow peppers, 1 green pepper, 1 red pepper, some beets, 8 stalks of celery, 2 big handfuls of spinach, 1 cucumber, a whole head of romaine, 2 cups of juiced oranges, 1 lemon, 2 limes, and I’m pretty sure I’m forgetting some things.  I love veggies, but this is more than I would eat in a day for sure.

*  It is said that we utilize about 30% of our energy in the digestion process.  Because juice fasting removes most of the effort from that process, proponents argue that the body can more effectively use the energy for other things, like healing itself.

* Sometimes, it’s good to give the digestive system a little break.  It’s a hard working machine, and doesn’t always function at optimal level.  Conditions like Irritable Bowel Syndrome can create pain with digesting even the most bland foods during flare periods, because the digestive system is so wound up.  A break can help stop that cycle.

* For many people, there are foods that create an almost addictive pattern of craving and consumption.  You may have noticed this with chocolate, soda, or refined carbohydrates.  If you have them one day, the next day the urge is even stronger.  That’s probably ok if your body responds fine to the items in question and you keep the consumption at a reasonable level, but for some of us, 1 slice of whole wheat on Monday becomes pretzels, a bagel, white pasta, and half a sleeve of saltines by Wednesday.  Juice fasting can help us break those patterns of attraction to foods that are not nutritionally useful.

So, how do you do it?

That’s an interesting question, and there are a variety of plans and answers.  Juice fasts can range from 1 day to 60 days.  They can include only freshly prepared and never refrigerated juices, or they can have the addition of some seasonings (and/or refrigeration or warming options).  For me, the answer has been that you have to find a way to engage the juice fast that maximizes what you are trying to get from it, but doesn’t make you so crank that you’ll quit.  I have to allow myself some “privileges” or I won’t maintain the fast beyond a day or two.

There are a few things I have learned from juice fasting (I’m about a week into my most recent juice experience):

First, while I love love love fruits and veggies, I’m more particular when they are in juice form.   Just because I like a combination (like the image of veggies to the right) in a bowl, does not mean that I love them room temperature in a cup.  The day that I made that juice, with kale, romaine, celery, carrot, tomato, cucumber, peppers, and radishes, I really thought I would love it.  I stuck a straw in that sucker and started drinking.  It made me literally gag – literally. I choked down a quart and a third (I am shooting for 2 quarts a day).  There was no way I could get the rest down and it had to be dumped.  Blech.  I have since learned that I do better if I warm pure veggie juices and add some seasonings (a little miso, curry powder, hot sauce).   This turns them into “broth” in my head and makes them palatable for me.

Second,  your other senses have a lot to do with food enjoyment.  What something smells or looks like is going to impact your ability to consume it.  When I first started my most recent round of juicing, I was having a heck of a time with green drinks after the last incident.  I really could not drink something if I saw it was green.  After a few weeks of renewed juicing, this is much improved.  If I make a juice and it’s a light green, I am pretty excited about it and I anticipate yumminess.  If it’s a dark fern or olive green, I still get a little icked out.  So, I try to be mindful of not only what the juice will taste like, but what it will look and smell like.  If it seems like it’s going to be mostly savory and a dark green or brown color, I consider the warming plan.

Third, fruits can rescue a lot of juices.  I would say that it’s probably not a good idea to go with only fruits, as that would be a whole lot of sugar and also quite acidic on the teeth.  But, I don’t beat (or beet – HA)  myself up about putting a couple of apples or a pear into most of the juices that I plan to drink with a straw.  It helps me to drink them, and that’s the goal.  Plus, fruits are also good for you!

Fourth, I know this, but juice fasting reminds me, much of diet is about habit and not hunger.  I would say that I’m not really physically hungry on this fast.  I’m drinking at least 3 quarts of juice a day.  But, sometimes I find myself saying “I’m hungry!” which really seems to mean “I want to chew something!”  I’ve been letting myself have a piece of gum now and then just to chew a little.  While this might not be ideal from a dietary perspective, again, I would say that if something little like this helps you to complete the fast, and that is what you want to do, then go for it.

Finally, juice fasting might or might not be a time to work on other issues.  In the past, when I have juice fasted, I’ve also given up all caffeine.   This time, I made a decision to reduce, but not to completely cut it.  So, I’m still having a cup of coffee (sometimes 2) in a day.  I know that serious juice fasters would say this is a very bad idea, and I’m not thinking it is a good one.  But, I also know that I’m not going to maintain a caffeine-free diet after the fast, and it helps me psychologically make it through my morning, so there you go.  While giving up caffeine has not been for me during this fast, I have done more meditating throughout the day, even when it’s been a more busy week than usual.

A few of my favorite combos right now are:

* cucumber, apple, spinach
* cucumber, spinach, pear, white grape
* pineapple, spinach, cucumber
* carrot, ginger, lemon, miso
* spinach, carrot, celery, tomato, curry, hot sauce

If you juice, I would love to hear about your experiences and your favorite combinations!

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