Recently, I completed a five-day juice cleanse. It all went down the week preceding Super Bowl Sunday.
On that fifth fateful day was, my third meal was a big glass of celery, carrot, parsley and lemon juice…sipped down slowly, as I watched the Patriots lose to the Giants. Of course, according to purists, February would be the wrong time to undertake such a pursuit. Warmer months such as March or October, at the transition of seasons, are more ideal. (At least that is what I have gleaned from advertisements for juice detoxes at fancy health spas, where smiling participants are pictured drinking juice thrice daily and ad taking gentle, meandering hikes through forests or traversing windswept plains.)
After five, I have emerged from my juice cleanse. Still largely intact, too.
The following are a few observations from an absolute novice.
1. Your cup (and your car) will, literally, runneth over–
with celery, carrots, beets, grapes, apples, cucumbers, cabbages, parsley, cantaloupe, lemons, mangos, lettuce, kumquats. If you’ve never before had the opportunity to produce juice for yourself in Herculean quantities, be forewarned. That beautiful glass of colorful liquid in front of you? It takes a lot of produce to produce this much juice. (There’s a reason why all those detoxers are smiling in the brochure — the kitchen staff is most likely supplying them with the juice.) The back of your car (or plane, or train, or bicycle, or backpack) will come to resemble a mobile farmer’s market. The compost pile in your yard (or in the container on your counter) will appear like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. At least once, all of this will manage to spill all over your carpet.
2. Engage in some light exercise.
Those undergoing a juice cleanse are advised to engage in a bit of gentle exercise, like walking and gentle yoga, in order to keep the lymph limping along, keep those toxins draining — anything to keep one’s body from becoming a festering petrie dish. I got a bit of exercise carrying all of those bags inside. I began to grow some impressive biceps. Eventually, I wished I knew somebody who was licensed to operate a forklift.
3. Be prepared for more free time, especially at mealtimes.
Before I went on the juice cleanse, I never realized how much time I devoted to preparing food, eating said food and cleaning up afterwards.
4. Many people will not understand why you are doing what you are doing…but that doesn’t really matter.
Mealtimes are a social occasion in most cultures; they may also present a bit of a minefield. “Here, have a piece of pizza already,” a friend or family member will helpfully declare on Day 3 at dinner time. “It won’t hurt you!”, she will say, plunging greasy cheese and pepperoni into her mouth. “You’ve been doing that fast thing, or whatever, long enough.” It may be advantageous to put a little distance between yourself and those with Pizza Hut on their speed dial at this point. It may also be best to choose a time for the fast when your nearest and dearest are otherwise occupied.
5. There will be peaks and valleys. There will be good times and bad times.
This sounds like a Led Zeppelin song, but it is true. One may embrace a newfound sense of clarity as the nutrient-rich, antioxidant-infused juice pulses through the body, enticing the lymphatic system to chew up that leftover sludge like Pac-Man. Bye, bye chocolate, beer, pizza, french fries, frappuccinos. It was nice knowing you. At least for now.
During this time, one’s senses may feel more acute. One may feel inspired to tackle a new found creative project. Perhaps this will include the clearing of clutter, including (but not limited to) calcified remains in the refrigerator, decades-old clothes in the closet, and burgeoning e-mail inbox. I took advantage of one of these phases to hang out some laundry on a sixty-degree day in early February. What would have previously been a chore would now become an experience. I actually noticed the shade of the sky–powder blue–and the way the barren, spidery tree limbs snaked their way across the winter sky like a dark vein waiting for its lifeblood spring to return.
For the first time, I heard the crackle of ice on a nearby creek in the process of thawing. For several minutes, I watch the slow, effortless magic of a hawk in mid-flight as it adjusts its trajectory ever so slightly, for slight variations in wind direction and speed. In this mode, the body will devote energy to simply being rather than running, running, running.
6. Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen.
In addition to stirring physical toxins, the body will also process emotional toxins at this time. When left to fester, this stuff zaps our energy and our resolve. We become stuck in a state of samskara. We adhere to certain habituated patterns, however harmful. It brings to mind a recent episode of HBO’s excellent show Bored to Death, where Jason Schwartzman’s character accompanies Zach Galifinakasis’ character as he goes to the doctor’s office for a colonic appointment. “I am going to find all of your treasures,” the doctor proudly proclaims to his patient, who, perhaps not unsurprisingly, does not share his enthusiasm.
We run on our treadmills, spurred forth by our culture’s endless soundtrack echoing in our ear buds. Achieve. Achieve. Achieve. Keep up. Keep up. Keep up. Win. Win. Win. When the treadmill finally slows down, it is not surprising that we may hit a wall. We may experience a myriad of symptoms during this ‘cleaning-out’–fatigue, soreness, head-aches and a myriad of emotional symptoms. In this, there is a lesson: and we may have to redefine what is important to us. The juice cleanse was a sort of no bullshit-o-meter for me.
7. It is difficult to be hungry, (or, there is a reason why models say the darndest things.)
In many of the world’s faith traditions, fasting has long been a path towards spiritual enlightenment. (Although it is highly unlikely if the ancients would have had in their arsenal of spiritual temptations all-you-can eat bacon and $.50 cent draft happy hour.) Hunger can be a powerful motivator. The Buddha was tempted by Maya as he meditated underneath the Bodhi tree. Jesus was tempted by the Devil in the desert. While our trials and tribulations on a juice fast will be far less dramatic, they will mine our personal issues like sediment kicked up from a puddle.
8. Juice fasting brings me into communion with the human family.
When my stomach starts growling like a ravenous beast on Day 3, I realize I could ingest food if I need to. I know I am lucky to have been born in my body, in this place, at this time in history. Many people in the world are not so lucky. They would laugh hollowly if I told them I was still hungry, by choice, after spending $50 on produce from the grocery store and shoving it into the juicer. It is difficult to be hungry. It brings one more into community with the people in the world who are hungry every day, minute, hour of their lives. Hunger (or lack thereof) can take on powerful existential dimensions. It can be a powerful motivator for revolutions, rebellions and even the maintenance of the status quo.
9. Take care of yourself.
Conduct a juice fast only after consulting a qualified medical practitioner. If anything seems seriously wrong… stop!
Editor: Brianna Bemel