JUICE CLEANSES are old news. If you're the type who goes in for such things, chances are great that you've already tried one and decided where you stand on the "issue." Many people feel lighter and detoxified afterward, having given their body a "rest" from activities like "breaking down food" and "fighting toxins." Others get surprisingly (and obnoxiously) vehement against juice cleanses, as if experimenting with one's own body in (at worst) relatively harmless fashion without an official endorsement from the US Department of Health and Human Services is somehow tantamount to pooping in their cereal. (More on poop later.)
Whatever your juice-related beliefs, let's agree on one thing: the power of the mind. If you think something is good for you, you are more likely to feel like you are getting positive results; if you believe in juicing as a positive thing, you are more likely to experience it that way. So as an experiment, I enlisted a skeptical but sporting subject, Artie, who underwent a three-day juice cleanse in the name of research, to see if the endeavor would yield any positives, even for a non-believer.
Artie is a relatively large man, at 6'1" and weighing in at 260 pounds on the morning of Day 1. He does not have a particular exercise routine, describes his use of caffeine and nicotine as occasional but not "religious," and admits to drinking alcohol three to four times a week, "sometimes in greater quantities than other times." He puts a decent amount of thought into his diet, avoiding most carbs (he takes the bun off his burgers and avoids potatoes and pastas "as a rule"). He cooks a lot, and regularly consumes dairy (cheese, milk, and butter, mostly) as well as lots of meat: beef, pork, chicken, fish, and game. He is lost without breakfast. His main criticisms of his own eating habits are that he has "problems with portion control and beer," and probably doesn't eat what's considered a sufficiently healthy amount of green, leafy vegetables. He also claims to "go doodoo two times a day like clockwork, once between 9 and 10 am, and once between 5 and 7 pm."
Most importantly, Artie thinks juice cleanses are "a sham." He doesn't believe there can be much benefit to "shocking" one's system as opposed to simply making a long-term dietary adjustment. (I suggest he consider "pre-cleansing" for a day or two by not drinking booze or eating animal products in order to ease in, but he declines: "I am not fucking PRE-cleansing.") His understanding of the claims surrounding juice cleanses is that it's meant to get rid of toxins and reset the digestive system, but he questions how necessary that really is, especially if there are no immediate health problems. He allows it's potentially useful in isolating allergens (but he doesn't have any).
For three days Artie plans to consume nothing except a daily delivery of five 16-ounce bottles of fresh-pressed juices containing a variety of fruits and vegetables, along with one 16-ounce bottle of hazelnut milk. This alone constitutes approximately 1,200 calories a day. As an emergency measure, he can supplement with raw fruits and vegetables when desperation strikes.
On Day 1, at 10:03 am, Artie messages me excitedly, "Just drank my first juice! I'm not hungry yet! It tasted a bit like dirt." At 1:10 pm: "I just finished my second bottle and it tasted horrible. It also gave me heartburn... I'm not sure I'm going to make it 2.5 more days. I'm feeling a little dizzy, and I may have to eat some Tums." At 1:22 pm: "So after this, I'm going to go on a three-day steak cleanse." At 1:33 pm: "I feel fucked. Tasks are taking longer than they should." He also informs me that his clockwork doodoos are shifting. "Something's on the move." At 3:37 pm, a mutual friend messages: "How long does Artie have to do this juice cleanse?? He's as gray as a block of modeling clay!! He looks TERRIBLE." I ask if this was noticed without prompting or if Artie had come complaining. "No, he just walked in and I was like, 'What the fuck is wrong with you, I'm calling an ambulance!' He's not going to make it, just so you know. I've seen cadavers with better color."
Day 2. Artie admits to me that after work on Day 1 he went straight to New Seasons and ate 10 ounces of raw vegetables and eight ounces of fruits and berries, which he says made him feel amazing and "confident that I can see this through to the end." However, his evening bowel movement was about three hours late, and loose. "Bad loose. Not cool." As of the morning of Day 2, he has lost four pounds.
Over the course of Day 2, a new theme emerges: "The juice is loose, and it's not going quietly." He also reports a heightened (but possibly imagined) sense of smell, claiming he can "smell what every residence was cooking for breakfast" on the way into work. In general, however, the addition of raw produce has helped immensely, he's worked out which of the juices he enjoys, and he's begun setting those aside for the evenings, when "I'd normally be eating my favorite meal of the day."
Artie's hours of toilet-time contemplation have also shifted him into essay mode, and he writes me emails describing lengthy considerations of his relationship to food. How much he enjoys not only eating it, but also choosing and cooking it. How he is plagued by guilt. "I've never felt true hunger," he confesses. "I'm drinking $9 bottles of juice six times a day for three days by choice. This isn't starvation by any stretch. I could probably survive for at least a week on the amount of stored fat surrounding one of my knees." He worries the lack of protein is altering his self-perception, and considers the possibility that malnourishment has made him believe he's a deeper thinker than he really is. Also: "I'll never do a juice cleanse again. They're so fucked."
Day 3. At 1:35 pm I receive a message: "I WANT THIS TO BE OVER!!" I offer encouragement, pointing out that he's almost done. "I'll finish," he promises, before going on to note that his sleeping patterns are changing. He can't fall asleep until late, and he's begun waking at 6 am "to go poo!!" Otherwise, he's okay, just "tired of only eating this crap." He is now down seven pounds, but "I'm sure most of it was just sitting in my lower bowels!"
At 10:37 pm, I receive an email with the subject line "I failed you." Inside, he has written the following concession speech:
"I've had a lot of beater cars in my day. Cars that have outlasted what should have been their capacity to carry on. Cars I've done absolutely no maintenance on. Cars I abused to an incredible extent. But for some reason they ran, and ran well. At one time or another I'd get a little cash in my pocket, and out of appreciation for outstanding performance, I'd take 'em in for an oil change. Inevitably, some hack mechanic would talk me into new head gaskets or hoses or belts, or a tranny flush and some carb work. It always turned out to be the kiss of death. Without exception, my prized beasts would be bleeding oil, coughing coolant, or seizing up within 1,000 miles.
"Some vehicles just run dirty, and feel good doing it," Artie continues. "I'm pretty sure I run filthy, and I feel best and perform best when I consume the appropriate fuel. A strict diet of unleaded juice is not my speed. I'm not saying that folks shouldn't switch things up—I think you should. It's an exercise in self-restraint that is completely healthy for your mind as much as (supposedly) your body. You have to stay roadworthy, and some maintenance is required.
"Know that it's not going to come easy, though. You really have to want it to appreciate it—don't go into the shop if you're not prepared to pay for labor. I'm someone who really didn't want to get a tune-up. I did it because it was something I would never do under normal circumstances. It wasn't all that bad. I managed. I almost made it. I'd even consider giving it another go.
"But tonight I broke," he continues. "I couldn't stomach it anymore. The thought of one more ounce of juice was excruciating. I failed, and I took a header into the depths of the greasiest, most beautiful fire on earth. It came to me in the form of a two-piece chicken basket and three tall Rainiers at Reel M Inn Tavern. Right now, two hours later, I can honestly say I haven't felt better all week. Call me weak. Call me a quitter. I don't fucking care. Right now, my engine is purring."