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(Photo: Brooke Fitts)

Are juice cleanses terrible? An investigation

I love fresh starts. There is something that absolutely tickles me about a new school year, even though I’m in my late twenties and haven’t been to school in years. There’s something about crisp new corduroy, sharp pencils, and crispy leaves that makes me want to disco around my house.

The same goes for New Years. I love watching thousands of people boldly declare their resolutions for the year ahead. As a wellness blogger (and fitness instructor) I get a front row seat to hordes of people working really hard towards their goals. It’s inspiring. It gives me chills. It is, quite literally, what gets me out of bed in the morning.

That being said, I’ve also seen the dark side. I’ve seen people pass out in yoga classes. I’ve seen people give themselves explosive diarrhea from supplements they got off the internet. I have seen perfectly lovely people do a juice cleanse and suddenly turn into some kind of rabid swamp monster, cursing carbs and everything in their wake. While New Years is inspiring, it’s also a reminder of all of the absolutely bonkers stuff that we as humans will do in the name of health.

You see, I have this thing with juice cleanses. To me, they’ve always sounded absolutely awful. I’ve seen friends cry on day three. I once saw a co-worker throw an empty juice bottle at the wall of her cubicle. Juice cleanses, to me, have always seemed like a special kind of hell that women put themselves through in the hopes of dropping a few pounds, finding more energy to accomplish their never-ending to-do list, and another pressure that we put on ourselves for absolutely no reason. To be frank, it sounds like literal torture. I express my distain for juice cleanses boldly and without shame. When preaching about the varying horrors of a juice cleanse recently, though, a friend asked me an honest question – had I ever done one? I had done a few 24 hour juice cleanses during the summer that were more out of pure heat survival than cleansing. Other than that, I hadn’t really cleansed. My friend shrugged and said offhandedly “You never known until you try.”

What is a juice cleanse, really? The dawn of 2019 seemed like an exceptional time to find out.

To start with, I basically drowned myself in juice-related information. I read about the pros and cons, investigated recipes, read success stories and warning signs. There’s a lot of information on the internet (and lots of it is REALLY TRULY AWFUL) which made me regularly question my sanity and choice. I didn’t trust myself to come up with my own juice cleanse, so ultimately, I ended up making my own version of a few of the most popular cleanses available for purchase. I was allowed pure almond milk or broth during my absolute lowest points. Outside of that, it would be all juice. All day. I planned to go for a week. It couldn’t be that bad, right?

Day 1

Due to a few deadlines and meetings, I completely forgot to eat until around 1 PM. I went to a coffee shop with a friend and ordered absolutely nothing, which felt akin to winning a gold medal at the Olympics. By the time I realized I was hungry that afternoon I sipped on my juice and thought, honestly this isn’t that bad! My husband grilled steak for dinner, which smelled great, but I happily sipped on an evening juice blend that the internet assured me would help heal inflammation and detox my body. I went to bed feeling pleased with myself and not all that different. It was just a little juice, I could do this!

Day 2

I woke up on day two with a twinge of a building headache, and immediately sighed that bean juice (read: coffee) wasn’t on the table. Going to meetings in Seattle and not drinking coffee, or anything for that matter, can be a little awkward. The coffeeshop culture is strong in the PNW, and suddenly I found myself chugging bright green sludge out of a mason jar instead of my usual Americano. I had a moment of panic; how was I going to survive an entire week without coffee? Without caffeine? I coach a high school sports team and it suddenly hit me that I would be wrangling teens completely caffeine-free. Could I do it? Would I survive? I struggled to get through all of the juice that was on my plan. It felt like a lot of juice. I started to get a little grumpy. So grumpy, in fact, that my husband suggested I call it a day at 7 p.m. Despite the anger that was slowly building in my body, Day 2 didn’t seem particularly awful. If only I knew what was to come.

Day 3

On Day 3 the tables turned. I truly have never hated anything more than I hated beets on day 3 of my juice cleanse. Beets are disgusting. Beets taste like rotten dirt. Beets changed everything in my body (and everything that left it – HEYO) into an unfortunate shade of crimson. I peeked at my abs in the bathroom mirror. Did I look like a supermodel yet? Because it truly felt like it had been decades since I had a full meal. Disgruntled, I decided that a yoga class would cheer me up. WRONG. I spent the entire hour hoping that I didn’t lose control of my bowels or pass out. I came home, showered, had a recreational cry about the woes of my juice cleanse, and then promptly passed out.

Day 4

On Day 4 my digestive system realized that I was on a cleanse and kicked into high gear. I’ll spare you on the gruesome details but will tell you this: everything you have ever heard about what happens to your body on a juice cleanse is absolutely true. And then some. I was terrified to consume MORE juice because I didn’t know how my body would react. I also felt like I was putting half a fridge worth of produce into my juicer each day, only to yield like three drops of juice. How do people do this all the time? Who does their grocery shopping? Do they have their own farms? My spirit was so crushed at this point that I spent most of the day in my bedroom. Also the bathroom.

Day 5

I was supposed to go to the baby shower of one of my oldest friends. I feel mentally and physically exhausted. I cried easily and without filter; the thought of watching her open boxes full of tiny socks and colorful hats was too much to bear. My body felt somebody was repeatedly punching it in the stomach. I drank my morning juice, looked at my husband, and confessed that I couldn’t do it anymore. I ended my juice cleanse in the most millennial way that I could think of: by inhaling avocado toast. It was the most delectable thing that I have ever eaten. Each flake of sourdough and slice of avocado breathed new life into my body. I felt truly alive. Maybe that’s why people go on juice cleanses, to experience the high of what it’s like to eat food again after? Suddenly it all made sense. All was right in the world. I had bread.

It took about four days after ending the cleanse for my body to feel back to normal. After reintroducing food I still felt like the shell of a human, and wasn’t able to really do any sort of strenuous activity until the fourth day post-cleanse came to a close. This experience made me realize why juice cleanses are so often touted by wealth celebrities: they’re pretty much the only people that can do them. It was nearly impossible to keep up with my commitments on a cleanse. I also did lose a fair amount of weight in a very short period of time, which I suppose could be appealing if I had to go to, I don’t know, the Oscars and fit into a dress. For anything else, it just wouldn’t be worth it to me. Juice cleansing made me EMOTIONAL. I was so teary that I regularly had to hide in my bedroom. I felt completely drained.

The experience wasn’t all horrible, though. I did feel exceptionally well-hydrated during my cleanse, which did make me feel less mentally fatigued than I normally might. I learned that when my energy slumped in the afternoon a fresh juice could pick me up just as effectively as coffee could, and I loved being able to commiserate with my friends who had put themselves through similar challenges. While I probably won’t ever do one again (unless, of course, I need to fit into a dress for the Oscars), it was a good experience.

Now when I say that I hate juice cleanses, I’ll really mean it.