Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Juice Fast

Inspired by a documentary; I decided, in my usual “dive right in” fashion, to go on a juice fast.  The juice fast was propagated during the gritty and determined documentary by Australian native, Joe Cross, a onetime grossly overweight millionaire with a debilitating autoimmune disorder (called chronic urticarial, for those of you extra curious folks).  Basically, he could break out into ugly, painful hives at any moment and was on a ton of pills, steroids mostly, to try to combat this response.  The stirring film is entitled Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead, but don’t let title scare you off, it is much more uplifting than it sounds.  As a matter of fact, I think the bluntness of the title adds to the transparent and genuine format in which the film is produced.  In it, Joe goes on a cross country venture drinking juice, losing weight, talking to regular people about health, and ends up, well, I won’t spoil it for you.  But, if you have Net Flix, you can watch this movie right now for no charge.  If you happen not to have been stricken with the Net Flix addiction, here’s a link, to the promo site, which, be warned, has a bit too much of an infomercial feel for my taste, (I’m blaming this on the business minded piranhas that surely overtook Joe’s promotional duties as soon as they smelled money).

Juice comes in many forms.  One can garner juice from greens, root vegetables, fruits, etc.  I have found fruit juices, freshly pressed from the source, to be refreshing and mildly sweet.  Vegetable juices, however, have a rather different effect on the palate.  For example, a carrot, beet, and kale juice is not as palatable as say, a pineapple, melon, strawberry juice.  I’m not talking about bottled juice drinks here; I’m talking about all raw fruits, straight from the Whole Foods dirt layered organic section, with no added sugar, dyes or preservatives. There were many recipes that were offered up to followers of Joe’s signature ‘Reboot Your Life’ Juice Fast.  To take my shiny new Breville’s juice virginity, I selected the Great Greens Juice, from the long list of choices.  Its unpalatable mixture is made up of: 2 Green Apples, 2-3 cups Spinach, 6-8 leaves Swiss Chard, 1 Cucumber, 4 stalks Celery, 1/2 Fennel Bulb, and 1 bunch Basil.  This boils down to a sum total of 329 kcal of calories, 16 g of protein, 2 g of fiber, no fats and no preservatives, or, as it is revered by some juicers who have literally drunk the juice, as the elixir of life.  Unfortunately, rather than tasting like the ambrosia of the Gods, it made me puke.  And not just once, on three separate occasions during my first two days of juice fasting I ‘tossed my cookies’, as they say, while slurping on a mouthful of green drink. Wikipedia defines juice fasting as a type of fasting and detox diet in which a person consumes only freshly squeezed fruit and vegetable juices.  I define juice fasting as hell on earth.  When I first heard the term ‘juice fast’ I found it to be a bit oxymoronic.  I equated fasting with refraining from all food, even in juice form, for the duration.  I saw the use of the word ‘fast’ in ‘juice fast’ as kind of a cheat, a way to make things sound more dire than they actually were.  Five days on the juice fast readily changed my mind. 

The concept of fasting is not new to me, having been raised in a family saturated with religion, I was only too aware that my fasting could be, in some twisted way, associated with that old testament story about Jesus fasting for 40 days and nights.  I was careful to make sure my efforts weren't confused with non-secular purpose and inspiration as it was the month of August, the Islamic month of Ramadan, in which participating Muslims regrain from eating, drinking and intimacy with their partners during daylight hours. In the old testament, this was a test of Jesus' lotalty to god.  In the Muslim faith, its meaning, to teach Muslims about patience, spirituality, humility and submissiveness to god, has a similar ring to it.  I had no such pios motives in this fast.   
                                                   (Can I eat it if it looks like Jesus?)

On the second day, I passed out momentarily while lounging around my living room.  This is an opportune time to note that it may be a good idea to avoid having obligations for the first few days on the fast.  I, myself, felt sick enough to stay home from work during the first two days.  This was probably due to the fact that I wasn’t keeping enough food down.  There is a careful balance that one needs to strike between the fruit and veggie distribution in juices.  Fruit juices are faster burning, while vegetable juices are slower burning.  Therefore, in order to maintain energy throughout the day, it is necessary to implement vegetable juices in the diet.  I, however, was adding vegetables, like fennel bulb and collard greens, that had never before been introduced into my diet, and I was definitely suffering from the shock my system underwent.  I wised up on the third day and started adding more fruits to my juices.  As a matter of fact, I developed a new rule for myself, for every veggie that was put in the juicer, a fruit would follow it.  This way, I would always have a delightfully light and sweet tasting fruit to balance out the grassy dirt flavor of the green/root/veggie.  Unfortunately, this had more the effect of spraying a fraternity boy’s bathroom with flower scent to cover up the odor of urine, but it allowed me to ignore the overwhelmingly pungent flavor of the juice long enough to get it down and keep it down.  Another trick I used was holding my nose, one thing this fast taught me was just how large a role your nose plays in your sense of taste.  Incredibly, I could hardly taste anything at all if my nose was plugged up!  Unfortunately, as soon as the nose was free to smell again, my taste buds became livid with the repugnant taste of grass-dirt.
                                                    (Apparently, it's an acquired taste)
My favorite juice, the ‘All Fruits’ that contains a heaping double handful of blueberries, strawberries, 1 pear, 2 green apples, 2 handfuls of pineapple chunks, mango, cantaloupe and honeydew, was not enough to convince my body into fully functioning.  A small part of me was convinced that I had contracted spinach salmonella and these were the first manifestations of the illness.  A small swelling of my left and right neck lymph nodes, which I still do not know what to attribute to, was present in the fourth day and led to the credibility of the rather wild assertion of illness that was surely a manifestation of my hypochondrias.  I had had a full physical check up just a month prior to my juice fast, and was given a clean bill of health.  A larger, more rational and a bit more hopeful part of me thought that, perhaps, I just wasn’t taking in enough calories. 
My form of measurement was my hands and the level of juice that was mashed out into the smallish pitcher at the end of the juice dispenser tube.  Not all juicers are created equally, and the Breville is a superior animal even among top line juicers.  However, it is not without its imperfections.  While it does what it attests to in its advertisement slogan of “minimal effort, maximum vitality”, by turning a firm green apple to juice in no time with very little effort, it says nothing about the cleanup involved.  In order to clean the juicer, there are five parts that need to be separated and cleansed.  Two of the parts trap quite a lot of food particles, as for every ounce of juice there is a few inches of dry pulpy mass left over.   I haven’t found a use yet for this dry pulpy mass, although there were tempting links on the ‘reboot your life’ website that lead you to ‘vita-mix’ recipes which proclaimed to have a use for the fruit and veggie by-product.  For me, this dismantling, wiping and rinsing is something that needs to be done after every juice use, as I do not find the idea of leaving large pulpy masses of food sitting out appealing.  The upside to multiple washes a day is that the Breville is relatively easy to clean, as its smooth plastic curves lend themselves to being easily wiped.  It may even be Rachael-proof, as there are no sharp protruding blades on which one may easily be sluiced (this is not so for my blender, aptly named the “Ninja”; it is fully stocked with 10 blades, each seeming to project its knify-ness more than the last).

                                     (Not to be confused with the Blendersaurus)

Day four, I definitely felt the fatigue, deep, debilitating fatigue.  On the web site, which proffers up the catch phrase, “Reboot Your Life” in big bright bold letters and is associated with the Juice Fast in Fat Sick and Nearly Dead, there is a support community of people.  They have an open forum in which people write about their experiences with the fast.  Thanks to the twitter feed and Reboot Community, I’ve been privy to comments spanning from “Any advice on headaches? I don’t want to take any medicine during this reboot, but last night was pretty miserable …” to “I’m on Day 11 of RAW FOOD living. Feeling good 11 days has flown by!”  Which of these is a more accurate depiction of the juice fast is hard to guess; suffice it to say that everyone experiences the fast differently.
Most of these people, however, and the persons included in the documentary (Joe Cross recruited a few people to join him in the Juice Fast) were in agreement about one thing, the joys of getting past day 3.  Either these people had become happily deluded by day three, or I have a very different body composition to them, (which is a viable possibility) but day four did not lead to some great break through.  I was as hungry, tired and fuzzy headed as ever.  Actually, I was feeling a bit worse off.  I woke up feeling hung-over, as if I’d been on a five day drinking binge.  My throat was dry and sore, my head pounding, all of the muscles in my body ached and my mind refused to clear.  It was terrible.  The fog did not leave after the first juice of the morning, as I had counted on.  Although, on a positive note, I was finally keeping the juices down.
                                                  (Are lol catz still even funny?...yes.)

Lets talk about cravings.  According to Dr. Naomi Neufeld, an endocrinologist at UCLA, most adults need about 2,000 calories a day. Those calories make energy, or glycogen. Neufeld says it doesn't hurt — it might even help the body — to fast or stop eating for short periods of time, say 24 hours once a week, as long as you drink water.  That this actually allows you to “re-tune the body, suppress insulin secretion, reduce the taste for sugar, so sugar becomes something you're less fond of taking," Neufeld says.  Sugar was something I didn’t crave past the second day; however, my savory taste buds were a different story.  I’ve never been a big meat eater, but for some reason during this stint I could not stop dreaming about BBQ ribs.  Dripping in juice and BBQ sauce, this image was central to my night-time dreams as well as my food porn filled days.  While the idea of mastication, using my teeth to chew, had never been something I considered during meal-time, I distinctly missed the sensation of food between my teeth during this fast. 

My saliva glands also started working overtime.  At the very sight of food, my mouth would fill with the stuff.  I dreaded my walk to and from work, NYC may be the worst place to fast with its vast array of restaurants whose delectable smells leaked from their front doors like molasses oozing off pine trees.  Lunch at work with coworkers was torture.  Not only was I busily pretending to be very satisfied with my orange juice, I had to explain what a juice fast was and why I would choose to subject myself to something so socially unpropitious.  Also, the dirty looks and snide remarks I received from the overweight girl who sat next to me at work became more frequent.  I never got used to navigating social situations while on the all-juice diet and so did my best to avoid them. 

Originally, I had gone into this fast assuming it to last 7 days.  After a rigorous day one, my boyfriend (who was as eager as I was to give the fast a try after watching the documentary) and I decided to keep it at a resoundingly mediocre five days.  And really, it was more like 4.75 days as we celebrated our detox with a light dinner out the following Friday night (the fast began on Monday, Aug. 1st).  I have to admit, after passing out on the second day, I made the decision to supplement the juice with a red bell pepper or bread with pb/jelly once a day.  Ian, although not suffering from blackouts and chronic, um, upchucking, was suffering from migraine headaches and fatigue and made the decision to add peanut butter to his juice smoothies.  On my part, this supplementation was more to save my job than due to caving in to cravings.  Had I not had to move from my couch during the 5 days, I may have been just fine on juice alone, but in order to garner enough energy to make it through New York City streets (check out my  blog post on NYC streets to understand the need for energy) and into my place of work, my body would need a little more than 800 calories a day.  
A little note about weight; while many think losing weight is a mystical art that only dedicated dieters, on the level of Buddhist monks, are able to master, it really just boils down to your body expending more calories than it takes in.  I kept pretty close notes on the amount of calories I was taking in, but could only use my level of fatigue to measure my caloric output.  I assumed I was losing weight while on the fast, but did not see any visible changes in the way my clothes fit me etc.  While my intention was to detoxify my system, rather than to lose weight on this diet, I was curious as to the impact the juice fast would have on my body mass index.  The juice fast seemed to be a sort of crash diet for the documentary film maker and his faithful followers in the movie.  Each attested to losing many pounds during the fast, as did the tribe of people who were inspired enough to tweet their results online.  Thanks to my Wii fit, I was able to record at home my weight and BMI prior to and after the juice fast.  I lost 1.5lbs of weight during the fast, this is probably not water weight as I read that one typically retains water during the first week of a juice fast.  I am unsure how my decision to supplement my juices with a pb&j sandwich after 9PM may have altered the outcome.

While I am not wholly won over by the juice fast idea, (I think it may have been developed with an above healthy level BMI in mind) I have made the decision to implement juicing in to my daily life.  Mark Mattson, a scientist with the National Institute on Aging, says that when we convert food into energy, our bodies create a lot of byproducts we could do without, including free radicals.  He explains that, "These free radicals will attack proteins, DNA, the nucleus of cells, and the membranes of cells," Mattson says. And even if you don't fast, Mattson says that simply limiting the calories you consume may be beneficial. He points to studies where rats and mice were fed every other day. Compared with those fed normal daily diets, there was a reduction in disease among the rats that were severely restricted in their food intake. Mattson says those findings hold promise that humans could also benefit from partial fasting.  I would only recommend the extreme form of dieting known as juice fasting to fellow sadists.  Rather than fast to detox, in the future I plan on refraining from alcohol, uptaking my intake of water and cleansing my spirit with extra helpings of yoga.  A diet of healthy whole foods and juices to supplement my vegetable and fruit intake may just be the kind of balanced relationship with food I’ve been searching for.
3 Weeks later…
I had such an intense physical and emotional reaction to the juice fast experience that I wanted to wait a little while to let my mind and body take a breather before I posted this blog.  I am happy to say I am still an avid juicer, albeit juice is only a part of my diet now.  I am also happy to report that the past weeks have given me the opportunity to experiment with different types of juices, and I have found some types that I can tolerate much better, or even enjoy.  Such as the Spinach, Apple, Kale juice, which I am thirstily drinking down at this moment.  All in all, this fast was definitely worth the effort, and perhaps we will see another cleanse in my future :)

                                                                 (Don't judge me.)


Retune The Body With A Partial Fast by Patti Neighmond. www.npr.org/templates/story