My First Juice Cleanse: A Mixed Blender

After a recent trip to NYC where I stumbled upon one of their stores, I was reminded of Organic Avenue, and ended up checking out their web site when I returned home. After 2 weeks of being “off my healthy eating plan,” I impulsively signed up for their Deep Love Cleanse. What I didn’t realize was that it was their most challenging cleanse, requiring one ingest only fruit and vegetable juices for 3-5 days.

Benefits of Juice Cleansing
A lot has been written about the benefits of cleansing in general, and particularly juice cleanses. A Google search will turn up tons of information, highlighting both pros and cons. Below are some of what I found on various sites about the reported benefits of abstaining from solid foods:

  • increased energy
  • deep hydration of the body
  • improved digestion (after giving the body a rest from solid food)
  • improved mental clarity
  • improved nutrient absorption
  • clearer skin
  • more regular / normal elimination (i.e. alleviated constipation or diarrhea)
  • removal of harmful toxins that have built up in the body
  • increased metabolism / weight loss

However, it doesn’t appear as though the medical or lay communities advocate juice cleansing as completely safe for everyone, or agree that such a cleanse necessarily provides all the benefits I listed above. LIVESTRONG, for example, provides several articles that talk about juice cleanses–some of illustrate benefits, others point out several potential risks. (Hey, I guess it’s good to see they’re largely unbiased!)

Risks & Downsides of Juice Cleansing
Here are some of the risks and downsides of juice cleansing that I’ve turned up:

  • nutrient deficiencies (e.g. those usually obtained from protein and fat in one’s diet)
  • increased one’s sugar intake (which can be especially harmful for those who already have medical conditions related to sugar)
  • potential for side effects such as headaches, dizziness, digestive upset
  • decreased energy
  • increased hunger and thirst 
  • loss of water weight only / regained weight upon return to solid food

Additionally, experts like Dr. Nasir Moloo have frequently been cited as stating that the body already knows how to remove toxins naturally, once one stops ingesting substances like caffeine, sugar, alcohol, processed foods, etc. So doing that instead might be more effective long term.

    My Personal Experience
    Since I like to reserve judgement about something until I have direct experience with it, I tried a 3-day juice cleanse, and here’s what I can tell you:

    • I’ve never felt so hydrated. Unless I’m in a tropical climate, I’m always terribly dry and dehydrated. Not so with this cleanse! Between the juices and all the water and tea in between juices, it does feel great.
    • I did not abstain 100% from solid food. Even on day 1, I planned to supplement the juices I received from Organic Avenue with some fresh fruit and vegetables. Why? Based on my calculations I wouldn’t be getting the medically-accepted minimum of 1200 calories a day (for women) on the juices alone. According to Mayo Clinic, fewer calories “could deprive a person of nutrients like calcium, iron, and protein.” I also knew from John Doullard and Marc David‘s work that diet and exercise should never cause physical distress–doing so actually causes the metabolism to slow down. Also, I really just missed chewing!
    • My skin did look good. That said, I’ve also observed this on less invasive cleanses.
    • I was freezing! The Buddha cleanse I did previously warned that one might get cold as a side effect of cleansing, so I expected this. But as someone who is always cold anyway, by day 2 I was physically shivering all day at the office, and could not get warm inside.
    • By the evening of day 2 I was pretty much done. Day 2 started really good–I didn’t feel as though I needed as much solid food (though I ate some anyway), but by evening I was super dizzy, and my stomach was in total revolt. I tried going to bed but between the loud growling and cramping the only way I could fall asleep was to eat some Mary’s Gone Crackers. Unfortunately, I woke up with the same symptoms, and on Day 3 I had soup and a rice cake for breakfast, and a salad for lunch. The solid food made me feel better, but I was also pretty irritated. Not sure whether that’s because of some release of toxins, or just annoyance over this cleanse not really working for me. Having a flat stomach that hurts like hell totally isn’t worth it in my book!

    My Advice
    First off, based on my personal experience I wouldn’t recommend this particular juice cleanse. Of all the cleanses I’ve done, the Buddha cleanse is my absolute favorite. Through it, one is eating solid foods all along (but starting clean and reintroducing certain foods along the way if one likes), so it feels much less disruptive and supportive of long-term healthy eating habits (i.e. ones that don’t zig and zag between deprivation and binging).

    However, if you are going to try this particular cleanse or a juice cleanse in general because you’re curious about whether it would work for you, here’s what I’d recommend: 

    • Find a local supplier of juice. Though most of Organic Avenue’s juices were tasty, dealing with ordering, shipping, storing and trying to understand the smudged expiration dates on lots of perishable (unpasteurized) juice was difficult. During the process we had a few snafus–which they handled quite responsively–but it was a pain nonetheless.
    • Do the juice cleanse with a mentor and/or group. Having someone available who knows what they’re doing, can answer questions, and provide support is valuable. Working remotely with Organic Avenue, I didn’t find that they provided a lot of clear instruction up front–although when I emailed specific questions, they were pretty helpful.
    • Don’t do a juice cleanse longer than 3 days. This is partially because of the risks I keep reading about with juice cleanses, and partially because of my personal experience and how yucky I felt. Of course, some juice cleanse creators will tell you otherwise; after all, they’re likely selling you the juice! I’ve done much longer (food-based) cleanses before and to me, nothing but juice doesn’t feel healthy for my body for very long. Maybe I gave up too soon, but when my body is revolting that violently even though I don’t eat very badly in general, I have to listen and think that maybe it’s really not a good thing!
    • Back off intense workouts. I reluctantly gave up my running and a hot yoga class because I was worried about having the energy to do them, the low calorie intake, and the understanding that cleanses work best when you rest the body. Although I’m somewhat resentful of missing these workouts given how it all turned out, my instincts were right–I don’t think there’s any way I could have done my typical routine if I wanted to. (I did do yin yoga the second day, which was lovely and fitting as a somewhat restorative practice.) 

    So, basically I tried this juice cleanse and I don’t think it worked for me. I mean no disrespect toward Organic Avenue or their juices–in fact, many of their products are yummy and who knows, maybe when I’ve forgotten about this experience I’ll order some of their juice again.

    Or, maybe I’ll just go back to making my own smoothie recipes in my new Vitamix! 🙂

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