It’s a seductive pitch: Cleanse your body. Feel healthy. Lose weight.
You only have to do one thing: starve.
Like most dicey fashions, the juice cleanse trickled down from the ether of celebrity — juicers include Lauren Conrad, Blake Lively and skinny Nicole Richie-types who don’t need to lose weight — and oozed into the mainstream. For the low price of around $65 bucks a day, you can pay a service, like blueprintcleanse.com to deliver a liquid diet to your home. The rationale? According to BluePrint’s founder, Zoe Sakoutis, “As the result of the pollutants in the air we breathe and chemicals in the food and water we consume, the body accumulates toxins. Every once in while, the body needs to rid itself of these toxins.”
Doctors are skeptical. “A lot of laymen think that juicing will somehow strip you of items that get stuck in there. And that is absolutely not true,” says Dr. Elizabeth Applegate, who teaches nutrition at UC Davis. Your body is an excreting machine. It’s always working. Livers and kidneys don’t call in sick. They don’t need vacation days. “Your digestive system doesn’t ‘need a rest,’” says Dr. Applegate. “That’s like saying your heart needs a rest.”
But still. I’m intrigued. I want to try it. Who needs “doctors” when you have Lauren Conrad?
Instead of the mainstream pre-bottled cleanses, I seek out Modern Manna in Lodi, founded by the very tan and healthy-looking Danny Vierra, a longtime cleanse guru. The website for Modern Manna (modernmanna.org) is refreshingly candid about the uglier bits of the cleanse, stating, “We are a nation of constipation, stagnation, putrefaction, fermentation and autointoxication … The FDA reports that the average American male may be carrying an unbelievable 5 to 22 [pounds] of fecal matter in him on any given day.” Modern Manna’s goal is to, quite literally, clean your shit.
“Juicing with ‘super foods’ like carrots and apples gives you a high concentration of energy,” Vierra tells me. “This takes it to the cellular level. You want to feed the cells because that’s where life begins.”
Sounds logical enough. I ask him, “And you don’t feel hungry? You can still do things like, say, play tennis?”
“If you keep up with the juices, for the five days you won’t even feel hungry,” Vierra says. “You’ll feel full. You’ll feel great.”
Most of the online cleansing options (like BluePrint, Ritual Cleanse, Life Juice Shop) offer 3-, 4-, and 5-day options. I decide to do 5. I buy a detox kit from Modern Manna’s website that includes a daily schedule of juices (see image), flax oil, bottles of nutritional supplements, vials of liquid with names like “Liver/Gallbladder,” and something called “Bowel Formula No. 1” and “Bowel Formula No. 2.”
I buy a juicer, forking over $100 for the Breville Juice Fountain. Since I won’t be spending a nickel on meat or booze, it’ll pay for itself, right? At the grocery store, I fill my cart with organic carrots and organic apples. It’s an emasculating purchase. I’m more red-faced than a teenager buying condoms.
“It’s … for a juice cleanse,” I tell the cashier.
Fifty seven dollars?! For apples and carrots? This is more painful than the time I lost $300 on a single hand of blackjack.
Before a juice cleanse, you are encouraged to consult your doctor. I do not consult a doctor. Before a juice cleanse, you are encouraged to wean your diet of booze, caffeine and processed food. At 11 p.m. on the eve of my fast, I wolf down a platter of beef pad thai and guzzle two beers.
I do an official weigh-in: 165 pounds.
6:45 a.m. I’m fired up. I will own this cleanse. Then I stare at my juice schedule and realize there are 13 drinks for each day, or around one per hour. This is an all-consuming chore. It starts with my “morning flush”: 24 ounces of warm water, mixed with lemon juice. I gulp down the water. Easy. Bring it.
7:15 a.m. Time for the “herb drink”: 1 ounce of apple juice; 2 drops of “Liver/Gallbladder”; 2 drops of Paratox, which is designed “to both kill and expel parasites from the intestinal tract”; and 2 drops of “Kidney/Bladder.” I don’t know what any of these things mean. The drink tastes like cheap liquor.
7:19 a.m. I realize that using the juicer every hour would cripple my day, so I juice the apples in bulk. I plunk four overpriced apples into the juicer, and after a satisfying WOOOSH! it spits out … less than one glass of juice. Are you kidding me? Four more apples, one more glass. I plough through my entire stock of apples for just one day’s supply.
7:37 a.m. “Poultice drink”: 4 ounces of apple juice, 4 ounces of water and 1 scoop of “Bowel Movement No. 2,” which “draws old fecal matter out of the bowel. It will remove poisons, toxins, parasites, heavy metals such as lead and mercury, and even radioactive material such as stromium 90.” I gulp down the sludge, marveling that I’ve lived so many years with stromium 90.
8:00 a.m. “Breakfast drink”: Apple juice that’s spiked with a scoop of “Super Manna,” a natural supplement that sneaks in nutrients and 5 grams of protein, and 1 tablespoon of flax oil. It’s not terrible.
8:15 a.m. I brew my “detox tea,” which is a substitute for coffee the same way Kool-Aid is a substitute for beer.
9:32 a.m. Oh caffeine, I miss you so. I can’t think, can’t focus, can’t work. I try to write, but instead I click through the career statistics of Hakeem Olajuwon.
10:00 a.m. Poultice drink No. 2. The 4 ounces of apple juice gives me just enough calories to stave off hunger.
10:04 a.m. WOOOOSSSH! Somehow I lose control of the juicer, and carrot juice — thick, bright, vivid orange — splatters my white kitchen counters. Carrot juice shoots in the air and sticks to my cabinets. It gets on the fridge. It makes my floor sticky.
11:00 a.m. After scrubbing my kitchen with bleach, it’s time for a mix of apple/carrot juice, and it tastes … good. Huh.
11:07 a.m. Now the hard part. For the rest of the day, I’ll be gone from my apartment. So how do I prep and transport the next 37 million bottles? I pack a small cooler (okay, it looks like a fanny pack) with Tupperware jars of apple and carrot juice, fill the cooler with ice, then stuff the fanny pack into my work bag along with the flax oil, the vials and Bowel Formula No. 2. This fanny cooler will go with me everywhere for the next five days. Wherever I walk, you can hear the sound of ice water sloshing in my bag.
12:00 p.m. Herbal drink. (1 ounce apple juice and the weird drops.) This provides all the nourishment of a single leaf.
12:15 p.m. I’m in a meeting, which means that I can’t take my 12:15 p.m. poultice drink as scheduled. This causes problems. Normally, if you delay your lunch, it’s no big deal. But on a cleanse, it feels that EVERY SECOND COUNTS. Your body has no gas in the tank. You stick to the schedule, or you pay the price.
1:00 p.m. Carrot juice. Not terrible.
1:17 p.m. I realize that you can’t do a cleanse casually. It chainsaws through every facet of your life, impacting your commute, job, friends and relationships.
1:37 p.m. Bathroom. Toilet. I feel the grim consequences of Bowel Formula No. 2.
4:00 p.m. The second big meal of the day. I spike my carrot juice with Super Manna and flax oil. This tastes grosser than it sounds.
5:00 p.m. Herb drink.
5:30 p.m. I meet friends for drinks at a bar. They order margaritas, and I try not to hate them. I ask the waitress for an empty glass, open my fanny cooler and pour in 10 ounces of carrot juice.
“I’m sorry, we don’t allow any outside drinks,” the waitress says with a smile.
“But this is my dinner.”
“Sorry. Can you chug it real quick?”
So I gulp down my carrot juice and then sit there, sipping water, for the next two hours while my friends enjoy their alcohol. My blood sugar has cratered, I’m sober and I have to take an epic dump. I smile and nod and fake my way through the conversation, hoping a fire will erupt and close down the bar.
8:45 p.m. On the way home I need to buy more produce. I literally buy every carrot in the store.
9:00 p.m. I get home and greedily suck down a glass of overdue carrot juice. The instructions on the schedule have my favorite footnote of all time: “7 p.m. carrot juice: Skip if you are absolutely full.”
Today will be different. Today I will learn from my rookie mistakes. I treat carrot juice with the same abundant caution that a scientist wearing a Hazmat suit would use to handle radioactive plutonium.
My morning is packed with meetings, so the only window I have for poultice drink is on the subway. On the moving train, I unzip my cooler, whip out a bottle of apple juice and pour in a scoop of Bowel Formula No. 2. I shake the bottle and chug the sludge. Everyone on the subway looks at me. (Context: These are jaded New Yorkers who never stare at anything. That very moment, they’re ignoring a 300-pound preacher angrily chanting Bible versus.)
I discover a new problem: foul breath. Those poultice drinks leave an aftertaste of concrete and black licorice. Breath mints are forbidden, so how about gum? Technically I’m not eating gum, right? I buy a pack of gum and devour it, chewing 24 pieces in less than an hour. (Later, I Google and reaize gum is taboo. Oops.)
That night, I’m supposed to go to a 10:30 indie-rock concert. Ha! Given my plummeting energy levels, this feels about as likely as a last-minute flight to Australia. I text an apology and cancel. At 9:30, I brush my teeth (not forbidden!) and crawl into pajamas.
I wake up at 3:15 a.m. No. This can’t be. I haven’t had caffeine in more than two days, and I’m exhausted. Why can’t I sleep? Answer: My stomach rumbles. The hunger pangs keep me up until 5:30. I wake up at 7:00 a.m., exhausted and without the crutch of caffeine. I don’t have the energy to read. Let me repeat that: I don’t have the energy to read.
But after three days of Bowel Formulas, something has indeed improved: I’m delighted by the appearance of my stool. It looks like something out of a textbook. Heartened by this scatological triumph, I block out the fact that I’m sleepy, hungry and can’t focus on anything besides my next bottle of juice. Even a trip to the movies (Iron Man 3) poses a logistical challenge. It’s a 3:50 showing, but I’m supposed to drink carrot juice at 4:00, herb drink at 5:00, poultice drink at 5:15 and then another carrot juice (with greens) at 6:00. Halfway through the movie, as others munch on popcorn, I awkwardly unzip my fanny cooler, pop open the apple juice and scoop in Bowel Formula No. 2.
3:45 a.m. Hunger pangs. My stomach growls for two hours.
For my morning cleanse, I chug my 24 ounces of warm water with lemon juice — Deeelllliiicccious! — and resolve that today I will take it up a notch. No more moping around. Today, I will be my normal self. Who needs food? Food is for wimps. After another majestic bowel movement, I text a friend and arrange a game of tennis. I bike five miles to the tennis courts (the fanny cooler sloshing in my backpack) and play an hour of tennis, amazed at my energy levels.
Drink, prep, drink, prep, drink, prep, drink.
That night I go to bed … and sleep soundly.
I am the juicing king! I stare down my old nemesis, the carrot juice, and prep 30 ounces without spilling a drop. I feel good. My clothes feel different. I tighten my belt another notch. I even think about stretching the cleanse to 10 days. Why not 15, 20? Maybe I could set a juicing record. Reenergized on the way home from work, I buy another five sacks of organic apples and seven bags of carrots. Juicing now, juicing forever!
That night, I come down from my high and do more research. The experts say that for first-time cleansers, more than five days is a very, very bad idea. It’s time to rejoin the world of food.
6:45 a.m. Bacon! Eggs! Sausage! The fridge is my oyster. Except, I don’t want it. I’m afraid to eat solid food. Much like Brooks, the confused old man who leaves Shawshank Prison and can’t cope with freedom, the first thing I do is drink organic apple juice.
7:50 a.m. At last. I’m ready. I eat a small bowl of Special K, and it’s the best damn bowl of cereal I’ve ever had.
10:00 a.m. Still not quite trusting my body, I surprise myself by making another apple/carrot juice, even scooping in a tablespoon of flax oil. New habits are hard to break.
12:07 p.m. A green salad. Cucumbers. Tomato soup. A banana. Once this fuel kicks in, something amazing happens: I feel wonderful. Sharp. Coiled with energy. It took six days — and the reintroduction of food — but now I feel euphoric. (That said, if you kidnap a man and throw him in a cave for five days, on day six, when he sees the sunshine, he might feel euphoric. That is not an endorsement for kidnapping.)
Maybe the doctors are right to be skeptical. But Dr. Applegate, the nutritionist expert from UC Davis, also acknowledged that in one study, the juicers perceived a higher quality of life. And now I get it. Instead of craving pizza, like I had imagined, my body wanted fruit and salad.
I also gained a new appreciation of, well, food. In the past, I horrified my friends by admitting that, theoretically if given the option, I would swallow a magic food pill to satisfy hunger. The cleanse changed that. I missed the smell, texture and ceremony of food. It made me want to learn to cook.
Final weigh-in: 159 pounds. I lost six pounds in five days. You will lose weight. Most cleanses provide only 1,000 to 1,200 calories a day, so it’s a mathematical certainty. But will you keep it off? Trickier. It has now been two weeks since the cleanse. I’ve gained back three pounds, and those memories of craving apples are already starting to fade.
I’m off to eat a burger.
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