As far as health-consciousness goes, I have very little (read: none). I’m the kind of person who fully embraces the fact that my organs don’t hate me yet – my liver is ready and willing to put up with even more of the Nati Ice and Popov vodka it was forced to filter during college, and my stomach still accepts meals of Extra Flaming Hot Cheetos and ranch dressing as legitimate sources of nutrition. Since I’ve continually treated my body this way for the last six or so years, without much repercussion – save for a handful of bad hangovers and a few regrettable bouts of food poisoning – I’ve always figured I’d just stop when I a) grew morbidly obese, b) discovered some sort of tumor, or c) died.
My wake-up call was, thankfully, not one of the above outcomes, but instead involved my consumption of an entire batch of Pillsbury Grands biscuits – like, literally, one whole can of that refrigerated, squishy biscuit dough goo was baked in my oven until golden brown and flaky, and then shoved down my throat with a Yoo-Hoo or a Corona or whatever to wash it down. The worst part was, I didn’t even realize what I was doing until there were nothing but crumbs left on the cookie sheet (who needs plates?). But boy, would I feel it later. Those partially-hydrogenated lumps of butter-flavored cement sat in my stomach like a bad date sits next to you on a broken ferris wheel ride where you’re stuck at the top – I knew the sheer agony I was about to experience, and I couldn’t do a damn thing to get away from it.
Once the doughy balls of titanium finally digested, and I could once again fit into my non mu-muu clothing a few days later, I knew something needed to change. After some consideration (and a few more episodes of Barefoot Contessa), I thought about how I’d recently seen a perky girl at work hold up a plastic bottle of some foul, brown colored liquid, claiming she was “juice fasting” for three days, and gush about how fantastic a diet of vegetal sludge material made her feel. It was a total detox, a cleanse from all the preservatives and artificial flavorings and processed crap that’s jam-packed in all of the food we eat. The added bonus was, she said, losing five pounds in the process, and since it’s officially bathing suit season, girls, we needed all the help we could get. Ignoring the last part, I thought about how that sounded totally stupid and super easy and how I could definitely do that for three – no, five – days, no sweat. After all, this was not my first time to the liquid-diet rodeo, if you catch my drift.
So, I began to research all things juice, and realized my best bet (and the only way I could avoid spending $100+ on squashed veg from a hipster juicery with biodegradable straws) was to make my own. Equipped with a power juicer my father had purchased while on a spur-of-the-moment fitness kick (and which he promptly discarded onto a garage shelf a few months later), and a small farmer’s market-sized array of produce, I began a-juicin’. Juicing rules basically read that the tastier/sweeter your juice, the more off-limits it is, and that you pretty much should be adding spinach, celery, and/or beet to everything in order to make it the most nutritious; I wanted to (prove to everyone that I could) do it right, so I put together bizarre-yet-exceedingly-healthy combinations such as granny smith apples, green bell peppers, spinach, garlic, ginger, and an orange or two. By the end of the three hours I spent carefully prepping the veggies, figuring out how to place them in the juicer, and cleaning bits of pulp and fiber off the kitchen walls when I failed to do that, I had two liters of homemade, brown toxic waste of my own! I excitedly bottled most of it to take to work the next day, and then proceeded to eat three-cheese fries and drink two glasses of red wine as a well-deserved “last meal.”
I wish I could adequately describe how horrific the first day of the fast was. Each minute of my morning commute without a soy vanilla latte, half pump, extra foam, was pure torture. Lunch hour felt like three, mainly because I did not have a lunch to eat. I thought I was going to pass out, convinced that I was already malnourished and wasting away at 3pm, from the extreme exhaustion and hunger I felt at that moment. And the worst part was, each sip of juice tasted more like putrid, watery alphabet soup than the one before it, except for I was then desperately craving the associated pieces of disintegrating pasta, potatoes and canned green beans. Not to mention, I really wanted a chocolate chip cookie. Sandwiched between two buttered pieces of sourdough bread. Like, real bad. Somehow I stayed strong, though, and made it to day two without any major fallout – save for the weak moment when I saw a girl unwrap and wolf down a king size Rice Krispies treat in her car, and visibly screamed at her from my own vehicle because she wasn’t properly savoring it. (I blame the juice.)
Days two and three were largely similar, hallmarked by extreme mood-swings, sugar highs when I decided to cheat and reward myself with orange-pineapple-strawberry juice that actually tasted like something a normal person would consume, and at least ten trips to the bathroom per day to pee out all the juice. Though my kidneys were working overtime to remove toxins, and I felt so miserable that the cleanse must be doing its job, right?, I was disappointed that I hadn’t reached some level of spiritual enlightenment or seen a big, flashing neon sign welcoming me to Healthville, like so many fasters I read about had claimed to have experienced. I was simply hangry, tired, unfocused, and daydreaming excessively about the meal of butternut squash ravioli and sage brown-butter sauce I would eat to break the fast – down to the sprig of thyme I would use to garnish the plate.
Motivated solely by the fact that my fridge contained nothing but juice and a three pound bag of spinach, I had no choice but to see the fast through for the remaining two days. The end was so close, I could taste it (actually, I could only taste the beet-grapefruit-carrot juice I had a few hours before)! Ultimately, I drank and peed and sugar-crashed my way to Friday afternoon. I left work that day triumphant, knowing I was in for something that was not juice, and instead full of fat and cheese and carbs and all the other things that made my food world go ’round. As I walked from the parking garage to my apartment, I felt like a marathon runner sprinting the last hundred yards to the finish line, willing myself to grow another two arms so I could sauté and stir and chop and serve simultaneously.
As my beautiful pièce de résistance sat, steaming on a plate, the six yellowed pieces of ravioli swimming in divine pools of salted, browned butter, lemon, and fragrant herbs, I experienced something that I can only describe as culinary impotence. I could not bring myself to eat the little pillows of joy, knowing in fear that solid food – and especially, food this rich and deliciously hedonistic— would bring an end to my fast and I had worked so hard to maintain my discipline and oh no, how could I stop now, the pain was so good. I had trained myself to feel a different kind of hunger, one that could not be satiated by food, and deal with it by drinking juice or ignoring it outright. It was Stockholm syndrome of the worst kind, a reverse-Pavlovian response that I never thought I’d acquire. It felt like cheating to even think about eating a spinach salad or a piece of cantaloupe, highly classified and dangerously healthy substances by the standards of my former diet (which mainly consisted of beer, cheese, and the red-blue gummy worms).
The feeling passed, and I ultimately assembled the aforementioned salad, first appreciating the unfamiliar sensation of chewing, and feeling perfectly, contentedly full after I finished the bowl. As I (thankfully) did not feel ill after consuming foods that did not resemble something one would feed a Gerber baby, I thought about the changes to my outlook brought on by this fast. As silly and unimpressive as it sounds, I was proudest of myself for wanting, and even enjoying, salad – without the pieces of gorgonzola and dried cranberries and candied walnuts that usually make salads so good. I wanted to actively do something good for my body, of my own accord, rather than eking by and allowing my gastrointestinal system to do all the heavy lifting. Regardless of whether the change was just for that evening (I had chilaquiles and three mimosas at brunch the next day, made with orange juice from concentrate, thankyouverymuch), I was finally getting focused on giving my body the nourishment – and frankly, respect – it deserves. It’s a long road ahead, but at least I’m no longer on the detour.
I can safely say that juice fasts are not for me, and I’m not exactly desirous of doing another one anytime soon. I believe it is something that only my perky co-worker and that guy from “Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead” can accomplish repeatedly, while still retaining some vestige of sanity…and my moody side effects were very certainly the opposite of sane (read: I was a hangry betch). Also, I’m too hungry for that sh*t. However, all in all, the extremity of the fast imparted two, very important lessons that I will carry with me always: 1)I may one day have the metabolism of a sloth, so I better prepare early and stop carpe diem-ing with sh*tty food, and 2) I can never reach such a dietary low that I have to scare myself straight with a juice fast, ever again. Oh and also, 3) kale juice is sick.