NW RAW: We Tried a 60 Day Juice Cleanse. Here's What Happened.
Ever wonder what it’s like to do an extended juice cleanse?
'Anna' decided to find out.
The decision to embark on an extended juice cleanse was not a concept that leapt to my mind organically. Having always been rather fond of food, the idea of eschewing solid groceries for any amount of time would never have crossed my mind had I not been knocked down by a seriously debilitating illness to the point of desperation. Without belaboring the details, suffice to say my auto-immune disorder had finally progressed to the point that I knew I needed a strategy far more aggressive than those I’d been relying on for nearly two decades. I was nauseated 24/7, I was in so much pain I could barely lift a coffee cup, my skin was a mess, I was taking opioids to no avail, and for years hadn’t slept more than a few hours at a time unless I was sedated. As conventional medical treatments weren’t improving my health to any measurable degree, I’d begun researching alternate options.
Along the way I stumbled upon a documentary on Netflix a few years back - called, “Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead” - about a bloke who also had dreadful auto-immune issues (different from mine) who decided to go on a 60 day juice ‘fast’ to break free from the clutches of his illness (and all the pharmaceuticals he was taking to combat it), and I thought, “Well if he can do it, I can do it.”
Ha! Famous last words! I can spare you the suspense and tell you right off I didn’t make it 60 days. First of all I was in no way prepared. To say the very least. I had no idea what I was doing, I didn’t talk to my doctor about it (I was afraid she’d say ‘no’, so …), I didn’t do any auxiliary research. I just jumped in feet first and thought I could pull it off.
But here’s the thing: I did make it halfway that first try. Regardless that I did everything completely wrong, I still made it 31 days, and although my first attempt wasn’t completely successful, I can’t really call it a complete failure. Besides ending that long (LONG) month feeling far better than I’d felt in years, I’d learned a LOT. And that made my second attempt this spring, 2 years after my initial effort, a lot easier to swallow. (see what I did there? ;-)
Here’s what I learned, how it helped me succeed, what my final results were,
and where I expect to go from here:
I talked to my doctor.
I know, I know, everyone always says, ‘Talk to your doctor before starting any diet / exercise regime’, but as I mentioned above, I was pretty sure she’d tell me it was too extreme and not to embark. I was, it turns out, wrong. I came to my office visit armed with research (this time); info about the maker of the documentary and others who had tried the program as well, coupled with the confidence that came with my earlier (partial) success. Her office monitored my progress, keeping tabs with blood work and check-ins, and it was fantastic to be able to tell naysayers, ‘I appreciate your concern, but my doctor is on board, and I’m fine.’
I prepped myself:
By reading / watching as much information about juice fasts as I could get my hands on, talking to other people who had partaken of lengthy fasts, plus reviewing what went wrong last time that caused me to stumble and fall.
I purged my kitchen:
The last time I’d tried this there were just too many temptations. I’m an avid collector of condiments and unusual ingredients, and knowing there was a pantry full of food I could dip into at any time didn’t do me any favours. While I’d emptied the fridge / freezer of everything save ice and frozen fruit, I would still find myself wandering over to the cupboards and staring longingly inside. This time I got rid of everything. In fact, for 2-3 weeks prior to the cleanse I really didn’t even buy groceries – I subscribed to portion-specific Blue Apron for a month or so to ensure there would be no leftovers when Starting Day arrived!
I made a non-negotiable resolve to purchase all of my fresh-pressed juices:
Rather than making them myself with the sweet juicer I’d bought my first go round, I decided I would forgo the most discouraging aspect of that attempt. No dragging 3 bags full of produce up 3 flights of stairs to net just a few servings, no mop-up operation in the kitchen (my Breville was gorgeous, but geeze what a soupy mess), no trash to take out, no dishes to wash. I’m not usually a fan of ‘no brainers’, but for this I was willing to make an exception. I cannot stress enough, this was probably the single most significant decision I made, and it was absolutely the only way I stuck to my guns this 2nd swing as well as I did.
I reached out:
Besides having my doctor in my corner, I knew I needed support from someone who believed in the process, and had perhaps even been through it themselves. Enter Web Staunton, owner of NW Raw Juice Bar in Ashland. It turned out Web opened his place after seeing the exact same documentary I’d viewed, and had tried the extreme cleanse himself more than once, beginning years earlier. I met with him and his manger Hannah, talked about my goals, got immeasurable tips and feedback, and struck a deal whereby I would get a discount off of his regular retail pricing if I purchased most of my juices through him.
Here’s why that worked so well: Aside from transporting dozens of servings of juice back to my apartment every week, there was pretty much zero effort involved. I’d already emptied and cleaned the fridge; now it was filled with gorgeous, colourful bottles of tasty, healthful juice. There was literally no thinking involved; all I had to do was reach inside for a ‘meal’. This took a LOT of pressure off, and was ultimately responsible for my success. I had a lot of people ask me about the expense. I promise you – it was worth every penny, and when you factor in the cost of organic, local produce and my own time and effort, it soon proved to be a downright bargain.
I set a start date and an end date:
… and made an announcement to my family and friends, so that no one would call and say, ‘Let’s go out to eat’. Because – and I can’t overstate this point – THAT would have been an instant downfall, like asking a tired, hungry, cranky toddler if they wanted some candy. Anyone familiar with ‘Anna’ knows eating out is my kryptonite. ;-) I also asked everyone I knew to avoid coming to my home for at least the first week. I didn’t want to accidentally eat someone I liked.
I reviewed and re-reviewed my notes on what went wrong last time
– and what went right:
This time I was walking in with my eyes wide open. I knew Week One would be horrible, that I wouldn’t be able to have anyone over nor watch telly (do you know how many FOOD commercials there are out there??), and that I’d have to at least temporarily resort to over-the-counter sleep aids so I could get the rest I so desperately needed (at the time I began the 2nd cleanse the #1 issue that stood out above all the others was that I Could. Not. Sleep. That’ll take the stuffing out of you faster than any amount of pain). I strategized a few other tactics as well, including:
Ø Rewards: Yeah, I said it. I bribed myself. Made it through day 3? Good girl! Get a manicure. Week 1 complete? A set of demitasse spoons I’d had my eye on. Full month? The “Like Butter” facial at Abbinito. You get the point. I found a myriad of non-food-related treats to make me happy … and keep me going.
Ø Physical support: Because my chronic pain was such an obstacle, I committed to massage once a week to help mitigate the physical discouragement. It’s super easy to say, ‘Eff it’ when you’re in agony, but a little TLC can go a long way toward not giving up.
Ø I armed myself: Since I spend so much time in my car, I put a cooler in the back seat loaded up with juices, water, and seltzer, so I would have no excuses. I remembered all too well what ended my 1st attempt a couple of years earlier; finding myself stuck in downtown Medford with no sustenance, I’d caved in. I didn’t want that to happen again.
Ø I ‘started early’: I began eating mostly raw fruits and veggies for about a week before I started the juicing, so that it wouldn’t be quite such a shock to my system as it was that first attempt.
Ø I gave myself permission to include nut milks: For protein, as my cravings for it seriously tanked me the first time.
Ø I stopped thinking of it as a ‘Fast’: I was taking in plenty of calories and nutrition, making this a ‘cleanse’ rather than a ‘fast’. Before settling on juicing, I’d initially planned to go with a raw vegan diet, which was already getting a lot of good press from the auto-immune-system-challenged community. I certainly planned to transition into it when my 8 weeks were up. That led me to the decision to allow a nice, clean, raw salad whenever the need to chew became overwhelming, if it meant keeping me from falling into a ditch. I rationalized that, if I would have put it in the blender anyway, there’s no reason I couldn’t have it whole. I’m going to say that was probably the 2nd most important tactic I employed for staying in the zone (I have a dreadful history of giving in to those ‘eff it’ moments).
Surprisingly, my first week was nowhere near as awful as it had been the first go-round; I took a week off from the world at the very beginning, to ease into what would be my life for the next two months. No one was allowed inside my home, lest I pick a fight with them because I was hungry and cranky. I did not indulge in tv nor the internet. I busied myself cleaning out drawers and closets and sorting through craft supplies. I was better prepared both mentally and physically, and I pampered myself daily with bubble baths and DIY facials / hair masks / pedicures / teeth whitening – anything to distract myself from the sensation of hunger. I had the initial intestinal issues, of course (like how I didn’t detail those for you? You’re welcome ;-) ), but overall it was fairly uneventful.
Hunger was tough, considering it was a near-constant sensation. People who told me (and will tell you) that after the first week you’re no longer hungry have had, shall we say, a vastly different experience from the one I enjoyed. I basically had to adopt a new relationship to my pangs, associating it with healing rather than starvation (which is exactly what my brain was trying to convince me was happening – ha!). I realized that keeping a steady flow of liquids through my bod was the key – not just juices, but water and tea as well (the baristas at Dutch Bros may not all know my name, but they sure know I take a large green iced tea every time I pull up! Shout out to Erykha Brasseur!).
By the end of the first week I’d developed a routine that allowed me some measure of confidence about my undertaking. Now it was time to take it on the road. I continued the massages-and-rewards system (if it’s working, work it!) and the doctors check-ups, and I began chronicling my progress on the AEA Facebook page (many of you noticed I did not post a lot of juicy, delicious food porn during that time period – I didn’t need any auxiliary temptations). I did NOT purchase any new clothing, didn’t measure myself or even look at my weight (at the dr’s office they weighed me with my back turned to the slider – LOL!). Though losing weight has never once hurt my feelings, this cleanse wasn’t about getting into a smaller dress, and I wanted to keep the focus on becoming healthier rather than becoming smaller.
Over the hump and better than halfway through, I kept my focus tight on the finish line. The ease of the process – 1) Open fridge, 2) Drink a bottle of juice, 3) repeat – worked a treat, and I was no longer concerned that I wouldn’t see my plan all the way through. I began to have a social life again – Happy Hours at Alchemy, Hearsay, Loft and Larks were fabulous ways to spend time with my peeps without too much focus on food. All of the above establishments were more than happy to create an off-menu juice-based drink for me, and seltzer with lemon / lime / orange is always an option as well. I’d begun to notice a few changes – sleeping better, less nausea, fewer headaches – and my friends and family swore I looked better (I couldn’t see it, but I’m pretty self-critical). I was in for the long haul.
It was also around this time I noticed that my poo had ceased to stink. LOL! I know, I know, TMI – but it really was remarkable enough to share. Other than a vague whiff of wheat grass …. ;-)
And while I’m telling you embarrassing stories, I’ll share with you that I did have to renege on one of my rules, that of buying no new clothing: about 6 weeks in my boobs had shrunk to the point that the elastic bands of my bras were far too loose, but since I’d planned to gift myself new lingerie as a reward for seeing this all the way through, I thought I’d just wait the two extra weeks. Right up until I reached for something on the top shelf at Safeway and both of my knockers slipped right out the bottom of their cups. I’m sure for the two unfortunate souls who occupied the produce aisle with me at the time, it must certainly have looked like grapefruits being dropped into a pair of pantyhose. I purchased two new bras the very next day.
Coming down the finish line, I began making plans for re-entry. I had stuck to my guns without caving, regardless that it was at times a struggle. I wanted to take this momentum and roll it into a real lifestyle change, and began making plans (and a shopping list) to do just that. I started ‘shopping in my own closet’, dragging out dresses I hadn’t worn in years because they’d been too tight, and ordered two new swimsuits (not to show off a beach bod – I’m still WAY short of that, but I did have a trip to PDX planned and there was going to be a pool at the hotel). I literally had an entire ‘new wardrobe’.
Health-wise, my numbers looked good. Although there were some definite disappointments (no reduction in tumor size, and I only lost 58 lbs in 62 days), my blood sugars were stable, my cholesterol had dropped from nearly 300 down to 147, my inflammation markers were improved, as were my t-cell counts.
On a less clinical level, I felt good. Not great, but good. For the first time in, well, longer than I could remember, I actually had a little spring in my step. Not too shabby for an old broad. ;-) My tri-weekly trips into Medford to look after my brother got a little less stressful, and I was able to make 8 or 9 stops during my soiree wherein previously 3 or 4 would have done me in. And three months after ending my cleanse, I’m still noticing weekly improvements even though I’ve of course begun eating regular meals again.
My plan now is to maintain a plant-based diet most of the time – say, 80% - and whatever the hell I want the rest of the time. Because although it certainly is possible for me to eschew Alfredo sauce, fried fish tacos and cheesecake forever, I just wouldn’t want to go on living.
Juicing is absolutely going to continue being a regular part of my life. As I write this I’m readying myself to do a 7-day stint the last week of July, a habit I plan to repeat at least every three months (seasonally). Like they say, if it’s working for you, work it. And then share a plate of poutine with me afterward ;-)