My Experience of a 5-day Juice Cleanse

 
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When I was in my 20s there was a joke amongst people who knew me. When we got together they’d ask: “which is it at the moment? Drinking or detoxing?”

This kind of summed me up. Either full tilt party mode. Or pure and purging.

I certainly had a lot of fun! And my mindset at the time was to balance it all out through regular detoxes to “get me back on track”.  These usually involved quitting wheat, sugar and dairy for a few weeks along with alcohol and caffeine. They were generally quite extreme, because that’s the kind of person I was. If I was going to eat healthily, it needed to be somewhat dramatic otherwise I didn’t really see the point.

Or maybe it’s more that I wasn’t able do it in a more balanced way. 

In order to convince myself to eat healthily, I needed to give myself rules, instructions…and frankly…deprivation. It was almost as if I didn’t really know how to look after my body well in general, so needed to punish it by banishing the “bad stuff” every now and then, as a way of proving that all was well. That Iwas well. And that I had what it took to push through the challenge.

Looking back now, I see that my intention was off. 

It wasn’t really about feeling good. It wasn’t really about self-care and nourishment at all. It was about control. If, occasionally, I assumed power over my eating habits, I could fool myself into believing that I had my whole life in order.

In more recent years, I’ve been very anti any kind of dietary restriction that isn’t chosen from the most gentle and loving of places. 

It’s meant that I’ve also been anti extreme approaches such as fasting or juice cleanses.  It just hasn’t felt right for me. It’s felt punishing and the opposite of what I believe we should be doing for our bodies - nurturing and supporting. Thanks to my studies with Institute for the Psychology of Eating I’ve also learned a lot more about what real nutrition is about and what approaches tend to work best over the long term.

So it took me by surprise when I recently felt myself leaning towards a 5-day juice cleanse. 

I tried to shake it off, but the feeling kept lingering. So I challenged my intentions and then chose to listen.
 
My aim was simply to feel lighter. My system felt bogged down and I had been experiencing frequent headaches and difficulty sleeping. I was getting rather bloated and my skin was spotty. Surely a 5-day cleanse would clear all that out, and put me on the right track?
 
I chose a week when my partner was out of town, and my diary was pretty light. That way, if any severe symptoms fell upon me, it wouldn’t be too much of an issue. I felt excited and full of anticipation for some amazing results to unfold.
 
Here’s what happened.

Day 1:

I started the day with an intense gym workout. Probably not a good idea - I ended up with a klonker of a headache by lunchtime. It was too soon to be caffeine withdrawal so I put it down to muscular pain. Or plain hunger. The calorie drop on a juice cleanse is quite severe and can be quite a shock to the system. Whatever the cause, I felt horrible: tired, headachey and nauseous. By the end of the day I honestly felt I would throw up if I drank another juice. And yet I was still hungry. Thank goodness I had opted for the 6pm soup alternative to juice. It was absolutely delicious and felt like the first nourishing thing I had had all day. I went to bed at 8pm.

Day 2:

I woke up feeling good after 11 hours of uninterrupted sleep! Whooah! The day unfolded pretty well in the first half. No side effects or detox symptoms. I started to fade again in the afternoon, no doubt a result of blood sugar imbalance. Juices usually contain fruit to improve the taste of pure veggies, and this can mean your 6-a-day juice consumption is an up and down of quite high sugar intake. My afternoon slump was a dead give-away of this. I didn’t have any specific cravings or long for the act of chewing (as is often reported), but I still felt so damned hungry. The rest of the day was spent waiting for my evening soup, and passing time until bed.

Day 3:

I slept well again but woke up hungry. Driving back from meetings in town, I found my right calf shaking quite severely. Given the long-ish drive, it wasn’t a great feeling at all. It felt like a intense sugar low so I chose to replace my early afternoon juice with a soup. This wasn’t on the plan, but listening to my body felt more important. I chose to substitute two soups for juices that day and it made a big difference to how I felt overall.

Day 4:

I woke up feeling ok. But yes, hungry again. By this stage I was expecting to feel some physical changes so was disappointed not to notice anything. No water loss, no improvement in digestion (in fact, the opposite), no reduction in bloating. Nothing. Just an ongoing hunger. I ended up googling other people’s experiences to try and find out when the ecstasy would kick in. Surely it was imminent? I chose to have a small plate of solid vegetables at lunchtime and felt a significant improvement in how I felt.  And yet… it made me feel guilty. In fact the very idea of returning to solid foods brought about this weird feeling of shame. And that raised a big red flag for me straight away.

Day 5:

My sleep was less restful. Despite reports suggesting that the hunger should have passed by now, I still found myself hungry between juices. I’m not sure if this many days of feeling hungry is a good idea, particularly given the impact it has on slowing down your metabolism. I started integrating protein powder into a few of the juices as a way of grounding my system and preparing for the return to normal eating. When my partner came home from a week away, I chose to have a small plate of home-cooked dinner with him. I couldn’t finish it and I felt a bit nauseous as a result.
 
 

Overall:

  • Aside from the first day’s headache, which I think was actually muscular, I didn’t feel any significant detox symptoms other than hunger, sugar lows and afternoon fatigue.
  • I didn’t struggle with cravings or the intense desire to chew on something, so didn’t find the experience particularly difficult in that sense. In many ways, it was great not having to meal plan for the week!
  • I really didn’t enjoy being hungry day after day, especially for as long as 5 days. My understanding of a cleanse is that this should last for the first 2 days only, but for me it was present throughout. I don’t believe in depriving the body, so this felt out of alignment for me.
  • I was grateful for having chosen the option that substituted soup for the evening juice. This felt like a much more nourishing option, particularly in winter.
  • Disappointingly, I didn’t notice any obvious benefits other than good sleep (for the first 3 nights) – no glowing skin, no reduction in bloating, no increased energy, which made me wonder why I had put my body through all that in the first place. Coming out of it, my skin was still spotty, my sinuses still very congested and my digestion upside down.
  • When I found myself feeling guilty at the thought of eating solid foods again this raised the alarm bells. It took me right back to the place of “good” and “bad” foods, which is the complete opposite of the balanced and mindful eating approach I have embraced.

 

Would I do it again? Not in the same way, no.

I think there is a lot of hype around what a detox delivers and for me, it didn’t do that.

 

What’s been the most useful for me has been its role in resetting my eating habits in a way that I can continue in the longer term.
 

Three weeks later and I’m still starting the day with hot water and lemon. I’m still off dairy and sugar and I’m having only the occasional glass of wine or almond milk latte. It doesn’t feel like deprivation, I don’t feel like I’m on a diet but it does feel like a nourishing and considered choice.
 

The juice cleanse was definitely the start of this but the benefit didn’t begin and end there.
 

If I did it again, I’d probably consider the 3-day version combined with other cleansing activities such as daily steam baths, massage, yoga etc. as a way of intensifying the more immediate physical benefits. As it was, I didn’t come out of it feeling any different to before. Personally, I feel that choosing a balanced, “clean” eating programme over a longer period of time is more beneficial for me.  But then again, everyone’s different.
 

One of my biggest learnings from the experience was to listen to my own body. 
 

My body asked for the cleanse, so I needed to listen to that. Then, when I got a strong feeling to make adjustments along the way, I respected that too. I didn’t revert to my previous “all or nothing” mentality and push through regardless, but rather aligned with my needs at the time.
 
Reflecting on the experience, I’m reminded of how far I’ve come: of how much better able I am to listen rather than to override; to surrender rather than force and to nourish rather than control.

 

For this reason alone, maybe it was a worthwhile week afterall.