Our senior health writer, Larissa Yu, braved a three-day juice cleanse and this is what happened. Spoiler: the withdrawals were no joke.
I’ve always been cynical about juicing. Do we really need to ‘detox’ – don’t our liver and kidneys already do that? Isn’t it a given that you’ll lose weight on a cleanse as you’re simply not eating? *eyeroll* But then I saw the documentary “Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead”.
Could a juice cleanse actually work?
The doco (watch the trailer here, and the full film here) is about Aussie Joe Cross, who is morbidly obese and suffers from debilitating chronic ailments (and is taking a cocktail of big-pharma prescription meds to manage them). He decides to try a radical experiment: only drinking fruit and vegetable juices for 60 days to see if he can lose weight and alleviate his painful symptoms. His transformation is nothing short of a holistic medical miracle – super inspiring!
While my challenges were more of the my-pants-are-too-tight variety, there was no way I was doing a 60-day juice cleanse. Yet, I was still keen to see if I could reap some of those alleged health benefits. So I ran out and bought Joe’s book “The Reboot With Joe Juice Diet” and flicked to his short Three-Day Quick-Start Reboot Plan. It sounded do-able.
Be warned: juicing ain’t cheap. Enough fruit and veg for three days’ worth of juice is a truckload and actually ended up costing me more than my normal (real) food budget for a week. Yikes.
To get the most nutritional value out of fresh juices they should supposedly be consumed within 24 hours. I also didn’t want to risk getting hangry and not having a juice ready to grab. So I woke up at 6am to buzz up all my juices for the first day in one go (sorry, neighbours!). In my eagerness to start, I later realised I’d skipped a whole chapter on carefully prepping your body for at least a week beforehand to ease into it – I don’t recommend doing that btw. Oh well it was only three days how bad could it be?
What was it really like?
On that first day I felt fine, not hungry at all, but a little tired. No way was I leaving the house though, lest I be tempted by solid foods (likely). Day Two saw me feeling smug… I got this. Then that evening it hit me.
Imagine the worst hangover you’ve ever had (with churning stomach and nausea), plus the most severe migraine, plus a horrible bed-ridden achy virus and withdrawal from a Class-A addictive substance (my beloved coffee, I was guessing) – all rolled into one. Then times 100. And then you’re still not even close. An hour in, I was sweating buckets, shivering and writhing around on my bed. (Note: having no solid food in your stomach means that over-the-counter pain medication is off limits). Wracked with so much pain I thought I was going to throw up – I may have even called my mum.
The moment of truth…
Day Three I woke up feeling like I’d been reborn – not a huge stretch considering last night I think I actually died. And I was perky and alert with no need for my usual morning coffee kick-start. Sure, my bed looked like it had been hit by a hurricane but I was clear-headed, my eyes looked like they’d been retouched they were so white, and my vision was superhero clear. My tummy was also slightly flatter and I felt calm, serene and on top of the world. Friends commented how well rested I looked, and one person even asked me if I’d had Botox. Post-cleanse, I decided to see just how long I could go for without coffee. One week turned into one month, then two months and now over a year and a half later I still don’t miss it! I wake up and straight away my brain is firing and alert, and my energy levels are more consistent. I sleep better at night. I’m calmer.
What the experts say
While giving up caffeine worked for me, I’m still not sure what I think about juice cleanses and fasts. So I sat down with nutritionist and sports dietitian Chloe McLeod, for an expert opinion. “I’m not a huge fan,” says Chloe. “Our liver already does an excellent job of ‘detoxing’ the body, and there is little good science behind juice cleanses. However, there IS good research around fasting diets… It is likely any benefit [from a detox-style diet] is due more to a low caloric intake, showing benefits similar to those seen for people following more fasting-style diets.”
According to Chloe, my demonic withdrawals were “normal, particularly for caffeine. Sugar, caffeine and alcohol are often the three things that people struggle the most with giving up.”
Still considering doing a juice cleanse? For any short diet or fast, Chloe recommends keeping these three things in mind:
> Be safe
“Always speak with your doctor first to ensure there are no significant health reasons that could put you in jeopardy.”
> Take it easy
“Reduce overall energy expenditure while doing a cleanse (ie. not going for a run, or doing a HIIT class in the middle of a fast). Keep any exercise or activity very low.”
> Go slow
“If you’re giving up caffeine, sometimes reducing intake slowly can reduce withdrawal symptoms.”
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