Juice diets seem to be all the rage right now; not a day of Internet browsing passes without seeing an ad for some new juice system with numbered bottles and hefty prices. These products go by a number of names: juice cleanses, juice diets, juice fasts, juice detox, juicing (not to be confused with steroid use) – all alternative titles for the same thing. It’s just what it sounds like – you pick a span of time, anywhere from days to weeks, in which you forsake eating solid food in order to consume large quantities of juice. It was time to try this out for myself, and I figured I could survive for three days.
I like juice, you say. But what kind of juice? While it depends on which system you follow, generally your beverage is going to consist of vegetables and fruits that have been squeezed of all their liquid content. There’s heavy emphasis on vegetable representation: celery, kale, spinach, beets, carrots – nothing most of us would deem particularly tasty. The plus side is that you’re not completely starving yourself with this fast; the downside is that the taste will take some getting used to.
Juice systems are marketed for various goals: weight loss, health management, and even “detoxification”, but I wasn’t motivated by any of those incentives. I co-host the podcast Oh No, Ross and Carrie!, where Carrie Poppy and I put ourselves in awkward situations and test various alternative medicines (among other extraordinary claims) in the name of curiosity and entertainment. Carrie had already tried the Master Cleanse diet at the same time that I had an uncomfortable-to-say-the-least new experience with colon hydrotherapy. All we learned from those experiments was that they made us feel crappy (literally) and that alternative medicine practitioners will stare at you and blink if you ask them to define what toxins are. But no, this wasn't even a podcast-related investigation.
Instead, my friend Jennifer wanted to try out a juice diet for herself to see how it agreed with her system. She figured it would be easier to accomplish with an accountability partner, and knew I was up for any crazy old thing. In the end, my motivations were a blend of curiosity and moral support. Plus, I could stand to lose a few pounds if this thing panned out.
We decided to devote a Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday to the fast, so I had a weekend to prepare. On Saturday I weighed myself at about 148 pounds, and sat down to watch the movie Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead. A couple of friends had recommended this film at the mere mention of juice fasting, and I hoped it would give me an indication of what sorts of juice to be drinking. In the film, Joe Cross, a successful Australian businessman, finds himself unhealthy and 100 pounds overweight (cue footage of shirtless Joe walking around the pool). He travels to America and proceeds on a road trip to speak with hundreds of people about eating habits while consuming nothing but juice. For sixty days! The film is inspirational, and Joe encourages others to follow his lead and achieve the same weight loss. While I felt the film did a good job of advising doctoral supervision and not over-hyping the method, there were some pretty big claims about health improvement and the benefits of a vegetable and fruit-based diet. I had to search the web for the recipe he used, but managed to find:
6 Kale Leaves
4 Celery Stalks
2 Green Apples
1 Piece of Ginger
Day 0: Getting Psyched (and Sick)
On Sunday I woke up thinking, “Maybe I’ll get a head start today and have nothing but juice.” Shortly after that I thought, “Gee, my throat is feeling kind of raw.” Turns out, I was coming down sick with a cold. While inconvenient, this was not going to deter me.
My family and I went to Costco to buy some fallback juice. I figured I needed something tasty as a safety net in case my other juice proved unpalatable. I bought a six-pack of 64-oz Naked Green Machine for $35.94. It’s a delicious mixture of apples, bananas, kiwi, mango and pineapple. Lots of natural sweetening there, but the bottle assured me there was no added sugar. The amount was overkill, but I didn’t mind having this sweet nectar in the fridge for the next month.
After that we drove to Jamba Juice, where $5.29 bought me 22 ounces of their Apple ‘N Greens smoothie. It’s got banana, mango and peach, but even more spinach, bell pepper, kale, and lettuce. I tried to be a trooper and substitute the apple juice with carrot juice. It was decent, but with an odd aftertaste. I would have counted Sunday as a day of juice fasting, but at night my wife offered me some Chinese leftovers that I couldn’t let go to waste. Note to self: strengthen willpower for the next few days.
Day 1: Food Cravings Set In Quickly
Monday was the first official day of my juice fast. For serious juicers, there are machines available that will squeeze the daylight out of any food item you shove into them. For the long term it would be a great investment, but I wasn’t prepared to spend $200 for a three day experiment. I decided to rely on professionals, and on the way to work I stopped at Robeks Juice. They have a menu, but will also let you create your own customized drink (in the past you could bring your own produce, but that is now frowned upon for health reasons). I showed them my list from the documentary, but they had to make some substitutions. I ended up with two 30-oz cups of spinach, celery, ginger, lemon and apple. They manage to strain out any pulpy material, so what you’re getting is pretty much pure juice. I paid $13.60 for what was going to be my sustenance for the day. The taste was strong and sharp; I could feel the overwhelming ginger doing its darnedest to mask the aggressively bland celery juice. With my nose already running from my cold, I was thankful to have my sense of smell dampened.
Throughout the first day, I responded to feelings of hunger by taking swigs out of my Robeks Juice cup. This happened a lot, as suddenly every kind of food started sounding really good. I am not given to food cravings, but the juice fast drove me to it. By the end of the first day I had a splitting headache and was very hungry, but continued to drink down the rest of my juice. I couldn’t be sure whether to blame the cold or the diet. So much for a controlled experiment.
Day 2: Juice In, Juice Out
On the second day, I decided to try out a place Jennifer had found: The Break Room. Unlike Robeks, they had cucumber and kale, so I was able to get a little closer to the recipe I was going for. Two menu items were made just for people like me: Green It (apple, celery, ginger, spinach, cucumber, lemon) and Super Green (kale, apple, celery, cucumber). I bought both. They start out as a unified cool-green, but separate into layers when left to settle. These were much smaller drinks, but I figured that two 20-oz drinks would be enough to feed me for the day. At $15.23 for the pair, they were significantly more expensive than the previous day’s juice.
It was worth it, as these ones tasted a lot better. I never thought I’d be thankful for the presence of cucumber, but it was a nice, softer flavor after a day of ginger and celery pugilism. My food cravings lessened the second day as my stomach transitioned from bargaining and depression to acceptance. At lunch time I joined a group to eat at my work’s cafeteria and forgot to bring my juice. I ended up having a watermelon-based Agua Fresca for lunch. Bland and gross.
Tuesday brought a lighter headache, and my stool started to soften and lose solidity by the end of the day. I’ll leave the description at that. Dinner was the rest of the Break Room juice, plus some Green Machine for dessert.
Day 3: The Final Leg
I woke up on Wednesday to a gripping Charley horse in my calf muscle. I’ve had leg cramps a few times before, so I knew to wait for the pain to subside, rubbing my calf and drinking water. Such cramps are often caused by deficiencies of potassium or calcium, which I assumed was the relevant factor here. I was glad this would be my last day on the juice diet.
For sake of convenience I went back to the Robeks Juice and got the same concoction I’d ordered Monday, but only 30 ounces this time. For some reason it was a little cheaper than before: $6.50. I held my breath and took the largest gulps I could. My will to ingest anything was at a low point, but I’d made it this far.
Predictably I got a headache again, but this one was only medium grade. My cold symptoms were starting to ease up, at least, so I can say that being on the juice diet did not prolong my cold, which seemed to clear up in a normal amount of time. I finished the cup before I left work, so I drank Green Machine for dinner. At this point my food cravings had mostly subsided, and I felt like I could go another couple days if I needed to.
Thursday morning I had a light snack of solid food and was eager to weigh myself. I was shocked to see I’d been reduced to 141.6 pounds. 6.4 pounds of me had disappeared! For three days of juice fasting, that was a pretty significant result. The danger of rapid weight loss is the stress it puts on the body as one fluctuates down and then back up again. A steady, healthy diet is the key to sustained weight loss, so I was resolved to eat modestly and keep that weight down. It worked: within two days I was back up to 143.8 pounds, but have managed to stay within that range ever since (it’s now been a couple of months).
Used as an occasional meal-replacement, juicing is probably a healthy habit. Going through the diet made me realize that I probably eat a lot more food than I really need. I’d recommend avoiding the paid juice systems, just because they are needlessly expensive for what you’re consuming. I just priced one at $147 for a three-day supply. Any claims of detoxification are as vague as they are unjustified; the human body does a spectacular job of removing waste material for normal, healthy people. One of the interesting lessons from this and a few of my other investigations with Oh No, Ross and Carrie! and the Independent Investigations Group, is not to assume that there is nothing to a fad just because it is a fad. As skeptics, we should be interested in the unlikely-sounding claims that turn out to have merit, just as we are interested in those that prove unsupportable. One of the constant lessons of my skeptical activism is this kind of intellectual humility.
I managed to survive my three-day juice diet without too much discomfort, as did my friend, and I think it would have been even easier for me without simultaneously fighting a cold. If I were to recommend the process to anyone else, I would suggest that they check with a doctor first, especially if trying to go for more than three days. While a juice diet has the benefit of containing more nutritional content than a straight-up fast, my leg cramp and headaches suggested to me that one might be missing out on some important nutrients by not eating a rounded diet.