A firsthand experience with a health-focused juice cleanse
**Disclaimer: Before trying any new diet, exercise or weight loss plan, you should always speak to your doctor to see what is right for you. This article is not a replacement for medical advice.**
A quick Google search of “fast weight loss” will garner almost 20 million results—fad diets with claims of instant pounds lost, heightened energy, and an all-around sunnier life. Maybe you have tried one—or have thought about jumping on one of those bandwagons.
Since my 5’2” frame won’t allow me to be tall, I’ve always held onto thin. In childhood, I was narrow and long limbed, until puberty hit—my Caribbean roots took over and a totally healthy, but no longer gangly, frame sprouted overnight. I wasn’t overweight in any way, but I was shaken. I didn’t recognize myself or my body, and I mentally separated myself from it, which led to some scary body issues. Normally, I would avoid any diet that contained the word “cleanse”—but when Be Well Lynchburg editor Shelley Basinger approached me to research a juice cleanse with a much more health-oriented focus, versus just losing weight, I was intrigued.
We went to Dr. Alexandra Cope, a Licensed Naturopathic Physician located in Wyndhurst, for guidance. Dr. Cope believes in helping the body heal itself instead of immediately reverting to traditional medications. She also has full faith in a juicing cleanse that can help patients lose weight, balance hormones, increase their energy, and much more. Those are some pretty major claims coming out of a blender—but I was willing to give it a shot.
Mentally Prepping for a Chewing Hiatus
Before I even got started, the thought of a juice cleanse definitely set off alarms, but Dr. Cope assured me that, when done correctly, a juice cleanse is perfectly safe. In fact, she goes through one once a year to monitor her body’s food sensitivities. By only consuming fruit and vegetable juice, you are saturating your body with vitamins while giving your digestive system a break. “The point of a cleanse is to kind of reset your body. It’s not something to do to lose weight quickly, because you’ll gain it back. It would be water weight,” she said.
She will often guide patients through a full, organic juice cleanse, followed by hypoallergenic reintroduction—the process where you slowly start eating regular foods again and monitor your reaction, bringing to light any food group sensitivities. “Because your immune system will be completely cleared of things like gluten and meat and dairy and all the processed foods, your body will be ultra-sensitive to them afterwards,” she said. “If you have an adverse reaction after reintroducing a food into your diet, it means your body doesn’t like it. Once your gut heals, you can try reintroduction again, but not for a while.”
I won’t lie to you—I was not excited to start the juice cleanse. I am an ardent lover of chewing, hot foods, and going out to brunch on Saturday mornings. The idea of consuming all of my dailies through a straw was in no way a lifestyle change I would normally make, but the promise of higher energy, clearer skin, and other perks seemed like a good reason to try.
Pass the Fruits and Veggies
Going into a cleanse, Dr. Cope recommends patients change their eating habits several days in advance by consuming solely clean, raw foods. So on days 1 through 3, I was bingeing on a pound of grapes for breakfast and raw kale and cauliflower for lunch. Granted, this wasn’t a huge departure from my normal clean, plant-based diet, but with an extra self-esteem boosting dose of intention. I felt like I was on top of the world—until the hunger crash. Luckily, my years as a Vegan had braced me for this; I always carry a bag of whatever’s fresh from the farmer’s market.
The idea of juicing was another challenge for me. My mother kindly lent me her juicer because I didn’t have one. And here’s where I make a confession—I don’t really like juice. So the idea of putting together a basket of fruits and vegetables to make one homogenous liquid was tough to swallow. But, people everywhere get their juice on, and so would I.
Letting Loose the Juice
On day 4, the first official “all juice” day, I threw together a mix of things that really didn’t work—cucumber, beets and apples. Hindsight is 20/20, and I now realize that if I don’t like beets cooked, I definitely won’t like drinking them. After one sip, I admitted my defeat and ran straight to Pinterest to find more tried and true iterations.
I settled on a new version—a combination of pears, pineapple, lettuce, lemon, and apple. I liked all of these things, so I didn’t think it would be too bad. And it wasn’t, except for the texture being half liquidy, half foamy, warm, and with a dash of pulp. However, this was easily fixed with some cheese cloth to strain, and some ice cubes. I finished the whole glass, and thought, “This is totally doable. I can do this.”
But understandably, by days 6 and 7, I never wanted to look at that juicer again. Some people love juices and smoothies, and I have never been one of them. Since I was constantly drinking, I wasn’t hungry, but I definitely missed the emotional satisfaction I find from cooking a large meal and eating it.
The Silverware Returns
When day 8 finally came, I dove into my fridge and immediately prepared a giant breakfast. (Just kidding!) Day 8 began step two of the cleanse—reintroduction. Dr. Cope recommends that you eat the solid forms of the foods you’ve been juicing, so more pears for me.
Then on day 9, you can have a salad.
On day 10, you can have your first solid food—eggs. I discovered… eggs do not like me. Since your body is completely purged of any food-based allergens, any food your body isn’t a fan of will make itself known. Dr. Cope’s cleanse suggests introducing meat by day 14 and then gluten after that. It’s recommended to wait two days between each new food you reintroduce.
The whole process can take weeks, and a lot of that might be spent in discomfort. Above all, it is important to listen to your body, as you are likely to discover things that you just shouldn’t be eating. That’s the true purpose of a cleanse—to allow your body to reset and communicate what isn’t working and to set yourself up for the healthiest diet possible.
If you’re wondering, I actually don’t know if I lost weight. In order to keep myself in a healthy relationship with my mind and body, I don’t own a scale—something I highly recommend to anyone who’s dealt with self-image issues. I do, however, feel lighter. My skin seems happier, and I don’t feel as sluggish or bloated as I used to.
I also feel spiritually lighter. It’s almost like, because of the strong focus on my own health and the intention to learn about my body and treat it well, something emotionally healed. Maybe that’s all in my head. But as I continue to wake up earlier and enjoy (chewing, not drinking) a healthy, colorful and vitamin-rich breakfast and reflect on the condition of my body and soul, I understand why most religions have some form of food fasting. Being free from your own human impulses is empowering, and it gives you what we are all really searching for… a new start.
When Eating Healthy…Becomes Unhealthy
Orthorexia, or “the healthy eating disorder,” is on the rise. Orthorexia is defined as an obsession with proper or “healthful” eating. According to the National Eating Disorder Association, people with orthorexia become so fixated on so-called “healthy eating” that they actually damage their own well-being.
Dr. Cope says some of her clients suffer from an unhealthy relationship with food. Beyond the obvious health risks, people who are obsessively healthy tend to binge on unhealthy food when they’ve reached their breaking point. This can send them into a downward spiral or cause them to become even more restrictive on their diet.
“What we want is for people to have good relationships with food,” says Dr. Cope. “We don’t just eat to live, we don’t just live to eat. Food is a source of nourishment but also a source of satisfaction. Food should never make you anxious.”