... my journey from ballerina to triathlete

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

My Experience With Juice Cleansing

There's a lot of conflicting information and perhaps an even wider range of opinions about anything related to health, and the idea of juice cleanses is hotly debated. Some say they are just a scam made up by companies hoping to sell juicers and pre-bottled "miracle" cleanses, some people swear that they are a life-changing detoxifying experience that everyone should experience to have a healthy mind and body.

I land somewhere in the middle. I think that there is some value to flooding your body with micronutrients and antioxidants and giving it a break from all of the unnatural and processed crap most Americans put into it on a daily basis. I am a little concerned about lack of protein, amino acids, and insoluble fiber, and about slowing down my metabolism. Ideally, everyone should just eat primarily vegetables, fruits, and nuts supplemented with lean protein and whole grains, but that's easier said than done in the modern world so if people need a juice cleanse to change their habits then so be it.

My personal motivation for doing a cleanse has several levels. First, I did a (non-juice) cleanse back in 2004 where I eliminated wheat, corn, sugar and sweeteners, cow's milk, eggs, and meat for 3 weeks because I had been getting sick (common cold type illnesses) nearly every month and I was curious to see if it would change anything. After finishing the cleanse, I didn't get sick again for almost 2 years, which made me think that perhaps there is a little something to the whole idea. Second, I have long-standing digestive issues which seem to be particularly sensitive to starchy and processed foods and I'm hoping to "flush" and heal my system.

And third (and most immediate), I have been dealing with a minor skin issue on my fingers for almost a year where my fingertips are dry and cracked, which they think is due to a sensitivity to something I'm touching. To combat this, I was prescribed a topical steroid cream. No warnings were given by the dermatologist who prescribed it, so I have been using it off and on for the past year with little restriction. What was left out at the time of my prescription was that you should never use a steroid cream for longer than a couple of weeks at a time and never ever let it touch your face, Given that the instructions were to put it on my hands before going to sleep, you would think that mentioning to keep it away from my face might have been relevant, but nothing was said. What I found out the hard way is that long term topical steroid use and face contact can cause steroid-induced perioral dermatitis, a humiliating, angry rash that encircles your mouth and looks like a mustache and beard made of fire. There are lots of tiny pimple-like bumps and the skin between them turns bright red and it feels like your face has been rubbed in fiberglass. Because it happens as a dependency, the second you stop the steroid cream it goes absolutely insane, and such was the case with me. For a week my face felt like it was on fire, and of course to add to your shame it is sensitive to makeup, so you are forced to face the world with no way to hide your horrific affliction. I started taking the prescribed course of low-dose anti-inflammatory antibiotics (Oracea) and using Elidel, a non-steroidal topical cream, but I also wanted to see if juicing could calm the inflammatory process that was wreaking havoc on my skin.

I'm including my juicing journey on this blog because it relates to health and my body, which I believe to be relevant to my triathlon training journey. In addition, I've been forbidden from exercising for a couple of weeks because that, too, can stir up inflammation and so I have nothing else to write about. So here goes, my day-by-day experience.

Day T-minus-2:
Kitty's ready to juice
I started out by slowly introducing juice into my diet. I had juice for breakfast and ate a normal lunch and dinner. I juiced whatever I had around the house: cucumber, carrot, beets, and some lettuce -- basically I had a juiced salad. It tasted very neutral, not bad. Nothing too noticeable about this day. I went to the grocery store and grabbed a few veggies to hold me over until I could make a Costco trip. Because it was Sunday and I had to work the next day, I made the juices for the next day and bottled them in glass bottles so that I could bring them easily to work. Clean up was somewhat of a pain -- not so much the juicer itself, but the piles of vegetables, the cutting boards, the wayward drops of juice, etc. My kitchen looked like a hurricane hit it.

Day T-minus-1:
With one day before beginning the full cleanse, I had green juice for breakfast (cucumbers, cilantro, zucchini, apple, pear, and peppers) and red/brown juice (Beets, carrots, red grapes, ginger, and spinach) for lunch, and as a farewell to solid food I had a chile verde burrito for dinner. I stopped at Costco on my way home and loaded up my cart with what felt like their entire produce section. It cost $130 for what was meant to be a week's worth of juice for two people (my fiance and I). They didn't have cucumbers, kale, or cilantro, so those came at additional cost the next day. Still, it wasn't significantly different than what we spend for groceries per week with normal food (we live in Hawaii, it's expensive.) I was feeling optimistic. I made the same juices for the next day and put the bottles in the fridge. Clean up was still a pain.

Day 1:
The official beginning of my cleanse! Juice as breakfast felt pretty normal. It didn't taste great, but I didn't miss having an actual "meal." I sipped on the green juice all morning so it was finished before lunch, when I switched to the red/brown juice. Not eating lunch felt a little weirder. It wasn't that I was hungry, per say, just that it felt bizarre not to eat. As the afternoon wore on it just got more strange. The body's instinct to eat is very, very strong and it works hard to get food into your mouth. It was so intense that a couple of times I actually had food in my hand before I remembered that I wasn't supposed to eat it. My brain tricked me, bringing up thoughts of plenty of healthy food options that I could normally eat without a second thought and it wasn't until the last second that my consciousness kicked in and reminded me that if it wasn't juice, it wasn't happening. I wasn't hungry, it just felt wrong not to eat. As I scoured my memory, I couldn't come up with a single time in my life when I had gone a day without eating something, That seems amazing to me.
With a lot of mental reminders and about a billion thoughts about food, I made it through the rest of the day and back home. I got home late because I had to stop at the store to get the cucumbers, kale, and cilantro, so I didn't have much time between getting home and going to bed. It took me almost 2 hours to clean my jars, juice my "dinner," juice 2 different kinds of juice for the next day, bottle them, and clean everything up again. I went to bed not hungry but annoyed with the whole process.

Day 2:
The pattern continued and got more intense. In the morning, I felt motivated and ready, but by afternoon I was frustrated and all I could think about was food, no matter how full I felt. My lunch juice was so gross, I could hardly keep it down without gagging. I had thrown in a huge variety of ingredients, and somewhere along the line something hadn't "juiced" very well and was catching in my mouth in the form of pulp and little bits of leaves that made me gag. I actually googled "juice cleanse gross" to try and find someone, somewhere who had shared in my misery. To add to my disgust, my tongue was coated in white and my mouth felt raw, presumably because of all the acid in the juices.
Green juice!
I got home and begrudgingly went through my routine of juicing dinner, then juicing for the next day. I remembered how full and clogged with pulp the juicer had looked before juicing my last juice (the disgusting lunch juice) the night before and wondered if that had contributed to the amount of sediment I'd had to choke down. Because of this, I cleaned out the excess pulp before making the third juice, and it made a dramatic difference. It was juice again rather than sludge. A tiny sliver of optimism...

Day 3:
I weighed myself for the first time since the Day T-minus-3 and found that I had lost 4 pounds. I felt conflicted -- happy to be a little lighter, worried that it wasn't healthy weight loss. After all, I'm not doing this for weight loss. My mouth still felt raw and coated. My office ordered lunch for everyone and I had to leave the building to escape the wonderful smells. It was horribly depressing, until (in get another desperate google search) I found that I was allowed to drink coconut water. I immediately went to a natural food store and bought the biggest carton I could find. It tasted like cake, like ice cream, like heaven. I drank my fill of that before returning to the office. The texture of my juice was better with the between-juices-juicer-rinse but the flavor was still disgusting, if I'm being totally honest. I began wondering if I would have more success with themed juices... maybe that would eliminate the "brown sludge" effect. My first experiment, for dinner that night, was watermelon gazpacho juice, made from watermelon, tomato, yellow peppers, one carrot, mint and cilantro. It tasted great and I was encouraged. I vowed to use color-coordinated ingredients so that they were appetizing instead of brown. I made my next-day juices accordingly, a beautiful vibrant green and a beautiful vibrant red.
I was feeling better about the whole process, even though I had developed a huge, angry zit on my cheek. Apparently this is normal at the beginning of a cleansing process.

Day 4:
Despite the pretty colors, the juices (pear, apple, spinach, celery, cucumber, and peppers for green and watermelon, tomato, beets, carrots, and plums for red) were still disgusting and still made me gag as I tried to get them down. My sense of smell seems to be on overdrive and everything smells like vegetable juice. Although I didn't have any of the headaches, dizziness, or energy depletion problems that some people describe during the first days of juicing, I was not enjoying my experience at all. I didn't feel any different, I didn't feel like there was a transformation happening, nothing... I was having a lot of trouble drinking enough water because my stomach felt constantly full and sloshy. My fiance, who was back on solid food, had pasta with tomato sauce that night and after obsessively smelling his food, I decided to make myself a juice version for dinner: tomatoes, carrots, celery, garlic, peppers, basil, and parsley. The first bite was delicious, and the rest of the twenty ounces of raw, cold, watery tomato saucey flavor was the worst thing I've ever forced myself to consume.

Juices ready to come to work with me
On the upside, my face was getting significantly better. It was less inflamed, and although the bumps were still there the skin between them was no longer red. Because of this, and my pure, stubborn nature, I kept going.

Day 5:
I decided to see if mixing fewer flavors together might improve the taste of the juices. I had also realized that tomato juice and watermelon juice are just not something I can enjoy. For breakfast I had green juice of just cucumber, cilantro, zucchini, apples, and spinach. It was better. The lunch juice was simple carrot and beet, and dinner was peppers, carrots, peach, and yellow beets. This was seeming more promising. I didn't feel quite so frustrated, although my mouth still felt awful. I also noticed that I was sleeping a little more soundly and that my hair seemed softer than usual.

Day 6:
Encouraged by my success with simplifying my juices (also easing the clean up aspect), I realized that I don't really enjoy vegetable juices mixed with a lot of sweet fruit juice. For whatever reason, it just grosses me out, so I changed my approach: vegetable only juices for the majority of my meals, with a small glass of pure fruit juice twice a day. This was so much better for me mentally - deal with the mediocre vegetable juice and then really, really enjoy apple juice or -- my best discovery yet -- the deliciously textured creamy peach concoction that results from juicing a ripe peach by itself. I still felt about the same... not bad, but certainly not "transformed" as so many converts claim, and I was on the fence about how long I wanted to keep going. Also, my body had started putting off a weird, vegetable-esque scent whenever I sweated, so that was a little weird. Not crazy about that.

Day 7:
I had promised myself at least a week, so this was an important day. I ignored the doctor's advice and swam in the ocean. I figured if I had my face submerged in cold water the whole time, exercising couldn't cause that much inflammation! I weighed myself again and had lost another 3 pounds for a total of 7 pounds. I wasn't overweight to begin with, so that's a pretty significant weight loss (whether that is good or bad I will leave open to interpretation.) I had planned on this being the last day since I wasn't really seeing any drastic changes or results, but this was the day when my intestines started gurgling and moving so I got curious about what was going on. The mouth coating had finally gone away, I was sleeping really well, and my outlook felt more positive than it had all week, so I decided to keep going. I must admit that my stomach felt light and clean like it hasn't for a while. My office ordered lunch again and I had no problem saying no. I picked up a few more vegetables (so many cucumbers!) and headed home, telling myself I'd just do one more day and be done with it. I also decided that the green juice was a little to bland and bitter with no fruit, so I found middle ground: half a pear added in made it perfect.

Day 8:
The skin on my face was almost completely healed and I'd been able to wean the topical cream down to once a day without any problem, which I was pretty excited about. The gurgling and such finally culminated in an, um, "elimination" that seemed to include things other than what I'd been juicing, so I was pleased and take that to mean that there was in fact some stuff that had accumulated in my intestines that could stand to be flushed out. I felt vindicated for this whole juicing thing and hope that it will translate into some improvement in my digestion. Thank goodness for that, because other than that, this day was a disaster. I had been excited to try a cold-pressed juice shop in town so I planned on that for lunch, but when I got there, it was closed for no apparent reason. I went to every hippy-ish cafe I could think of, but none had fresh juice. I was 30 minutes from my house and my juicer. I finally went to the natural food store and discovered that they had fresh carrot juice and fresh, fruit only smoothies. I got a small smoothie and a 14-oz. carrot juice and mixed them together. Close enough, I guess. I had planned on starting on vegetable broth that night, but I figured that since I went to such lengths to stay on juice for lunch I may as well finish out the day.

Day 9:
To be honest, this has gotten pretty easy. I see why, at days 8-10, people decide to just keep going for a while. Do I feel some profound transformation? No, I don't. I'm going to be straightforward here. But I do feel good, normal good, like when I eat normal clean food. Mentally clear, energetic, and I really do think my hair is softer and my skin is starting to look really good. However, it hasn't been some big life-changing experience, because I have the same feelings when I eat vegetables, fruits, and nuts supplemented with lean protein and whole grains. I feel even better when I'm exercising regularly, which I'm ready to start doing again. I think the only thing I feel that is unique to a juice fast is the feeling of clear, "flushed" intestines, and that is pretty awesome after years of trouble. My food cravings are also completely gone and either by my recipe tinkering or taste bud changes, the juice actually tastes pretty good to me now.
I will be slowly re-introducing solids to my system over the next few days, with lots of mild, easily digestible food and plenty of soups.

I couldn't bear to take a photo at its worst - this is 2 days
after it started healing (day 3 of juicing) compared to today.
So what did I learn?

Well, I learned a lot about the technicalities of juicing, mixing flavors, and the logistics of what it takes to do something like this. I learned that it certainly does feel beneficial, at least to me, to clear your stomach and digestive system of processed food for a little while. I learned that I still fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum between "juicing is just a scam" and "juicing is the answer to everything."

I think that for someone who eats a regular diet of unhealthy food and doesn't exercise, this could be the incredible, life-changing experience that so many people talk about. I know how I feel when I eat junk food on a regular basis, and it makes me feel mentally foggy, tired, lethargic, bloated, and heavy. Going directly from that to this would truly be a revelation. However, because I regularly eat a ton of vegetables, fruits, and healthy foods and limit my "indulgence" food to a minimum for the vast majority of the time, the experience wasn't as dramatic. For me, eating clean, whole foods and exercising regularly are still the best way to find my ideal balance of well-being. However, I totally reject the notion that juicing is a useless scam, because I can see the benefits myself.

Day 3 of juicing vs. today
The only negative thing I have to say about the experience is the possible imbalance in your body -- low protein, low fiber, electrolyte levels... other than that I don't have any major worries. And if you're doing it for 10 days or less, I don't think this is a major issue.

As far as the positives, although my results weren't dramatic, they were definitely there:
Cleared up the rash on my face (along with prescribed meds)
Abundant energy
Better/sounder sleep
Softer hair and skin, less itchiness on my itch-prone scalp
Reduced/eliminated food cravings
Overall feeling of lightness
Knowledge of a new way to supplement a healthy diet

I plan on incorporating juicing into my daily routine, probably for breakfast. That way I'll get my nutrient and antioxidant burst but still get regular food. I'm glad I had this experience, glad to start training again, and most of all, glad to have my face almost back to normal!

Have you done a juice cleanse? Tell me about it in the comments section! Helpful tips for others who might want to try one, thoughts, observations, suggestions, and questions are welcome!

1 comment:

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