Dinner was a chilled pint container of beet juice that was the color of a psychedelic freak-out and tasted like sugary dirt if you thought about it. I tried not to.
Instead I pushed myself to savor this slight meal for the few calories of energy it might afford me.
After a couple of days of nothing but juice I was beginning to feel like a Victorian maiden, prone to a sudden onset of the vapors that required my collapsing onto any nearby divan.
Why had I decided to go on a juice detox? It’s a good question, but one I can only answer with difficulty weeks after the fact.
As the restaurant critic for this newspaper, I live by the omnivore’s code of conduct. I will eat anything, and I do eat anything — often quite a bit of it. Dinner in a restaurant means a cocktail, appetizers, entrees and desserts, all of it passed around the table in a never-ending buffet of tastes. If a little joint on Buford Highway is rumored to serve the spiciest Sichuan food in town, or freshly grilled guinea pig, or uterus tacos, I’m on it. I can’t say I love all this food, but I’m game to try it.
That may explain why the notion of privation became so suddenly attractive. Not only do I eat a lot for my job, I think about eating all the time. I think about stopping for Korean soup on the way to work. I think about which Whole Foods hot bar to visit, the better one or the closer one. I think about whether an energy bar and cup of green tea will get me through the day when I have a big review meal coming at dinner, or would that tactic just set me up to inhale the first office cupcake that came my way.
It can’t be good for the soul to obsess about food that much. I’ve never fasted for religious reasons but often wondered if doing so would reset one’s spiritual food clock in a meaningful way.
And so, with the encouragement of my most health-aware friend, I signed up for a week-long detox program offered by an area yoga teacher. It would start with two days of raw vegan fare prepared by a raw-food delivery service that I could supplement with as many raw fruits and vegetables as I wanted. Then would come three days of juice: four pint-sized meals to be supplemented only with a special herbal tea. I’d finish out the week with two more days of raw food. No coffee, no alcohol.
I met the teacher and four other intrepid souls on the eve of the detox. We received bags holding our raw food along with an exfoliating brush (to use before daily baths), some Ayurvedic skin treatments that smelled of Indian spices, and an herbal laxative “to get things going.”
“I believe in cleansing inside and out, ” the teacher said.
The first days would have gone swimmingly if not for two things. First, the caffeine withdrawal headache was kind of miserable, even though I had gotten myself down to one cup of coffee in preparation. Second, my muscles were achy from lifting weights at the gym and I didn’t have enough protein in my diet to heal them.
These problems passed just in time for me to face down my first pint of carrot juice. I did what I could to take my mind off of being hungry and I often succeeded. But this apprehension was cyclical. It was like a tiny question bubble popped opened in my mind — “What’s wrong?” — followed by the d’oh realization: “Of course! You’re hungry.” Then, I needed to put it out of mind.
Sometimes I’d visualize the things I wanted to eat when the fast was done. Tops on the list: tamales smothered in red chile sauce. Most unexpected item on the list: a fat piece of caramel cake. I guess when you’re weak and starving, you crave foods that are highly caloric and easy to chew.
One night we spent the evening with friends who decided to throw an impromptu party at 10 p.m. I suddenly found myself called upon to whip up a batch of pimento cheese and did manage to keep myself from face planting into it. I drank sparkling water and claimed I wasn’t hungry when beer-swilling guests asked why I wasn’t eating or drinking anything.
To my surprise, I slept well during these three days, and I woke up without any grogginess or stiffness. Juice was waiting downstairs, and it was always the first thing on my mind.
We got juice for breakfast, lunch, a mid-afternoon snack and dinner. The afternoon one was freshly pressed apple juice, and one day it felt a little like an electric current running through my limbs when I drank it. Either that, or I had absentmindedly stuck my hand in a socket.
The two days of raw food at the end of the detox made for a soft landing. I found I really didn’t want or eat as much as I had during the first two days.
And then it was over. I think I lost a couple of pounds but it was that same couple of pounds I manage to misplace now and again, only to reclaim later.
Proponents of juice fasts say they are beneficial because they cleanse toxins from your body, but health professionals dispute this claim. Chris Rosenbloom, a professor emerita of nutrition at Georgia State University, says, “We already have a very good organ in place to take care of any cleansing. It’s called the liver.”
Rosenbloom also disputes the notion that juice can cleanse the gastro-intestinal tract. “There’s this notion that the food you eat stays inside your G.I. tract for a long time, ” she says, “but it doesn’t. It only takes a little while to clean it out.”
As far as environmental toxins, such as pesticides and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), Rosenbloom asserts these are stored in fat tissue, so they’re likely to stay in your body a lot longer than the few days of a juice fast.
I’m not sure if I emerged from the juice fast any less toxic than I was going in. It did me good to stay away from coffee and alcohol for a week and to learn firsthand that I need far fewer calories than I routinely ingest.
Nor will I soon forget that evening I stared at that pint of screaming purple beet juice and thought, “It isn’t much, but it’s dinner.” And with that came a surge of something wholly unexpected: gratitude.