Did you ever have one of those weeks where everything you consumed was processed and unhealthy? As delicious as that week may have been, if you’re like me, it probably leaves you feeling, well, gross. I just had that week.
On our way back from a long weekend at the beach where I enjoyed everything from fish and chips to actual chips to ice cream, I suggested to my husband that we try a juice cleanse that I found on Dr. Oz’s website to help purify our bodies. The three-day diet consists of drinking fruit and veggie smoothies and promises to detox the body, something I felt I desperately needed. I mean, it’s Oprah-anointed Dr. Oz—there had to be some medical truth behind it. Right?
When we got back, I sent my husband to the grocery store where he picked up a long (and kind of expensive) ingredient list that included strawberries and bananas, flax seed and coconut oil, spinach, and kale. I woke up Monday morning, invigorated by the bounty of blended fruits and vegetables awaiting me with nary a chemical in sight. I imagine this is how Gwyneth Paltrow feels everyday—only slightly more superior and richer.
I drank my morning drink and headed to the office. There, I boasted to my colleagues about my endeavors—they looked at me like I was nuts. I didn’t care. I felt healthy.
And then I felt like hell.
Around 11 a.m., the headache started. And we’re not talking any headache—this is a Huck-pulling-out-Quinn’s-teeth-on-Scandal kind of pain. I swear my headache laughed at me when I popped two Advil. If you haven’t guessed by now, I’m caffeine junkie and the withdraw was just starting.
The lunch smoothie wasn’t too bad. It was a green smoothie—something I drink on the regular—although this one had 4 stalks of celery in it, which is 3.75 stalks too many if you ask me. By the time 4 pm rolled around, I wasn’t hungry, but I was Meg Ryan detoxing in rehab in When a Man Love’s A Woman miserable. I kept burping up celery and cucumber flavors and my head wanted to rest permanently on my desk.
I quit at 4:15 p.m.
I know what some of you may be thinking—the caffeine and toxin withdraw is what I was feeling and what was making me feel so bad. And you’re probably right to some extent. (The rest of you are thinking I’m nuts for even trying a cleanse, and you’re right as well.) But when I started to go downhill, I began researching the whole juice cleanse fad, and I realized their “detox claims” are as rooted in science as Scientology’s position on post-partum depression. (Hint: not very.)
In an article on Slate, writer Katy Waldman seeks to demystify the detoxing benefits of juice cleanses, talking to experts like Dr. Elizabeth Applegate, a senior lecturer in the nutrition department at UC Davis.
“The whole cleansing concept is silly,” Applegate told me on the phone. “The body doesn’t need any help getting rid of compounds it doesn’t want. That’s what your liver and kidneys are for.”
What about the advertised psychological benefits of cleansing? The euphoria?
“Placebo effect,” Applegate replies firmly. “Or ketosis. It’s a survival mechanism. You’re all amped up and alert because you need something to eat.”
New York Times writer Judith Newman, who test-drove the Blueprint Cleanse, had a similar conversation with internist and dermatologist David Colbert MD: Dr. Colbert said: “You have to ask yourself this question: With a juice cleanse, what are you really cleaning? Really, nothing. The bowel self-cleans. It’s evolved over millions of years to do this.”
And let’s be honest, many cleansers do them for a quick weight-loss solution. Me, I have a pool party this weekend and was hoping to drop a few pounds before spending the day wearing a bathing suit in front of a crowd. But what convinced me to pull the plug on my cleanse was knowing that I’d spend a few miserable days losing water weight, only to put it right back on when I took my first bite of real food. That and my weak willpower.
Still, juice cleanses aren’t necessarily pure poppycock. There is something to be said about eliminating alcohol, refined carbohydrates, and processed foods from your diet and adding more fruits and vegetables. And, in my case, the cleanse opened my eyes to my hard-core caffeine addiction—which is probably better dealt with by slowly reducing my intake amount instead of going cold turkey.
So to borrow from my pal Gwynnie, I’ve decided to consciously uncouple with juice cleanses going forward. I’ll just let my body remain the magnificent self-cleaning oven that it is and promise to eat my toxins with a larger side of fruits and veggies.