I despise resolutions. And the first two weeks of the New Year. The gym becomes over-crowded and everyone is on a diet, detox or cleanse–trying to right the wrongs of the last month (or year). I don’t believe in diets (for more about my philosophy about food, nutrition, health and life, check out this interview I did for Lux and Concord: Dieting 101 – Game Changing Tips from a Dietitian) — so why then, would I choose to go on a 3-day juice cleanse? In the middle of a big training push to prepare me for an upcoming half marathon? Because if there’s any question I get more often than others it’s what are the benefits of juicing, smoothies and cleansing/detox diets. I wanted to be able to relate to what my clients and customers go through. I also wanted to dive a little deeper into the SCIENCE – to see if there’s any truth to the benefits often touted like improved mental clarity, increased energy, and better sleep. And let’s be honest — I spent most of December stuffing my face with Christmas cookies and holiday beers. I could use a reset button in the New Year as well. So here’s my overall take on how I felt before, during and after; a brief overview of what the science says; and my general take on the experience overall (you may be surprised). What do you think? I’d love to hear from you!
Pre-Cleanse: What am I thinking??
I decided to go with a juice cleanse that took out all the guess work out of it by signing up for the Real Good Juice 3-day Juice Cleanse. Why? I never had to guess at the quantities, proportions, or ingredients. I knew my juices would taste great having had a few of their awesome blends prior to the cleanse and it just made life easier.
Each day I picked up my juices for the next day. Six in total – including one smoothie for breakfast. This was another reason I was drawn to this cleanse over others. Smoothies include some fiber – which is usually lacking in most juice cleanses. Fiber is important for digestive health and helps keep us fuller longer.
A couple days before I cut back a bit on processed foods and focused on staying well hydrated to prepare myself for the next 3 days. To be honest, the only thing I really was concerned about was the lack of caffeine (a valid concern I would soon find out). I went to sleep the night before excited and nervous for the next 3 days.
Juice Cleanse Realization: I’m Addicted to Coffee
Day 1 started out great – I had a big cup of hot water and lemon, drank my smoothie and did my easy workout and actually felt great. I wasn’t even hungry. Every two hours you drink another juice. Each is about 16 ounces which really does fill you up if you are also drinking a decent amount of water as well. The only real side effect I experienced at this point was a lot of trips to the ladies room since I was taking in much more fluids than normal. As the 12pm slump rolled around, the lack of caffeine set in. I was dragging. I’m used to close to 4 cups of coffee/day (before you gasp in shock – this is 4, 6oz cups – that’s like two tall coffees from Starbucks). I could not stop yawning and thinking about a nap. Fortunately, I powered through. By the last juice of the day, I missed chewing. Having calculated out the caloric intake/day, I knew I would need to supplement the cleanse with some solid food to ensure I could also get my workouts in. I spoke with the helpful folks at Real Good and they suggested organic fruits, veggies and raw nuts. I grabbed a large handful of almonds and carrots and a cup of ginger tea. Day 1 was done – and I was beat. I was asleep by 10pm (much earlier than my usual 11:30pm bedtime).
Day 2: woke up at 8am. I slept 10 hours. I haven’t slept that good or soundly in years. I wanted a cup of coffee – but didn’t want to give up just yet. I grabbed my smoothie, a cup of hot water with lemon and did some work. Today was going to be tough. I had a hard 9 mile speed workout planned. After about an hour I tied on my sneakers and made my way to the treadmill for my workout. About 1/2 way through I had to stop for a bathroom break. On my way back to the ‘mill I started seeing spots. I knew I needed to take a longer break. I was determined to get through the workout though. Fortunately I live in a building with a gym so I went back to my apartment, grabbed the next juice for the day and downed it along with an apple and almond butter. I immediately felt better and an hour later, completed the workout. I wouldn’t recommend this. If you are planning to do a cleanse – definitely cut back on your exercise plan. The rest of day 2 was easier than expected. I taught a cooking seminar where I had to make and sample food. I surprisingly wasn’t hungry and continued to drink the juice every two hours. I still felt exhausted though and it was another early to bed evening.
Day 3: OK. I miss food. But it’s day 3 – the last day. I can do this. Oddly enough – I found myself craving things like oatmeal and kale salads – and NOT burgers, pizza and French fries. It’s like my body was craving healthy food. I still struggled with caffeine withdrawal but this day was definitely easier than the previous two. I had a short, easy run that I finished with no problems. Another early to bed evening – and 3 of the best nights of sleep I’ve had since I was a probably a teenager.
Post Cleanse: What I Learned
Following the cleanse I woke up and made my now go-to breakfast: oatmeal, sliced banana and a spoonful of almond butter. I also made my usual pot of coffee but found I could only stomach 1/2 of what I normally would consume – and even that caused the caffeine jitters. I laced up for an 8 mile progressive run that went better than expected. I ran faster than I have in months. I felt invincible. My energy level was through the roof. I also felt lean. I checked the scale – about 3 lbs down. I didn’t do this to lose weight – and know that much of the weight I likely lost was water weight – but still, important to note.
The cleanse taught me to rely less on caffeine during the day and I’ll sleep better. It helped me feel a little better about the last month of over-indulging and it just felt good to fill up on super foods for 3 days. I felt inspired and since have eaten better, had much more control over my appetite and cut back my coffee consumption to just 2 cups/day (12 oz total). Would I do it again? Yes – it’s something my body needed and craved and following big training pushes and/or leading into a new training plan, I think it’s a good way to really reset and focus on getting my body ready for the work to come.
What about the Science?
I know many of my dietitian friends will question my sanity in choosing to do something like this. Yes, we have livers – and their primary function is to detoxify our body on a daily basis. I know – I get this. But I also know what my friends, colleagues and family do and I want to make sure I’m as knowledgeable as possible about what real people are actually doing. And to be honest – I kind of think there is a place for cleansing if done right. The juice cleanse is a small, 3 day sacrifice that can lead to huge transformation if done right. Case in point: I no longer drink 4 cups of coffee, have cut my alcohol intake in half, and my appetite is much more tame now. It caused me to look at my habits – and make changes. Breaking the cycle of consistently eating a diet too high in saturated fat, refined carbohydrate, processed foods, excess caffeine and alcohol can and will cause you to look at what you are doing and make positive changes – even if small – that will have lasting impact on your overall health and wellbeing.
A brief pubmed search found virtually no scientific evidence or studies looking specifically at cleansing and long term outcomes. One study, published in the Journal of Chiropractic Medicine, came close – found that individuals placed on a very low calorie, vegan diet plus regimented supplementation for 21 days had improvements in total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels. This wasn’t juicing, per se but the change of caloric intake and diet composition is as close as I could find to what I was getting when I did the Real Good Juice cleanse.
So, while the jury may still be out in the scientific community on the benefits, in general, I think that there might be a place for a cleanse if done right and under supervision/with the guidance of a dietitian/nutritionist and/or doctor. I can only share how I felt after (great) and how it changed me personally. A special word of caution – a juice cleanse isn’t recommended for certain populations (e.g., Diabetics, those with eating disorders or immunocompromised) so if you are considering one – please consider talking to your doctor – or even reach out to me!