Can a diehard food lover survive 5 days without solid food?
I love food. I love to eat it…raw food, cooked food, gourmet food, diner food, farm-to-table food, bar food. My first paychecks came from restaurants – seating or serving those seeking food. Decades later, I now earn my living taking photos…and yes, you guessed it, the subject matter of which is, quite often, food. So how in the world did a food-lover like me end up committing to spend 5 day chewing exactly none?
My food sensibility may be described as “light green”: I shop farmers’ markets, read labels, avoid preservatives, buy organic, slurp wheatgrass but don’t put it past me to choose “conventional” over “organic” occasionally at Whole Foods, buy that $5 Costco hormone-injected rotisserie chicken or- eeks- drive my three kids through the golden arches drive-through “once in a blue moon.” (I like the cloudy parameters that the “blue moon” criteria I’ve set affords me as a parent…I’m not even sure myself exactly what it means).
My wake up call came at an indoor soccer tournament in early January when the sound of the Cool Ranch Doritos hitting the bottom of the vending machine hit me like an anvil…I am NOT this person who feeds myself and my family this way…what would Michael Pollan think? Where are the whole grains? The carrots? I realized I had gotten too far off track and the rainbow in my shopping cart was reflecting back not from brightly-colored produce but from those center aisle brightly-colored packaged goods. I needed to re-set my food compass. I signed up for January 31st 5 day juice cleanse at The Stand in Norwalk.
The Stand’s website describes the program as “a 5-day all liquid cleanse to alkalize and detoxify the body.” It is recommended that participants ease off caffeine, sugar, dairy and alcohol in preparation for the cleanse so as not to shock one’s body with a cold turkey plunge. I made my decision to cleanse without a lot of time to prepare, so I would say this turkey may have not been ice cold, but was pretty chilly. I was scared. I was most worried about feeling hungry. And having headaches. And being crabby
The program requires that one picks up their freshly-squeezed juices at one of The Stand’s two locations (Norwalk or Fairfield) daily between 8 and 9am. A busy Monday morning where everyone at my house woke up a little late distracted me from the fact that I wasn’t brewing my usual morning java. I arrived at The Stand in Norwalk at 8:40 to find a neat brown bag with my name on it arranged with the other lunatics’ (I mean participants’) day’s allotments. I peeked in and what to my wondering eye should appear but not three lowly bottles of juice, but SIX! Somehow I missed this in the fine print – I was so excited to see I didn’t have to slurp three meals but actually was allotted rations every 2 – 2 ½ hours of the day. Things were looking up. Then, they got better. The proprietess of The Stand, Carissa, is the Snow White of Norwalk. She glides behind the counter, juicing veggies and chatting with customers like a princess of produce. I think I may have seen a bluebird on her shoulder but that may just be because it was the first morning in years when I didn’t have coffee. I twisted the cap off my first beverage, cucumber juice, and began the five-day program. So, how did it go? A recap of my pre-conceptions versus actual experience follows:
I thought I would feel hungry. This was the biggest, and most pleasant surprise of the cleanse. I really didn’t feel hungry. Six juices a day, every two to two and half hours is a pretty satisfying amount of nutrition. I was delighted to discover that the fiberful beverages were satiating and that my stomach rumblings were more of the rest and digest variety than actual hunger pangs.
I thought that the juices might taste like grass. Or worse. This was another positive – I found almost all of the beverages to taste great. Since I have a sweet tooth, I did favor the fruitier varieties such as the agave-sweetened lemon- and lime-ades and grapefruit juice but I did find the more veggie-based drinks to be more pleasantly palatable than expected. The cleanse relies on a lot of green-based veggies to do its magic, and I did find that the green juices cut with apple were my preference versus the green smoothies which were heavy on kale with the edge just taken off with ginger and lemon. But overall taste rating was A- with the deduction for too much green for me by day 5.
I thought I would feel deprived. This topic’s a little more layered. While I didn’t feel too calorie-deprived, I did miss many other aspects of my old food-eating life. I missed chewing. I missed texture and the sound of a crunch. My husband suggested I chew some ice but since I equate the sound of that to fingers on a chalkboard, that was not the solution. I missed the social aspect of meals. Sipping on my juice while my family ate dinner was a low point. I missed how lunch– deciding what to eat, where and when-- breaks up my work day. Knowing that my next meal was just a twist-off cap away was not nearly as satisfying as choosing from the omnivorous buffet that is Fairfield County. I planned the cleanse so as not to conflict with any nights out, and I’m certain that resisting a passed hors-d’oeuvre tray or sip of a cosmo at a cocktail party might have been more than my willpower could have sustained.
I thought I would really miss my vices. I don’t consume a lot of caffeine but do begin every day, usually before 6am, with a fresh-brewed Keurig java. The cleanse requires abstinence from consuming anything other than the juices with the exception of water and herbal teas. You begin each day with a cup of hot water with the juice of half of an organic lemon and a pinch of cayenne pepper. I was really surprised to find that this proved an adequate substitute for the comfort of my daily coffee and I was able to make it quite readily until the 8:30ish daily pick-up without consuming anything else. A more powerful force than caffeine is my love of sweets. I am known to regularly treat myself to a Le Pain Quotidien mini brownie or a Rosie’s coconut cupcake. Once again, the daily menu usually had something to satisfy my sweet craving: a fruity offering such as cantaloupe soup or watermelon juice or a tasty and filling Almond Nut Milk. Alcohol, of course, is also off-limits. With no events to tempt me, five days with no vino went fine.
I thought (and had read) that the first three days would be hard; then I would feel great the last two. For some reason, this was the opposite for me. My first three days had great momentum since everything was going better than expected and the last two days were a slog. Day four was my metaphoric mile 20 of the marathon. I lost morale when I asked the lovely Carissa when I could break the fast and eat spaghetti and meatballs. She told me that it ended Saturday morning and warned against a quick return to carbs. She suggested an alternate menu of perhaps one turkey meatball and some spaghetti squash. Completely demoralized, the day dragged and at 2pm I cheated and broke the juice fast. What was the vice? A sip of coffee, bite of brownie you might think. No, I was seduced by crunch. 21 whole grain goldfish were chomped just to hear the noise. The next 6 juices were fine but my conception that it would all be over by dinner time on Friday got the best of me. Friday, I pared down my juices to 4 of the 6 – editing out two green, no-apple choices and revised my end time to 5pm Friday. Which is when I went out that night, with my family, and ate spaghetti and meatballs – more than one, not turkey-based and accompanied by full-carb pasta.
Summary At the end of five days, I was five pounds lighter and buoyed that I made it through 93% of my prescribed juices with only one stray off the regime. Either my vices held a looser grip on me or my willpower was stronger than I suspected. I felt well-nourished by the healthy liquids I had consumed and my skin felt and looked better. I adopted some new favorite healthy choices for food that I would go back to the Stand to pickup (almond milk…definitely!). I felt like a slate had been cleared for me to go forward and make healthier choices for myself and my family. Would I do it again? Yes, but I sure am glad that once you’ve completed a five-day cleanse, the Stand offers options for abbreviated three or four day versions. Sign me up on the next blue moon!
[Photography courtesy of Jane Beiles Photography]