Friday, November 16, 2012

Juicefest 2012

This week, I and a couple of other folks at the "farm" partook in a three-day juice fast (or juice "cleanse," depending on what literature you're reading).

The basic idea is that you're consuming nothing but certain liquids -- water, tea, fruit, and vegetable juice -- for 72 hours. Since this is usually done an exercise in healthful living or self-denial, it's common practice to eschew sugar, caffeine, animal products, nicotine, THC, asprin, etc. On this front I cheated a little by putting honey (animal product) in my rooibos tea and having one (1) cup of black coffee during the evening.

The health benefits of the juice fast are under scrutiny and debate, and its value as a full-system cleanse are almost certainly overstated. On the other hand, some studies seem to suggest that the human body switches into "repair mode" when it's not receiving fresh input.

But I wished to do it solely for the benefit of experience. I wanted to know how it would feel to willingly go without solid food for three days. (Granted, it wasn't a true fast -- I was still getting a decent, though likely not entirely sufficient, supply of nutrients -- but asceticism is a pool probably best waded into.) Consciousness expansion and alteration is an occasional hobby of mine, and popular lore has it that people think uncommon thoughts on empty bellies. This was one I hadn't tried. My hope was that when faced with an energy shortage, my faculties would ration thoughts more carefully, foregoing the old ad jingles, Simpsons quotes, and sexual fantasies, expending the whole of its limited resources on grand and brilliant ideas.

No less appealing was the test of discipline the fast presented. Anyone who's followed my stuff for any length of time must be aware of my on-again-off-again romance with cigarettes; nicotine is a mistress that doesn't take "no" for an answer very gracefully. Moreover, I've lately grappled with the fear that I'm not productive enough as a writer, and that a lack of gumption is to blame rather than any external circumstances. Forcing myself to go three days without eating -- and proving to myself that it was something I could will myself through -- would, I hoped, generate a focus and momentum I could carry with me in the days afterward.

It wasn't easy. Well, not for me, anyway. One of the three of us had already been on a raw fruits and vegetable diet for a couple of weeks and felt fine (even great) all throughout. I'd tried easing into it three or four days before it began by cutting meat, dairy, sugar, and gluten from my diet (in that order), but not receiving any solid biomass for days on end put a tremendous strain on my system. But I did it. Seventy-two hours (actually, probably closer to  seventy-eight) without any solid food.

THE GOOD: There were times I did feel more focused. Smells and colors seemed to become more vivid. If I had every wished for a shakeup in my weekly routine, this was something like a low-magnitude earthquake. I discovered I can go without coffee in the mornings in the morning and during my workday, and I can't remember a moment that I craved cigarettes. I found myself speaking and acting more deliberately: after all, I was on a tight energy budget. And I'd be lying if I claimed to not feel like a self-satisfied bad ass for seeing a project like this all the way through.

THE BAD: I was hungry. HUNGRY -- caps, bold, italic, underscore. Headaches, body aches. Between the bursts of vitality (usually after blending and consuming juice) were periods of rusty-joint lethargy. I experienced mood swings. My patience for people was drastically reduced. I'd wake up two or three times a night and I couldn't stop pissing from all the tea I poured into my stomach to trick it into suspecting a meal might be happening.

THE UGLY: I understand why some vegans treat omnivores with such condescension. It's a craving for self-assurance. There were times I felt compelled to boot up my snootiest available voice and lecture my peers on the benefits of "liquidity" and the evils of solid foods. What, you think I'm jealous of what you're eating? Curry? No thanks. Do you have any idea how unhealthy solids are for you? And bad for the environment? This thin, faintly potato-flavored broth is delicious, and so much easier to digest than your rich, oily, calorie-filled curry. Frankly, I pity you.

(I hope I don't have to tell anyone I'm joking.)

THE OTHER: When you're hungry, you are more exclusive in your concerns than when you're fed. That was my experience, anyhow. I'd go on Twitter and read all the retweeted trenchant gibberish dispatches from the most popular dada/nihilist Twitterati and think who gives a shit? I'd look at video game blogs and think who gives a shit? Facebook? YouTube? The A.V. Club? Fuck it all, empty static, fuck it all. I'd try playing video games -- Earthworm Jim, Drill Dozer, and Cave Story -- and find myself unwilling to muster enough interest to play for longer than a few minutes. But for some reason, Bolesław Prus fared much better at eliciting my concentration. Marcus Aurelius did better than Prus; William Carlos Williams better than both. In my state of mind they just seemed a more worthwhile effort.

This morning I broke the fast with a bowl of cereal (cornflakes and granola) with rice milk and an apple. It felt strange. Anyone else who has ever stopped smoking for a few months and then picked it back up again will have some understanding of what it was like. Chewing and swallowing wasn't nearly what I hoped or thought it would be. The act itself seemed unseemly and I felt vaguely guilty for it. The second cigarette is always a bit better; so was the peanut butter and banana sandwich I had for lunch. The third cigarette is wonderful, and I suspect the chicken cheesesteak I plan to order in an hour or two will be just so.

 I certainly couldn't do another juice fast right away, but I wouldn't totally rule it out for the foreseeable future. We'll see how I feel after a few more days of solid food, but I may consider making a regular practice of a once-a-week twelve-hour juice and water fast. While any health benefits might well be owed to the placebo effect, the focus and determination brought on by an empty stomach are definitely not.


  1. About a month and a half ago I also had to partake in three days of what they called a 'clear-liquid diet' to clear up a problem I had healthwise. It was all water, tea, clear juice (mostly cranberry juice) and a little bit of broth for me. The first half of the diet was a nightmare, like you said I was insane with hunger for much of the time, but at least for me the last day wasn't so bad, it was like my body had gotten used to the new homeostasis. Naturally as soon as I got used to it, the 3 days were up and I could eat again, plain white rice was my first meal here. An optimist might point out that in my lethargy I was able to get a lot of reading done, but naturally I'm no optimist.

    1. I'm not an optimist either, but that's an upside I wouldn't sell short.

  2. One of my favorite books is Hunger by Knut Hamsun. The book is a fascinating stream-of-consciousness account of a literal starving artist (a writer no less!) It takes an interesting look at the connection between the quality of the artist's work and how well he is meeting his basic necessities. I'd recommend it to anyone anyway, but since you just went through this experience, you may find a particular connection to it.

  3. I've heard quite a bit about extended periods (generally classified as anything exceeding 48 hours) on pure liquid diets wrecking havoc on the digestive system once solid food is reintroduced into the stomach for the first time, though I have no idea if this is actually the case or if the effects are anywhere near as severe as in the horror stories I've come across. If it isn't venturing too far into TMI territory, I'd be curious to know how your body reacted to what you ate for the first day or two following the juice cleanse.

    1. Uh...I think my swelling stomach somehow ruptured my abdominal muscles. No, I am not kidding.

      In terms of gastroenterology, there's nothing remarkable to report.

  4. "Chicken cheesesteak" is the single grossest thing I've ever read, but as someone who fasts on occasion, I totally get it. Kudos.

    1. Oh, it's not that gross. It's diced chicken and melted provolone cheese on a bun with lettuce, tomato, and fried onions. AND MAYONNAISE.

      It was incredible.