Juice Cleanse: A Story of Survival

No chewing allowed

Jenna Bergen

Three days of no chewing. It was the only thought running through my head as I stared at the brightly colored bottles of Catalyst juice lined up in my refrigerator. All 36 of them. Eighteen bottles were for me, the other half were for my boyfriend. Over the next three days, we would drink one juice every two to three hours. A total of six raw, unpasteurized juices a day—a grand, three-day total equal to 20 pounds of raw fruits and vegetables. Breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks would now come in the form of pulverized liquids.

What have I gotten myself into?

When Jennifer Richmond and Joel Odhner, the owners of the local juice-cleansing company Catalyst, offered to let me experience their cleanse a few weeks earlier, I jumped at the chance. After listening to them go over the benefits — It detoxifies your body. It boosts your energy. Some clients lose weight. It’s good for your skin. It gives your overworked digestive system a much-needed break — the cleanse seemed exactly like what my body needed after a long winter of shortened runs and a few too many late-night snack sessions.

Odhner, a raw-foods chef whose past clients include the likes of Dr. Mehmet Oz, developed each juice within the cleanse to nourish and purify the body, and to fill the body with vitamins, minerals and enzymes. According to Richmond and Odhner, juicing allows the body to direct energy usually reserved for digesting solid foods to the important job of cleansing the system of toxins. The result: juicers experience a boost in energy, increased mental clarity and a slimmer stomach.

On Thursday and Friday, we’d once again be able to chew—but only for dinner. Juices would fuel us until supper, when we would break our liquid fast with an evening meal of raw, uncooked foods. Each dish would be made from fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, none of which would be heated higher than 118 degrees to preserve the foods’ natural enzymes.

Of course, at the moment, I wasn’t thinking about the benefits. I was thinking about the fact that the cleanse requires swearing off caffeine for the week. Not to mention that Catalyst’s juicing clients often call Richmond in the middle of mini breakdowns, Richmond’s voice the only thing keeping them from throwing in the towel and raiding the fridge.

“It’s much better if you have someone to do it with you,” Richmond had told me wisely a few days earlier. Hence, the 36 bottles. My boyfriend, a slim, active guy who can house a CPK pizza on his own for lunch, had miraculously agreed to partake in my juicing journey. Per Richmond’s suggestion, I’d also stocked us up on herbal teas, hoping they would quiet any coffee cravings.

But on Sunday evening, standing at the precipice of the moment when solid food would cease to pass my lips for the next 72 hours, the idea of fueling my body with nothing but totally pure, enzyme-packed, living foods no longer felt inspiring. I wanted to turn back. How am I ever going to live without my huge leafy salads, my crunchy green apples, my warm and welcoming end-of-day stir-fries? Soups at lunch? My Zone Bar before my evening work out? Snacking in front of the TV?

I looked at the info card Odhner had tucked into our bags of juice. Breakfast would be juice number one, a green juice made with a mix of cucumber, celery, apple, spinach, parsley, lemon, lime and ginger. Mid-morning we were to drink juice number two, a spicy lemonade made with fresh lemons, agave and cayenne pepper. Lunch would be carrot-ginger (which also contained apple, celery, lemon and lime), followed by a mid-afternoon pick-me-up of beet juice (it, too, would be mixed with apple, lemon and lime). For dinner, we’d drink the same green juice we had for breakfast, and finish the day off with cashew milk sweetened with agave and cinnamon. “It’s for dessert,” Odhner told me. “It tastes like melted ice cream.”

Let’s hope so, I thought.

I closed the fridge and took a deep breath. You love vegetables. You can do this.

Juice, juice and more juice
For the next three days, my relationship with juice yo-yoed between peaks of love and valleys of total disgust. At first, I disliked many of the juices. The green juice tasted like a pureed salad and the lemonade was so spicy it caused the back of my throat to burn. As someone who doesn’t normally drink fruit juices, the apple-carrot and apple-beet tasted so sweet I wished Catalyst had omitted the fruit.

The first night, starved from my evening workout, I reverted into a whiny five-year-old. My dinner of green juice had done nothing to silence my rumbling stomach. “I’m hungry,” I groaned to my boyfriend countless times, shocked by how well he seemed to be doing abstaining from real food. He was so calm. Yoga-like. “Are you really that hungry?” he asked me for the fifth time. I finally broke down and busted open my cashew milk an hour earlier than intended.

“This is great,” my boyfriend said, after trying his. “Sort of makes the whole day worth it.” I wasn’t so sure. To me, it was thick, and tasted like, well, cashews. I didn’t see the resemblance between melted ice cream. My stomach, finally filled, felt uneasy.

I decided to call it a day. I brushed my teeth and put my cranky self to bed. You can’t think about food when you’re asleep, I reasoned.

Hitting a groove
Day two was better. I found myself enjoying the taste of the juices a lot more. The cayenne pepper didn’t seem as hot, and I sort of enjoyed the slight kick to it. The green juice still tasted salad-y, but in a good way. The carrot-ginger and beet were still a little too sweet to my liking, but nonetheless I found myself looking forward to my two-and-a-half-hour-apart juice breaks. I also noticed my stomach looked slightly less puffy, and I realized how much salt I had eliminated from my diet by juicing.

That afternoon, as I picked up an herbal tea from Marathon, I had a revelation: I was starting to feel more detached than usual from junk foods. Even an entire basket of just-baked, head-sized chocolate-chip cookies sitting on the counter in front of me didn’t seem tempting. While seeing a cookie wouldn’t normally make me break down and buy one, I still felt different somehow. A little more …. calm. Maybe it’s just low blood-sugar, I chided myself. Regardless, I was happy with my herbal tea with lemon—and that made me even happier.

In an attempt to get through the evening without feeling ravenous, I decided to forgo my usual workout the second evening. Not as hungry as the night before, I was feeling pretty good with my green juice dinner and cashew dessert (which also tasted better the second time around). However, my previously serene boyfriend was finally stepping into the deep, dark valley I had taken the last 24 hours to climb out of. “If I could just eat dinner, I would be fine with juicing during the day,” he grumbled. We both agreed that not having dinner to look forward to after a long day of work was something we both missed. I also realized how much I enjoyed chopping veggies and letting go of my day in the kitchen.

We made it another early night. For us, the silver lining to the cleanse seemed to be reducing our sleep deficit.

A light at the end of a juicy tunnel
By the morning of day three, I knew I was going to make it. It helped that my skin looked brighter and that the nasty headaches I’d developed a few weeks before juicing hadn’t showed up during the cleanse. I’d also discovered that I loved herbal tea. Switching to tea with lemon and a little stevia in the morning was undoubtedly better for me than coffee with cream. Oddly enough, I found that I was beginning to crave the green juice. It was by far my favorite of all the juices, and I was happy it was on the menu twice each day. Previously too spicy, I found myself making sure that I slurped up every last red speck of cayenne in the lemonade.

Of course, there were still moments when I suddenly wanted some sort of solid food, a Greek yogurt, a salad, even McDonald’s French fries after smelling the salty, greasy aroma on the El that evening on the way home from work. But it was getting easier to ignore them.

It definitely helped to have concerned co-workers popping into my office every now and again to see how I was making out sans solid food. “You’re almost there!” one cheered.

That night, my boyfriend and I both felt proud of ourselves. We’d made it through the hardest part. The next day we would chew at dinner!

We high-fived before hopping into bed. Who knew juicing would be a bonding experience?

Stepping away from the stove
“So whaddya think?” I asked my juicing partner. Containers of raw food dishes from Catalyst were splayed across our kitchen counter and we had both just taken our first bite of raw pizza. He swallowed carefully and shrugged his shoulders. “It’s okay. Doesn’t really taste like pizza.”

In my opinion, he was mostly right. The flax crust was more chewy than doughy, and the Brazil nut “cheese” didn’t really taste or act like cheese. But you know what? I didn’t care. It tasted good. Really good. It also didn’t make me feel weighed down the way a slice of normal pizza would, either. I loved the fact that the raw crust was full of so many nutrients—something white dough definitely lacks.

Over the next 24 hours, we sampled the rest of our raw foods: French fries (sliced jicama with seasonings), sweet potato pasta (made with pine nuts, garlic, herbs and lemony olive oil), kale salad with red pepper and hemp seeds, falafel (sprouted chick peas, curry and cilantro), and quite a few desserts. There were raw versions of carrot cake, chocolate mousse and cheesecake.

As someone who tends to stay away from processed carbs, normally eats one huge salad a day, and whose main snacks consist of fruits and veggies, I thought more than once that if I were lucky enough to have a personal chef it would be very easy to start eating raw dishes for a lot of my meals. In a way, it felt like eating salad in much fancier forms—which I loved. I also loved the creativity of the dishes, the bright, clean flavors, and how healthy I felt after eating them.

However, my boyfriend wasn’t as into it. In general, he eats far less vegetables than I do, and I don’t think he could get used to the fact that everything was a.) cold; b.) crunchy; and c.) didn’t taste very similar to the cooked food it was named after.

Back on solid ground
By the end of the week, both of us were bummed to see the last juice go. “It just felt really healthy,” my boyfriend said numerous times. Later that weekend, I also overheard him tell a friend that the cleanse had made him think about what he’s putting into his body, and that he’d like to start eating more raw foods.

It’s for that very same reason why I, despite the ups and downs I went through in the first three days, feel that the cleanse was an overall positive experience. It taught me that I don’t have to snack at night, and that I can adopt new, healthy habits within a few days. It also opened my eyes to the fact that I can be much more creative with vegetables and fruit in the kitchen.

Of course, everyone I talked to post-cleanse wanted to know one thing: Had I lost weight? To be honest, I don’t know. I didn’t weigh myself throughout the cleanse because weight loss wasn’t a goal. I simply wanted to nourish my body with fresh fruits and vegetables, and to see what it felt like to give my body a break from having to digest complex meals. While I did feel slimmer, I believe it was probably due to shedding the excess water weight that my salt-loving-self had caused my body to hold onto.

As for energy levels, I didn’t see a huge difference. I think if I didn’t eat a lot of raw vegetables already, I might have felt more energetic. At times, I actually felt more tired, which I attribute to taking in less calories than usual (the Catalyst juice cleanse averages about 1,200 to 1,400 calories per day). However, I did feel much more mentally alert than I have in the past—and that was without caffeine. I also felt that my skin looked brighter.

Another unexpected bonus: The cleanse made me realize that I love kale. The leafy, calcium-rich vegetable had never made its way into my grocery cart prior to trying Catalyst’s raw foods, and I’ve been making my own version of kale salad at home ever since. I’ve also added raw almonds to my snack list, and have continued to drink herbal tea in place of coffee.

All in all, if you’re interested in trying a raw-food and juice cleanse, Catalyst is a great company. The juice was fresh, the food was beautiful, and Richmond and Odhner are more than happy to hold your hand each step of the way.