A Cleanse-hater’s First Cleanse: 5 Days as a Raw Vegan

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Let me start by saying that I think juice cleanses are a load of bullshit and perhaps one of the most successful marketing ploys of modern culture. I am baffled that a trend so loosely rooted in nutritional fact has convinced so many people to part with hundreds of dollars to engage in a socially acceptable form of starvation. Additionally, I blame the social glorification of emaciated, scantily-clad Californian females subsisting solely on fresh air and over-priced juice for perpetuating my negative opinion on cleansing (and for ruining my Instagram feed). Since working at my new job that is within the natural and organic space, I have become more comfortable with what I consider “extreme” dietary choices, so I decided to overcome my hostility towards this trend and experience a cleanse once and for all.

For 5 days I ate a modified, but still heavily restricted, raw food and juice diet to see what would happen. I didn’t want to buy into a pre-packaged cleanse so I formulated my own plan, which was: consume nothing processed (except for raw snacks or 100% pressed organic juice blends) and avoid anything cooked (even vegetables). Historically, I have been vehemently against cleanses in favor of eating mindfully so I had little knowledge of the effects and didn’t really know what to expect from this change. After reading through blogs it appeared as though the possible outcomes were endless – could I experience a profound spiritual awakening? A new sense of self? A less bloated belly and glowing skin? Here is what I found:

Day 1 included some shaky hands (probably due to lack of caffeine) and some mental “cloudiness” (typical of a Monday and possibly due to weekend activity). Coffee-drinkers beware, the caffeine withdrawal is challenging and decaf can act as a great placebo. The novelty and excitement of breaking out of my typical routine was enough to carry me through the day. I was surprised by a surge of adrenaline in the afternoon so I challenged myself to a spin class and survived. I then resisted the urge to Instagram my accomplishment, because I value my friendships and am aware of how incredibly annoying that is.

I awoke on day 2 feeling proud of myself for making it through the previous day and sticking to my goal. I had a weird surge of energy and, for once, my first thought upon opening my eyes wasn’t COFFEE. I also felt like I had enough strength to hit a pre-work gym class so off I went after eating a hefty slice of cantaloupe. Later in the day, I was re-acquainted with feelings of actual hunger which I’m not sure I’ve felt in a while. I realized how often I confuse “I’m feeling hungry” with “I’m bored, what should I snack on?” so I appreciated this. I did hit a slump around 11am that coincided with some intense hunger pains, but powered through and forgot that I was hungry after a half hour. An important takeaway: you will not spontaneously combust if you choose to ignore the onset of hunger.

Day 3 took me by surprise. I felt clearheaded, and intensely (and possibly even annoyingly) positive. Because I felt so fantastic, both mentally and physically, I questioned whether I had just stumbled ass-backwards into this new amazing identity as a raw vegan. Later that day I made it to a cardio interval class and didn’t think twice about my energy level or motivation. That was shocking and reminded me how much more our bodies are capable of than we think. Life was good, my mind felt sharp as a tack, my body felt great, I WAS SUPERWOMAN!

Then Day 4 happened. It was the first day that I felt like my enthusiasm for this cleanse was dying and taking my body in its wake. I was tired and running low. Despite the fact that I had less food options, I might as well have opened up a direct deposit from my savings account into the Whole Foods salad bar. It’s expensive to eat clean but I was willing to pay a premium for Whole Food’s ability to keep me delighted by the mundane. The novelty of the cleanse was wearing off and I was getting bored of eating a very limited assortment. I didn’t feel so energized anymore, so what’s the point? I stuck with it mainly so I could finish this blog post.

Day 5 was challenging only because it was a Friday, and typically my office spends the day collectively deciding which specialty cocktail we will craft for 5 o’clock happy hour. I treated myself to some cooked squash to celebrate my success and to re-introduce a different texture into my day. For the most part, I found my energy again, but I’m not sure if that was due to my fresh pressed juice or my excitement for the squash. Later that night I went out to eat with friends and sat within arms reach of a very large pitcher of margaritas. After 5 days of clean eating and drinking, I was shocked at how little interest I had in imbibing and this is coming from somebody who typically considers the cocktail menu AS important as the food menu.

Another cleanse realization: not every dinner out requires alcohol. Good food (even if it is a salad) and a fun time with friends STILL exist without the cocktail.

[highlight color=’#81caea’ text-color=’#ffffff’]What I loved: [/highlight]

Hands down, my favorite thing about the cleanse was talking about it. Luckily, I work in an office where cleansing and custom-fit eating habits are celebrated, so no one was phased by my choice to eat like a maniac. If I didn’t have such a sympathetic and supportive environment, and a Whole Foods within walking distance, perhaps my experience would have been very different.

After a few days of only “eating for fuel”, I learned to appreciate and value every last morsel that I put into my body. Raw cashews were a life source and at one point, a single cashew felt like the equivalent of a 20 ounce gatorade. It was clear how effective nutritionally dense foods are at providing energy, and the benefits were especially noticeable when there was nothing else to cloud my system. After restricting to functional foods and even as a previously “healthy” eater, I also realized how much unnecessary crap I put in my body that offer nothing. My weaknesses: chip alternatives (lentil, soy, black bean, etc), bars (Luna, Thinkthin, Kind, etc), Snacks (World Peas, snap pea crisps, Wrigley’s 5 gum, etc.). A great byproduct of the cleanse was kicking the cravings for these processed foods. When I finally ate some processed lentil chips at the end of my cleanse, my taste buds were so overwhelmed by the salt that I couldn’t even enjoy eating them. Even now, more than a week later, I haven’t gone back to eating these processed “health” foods regularly.

I didn’t lose weight, but my skin felt like it was sitting a little closer to my muscles and bones. My stomach and insides felt strong, flat and un-bloated. This was especially noticeable when I would lay down to go to sleep at night. I was also able to clearly understand what foods were causing me the most discomfort once I started re-introducing them after the cleanse. Takeaway: Dairy is god-awful. The last of my dairy loves, parmesan cheese and greek yogurt, have been kicked to the curb for good.

Wiping the slate clean allowed me to tune into my body and tune out the garbage. The best example is my new found ability to differentiate perceived hunger from actual hunger:

Pre-Cleanse Hunger: Realize that I haven’t eaten in a few hours > feel “mentally hungry” which is often a result of boredom (feel fidgety and preoccupied which lasts ~5 min) > eat.

Cleanse Hunger: Realize I haven’t eaten in a while, and that I probably won’t eat for another long while > feel “mentally hungry” (angry/irritated/generally disgruntled) > Feel “Physically hungry” (Stomach pangs, mental cloudiness, fatigue which lasted about ~30 min) > feel normal and no longer hungry > eat.

[highlight color=’#81caea’ text-color=’#ffffff’]What I didn’t love. [/highlight] It was impossible to drink multiple juices a day and avoid astronomical amounts of sugar. I do not drink upwards of 100 g of sugar a day, so I was concerned that the increased flow of fructose into my system may have been responsible for all the energy. Surely a result of this being my first experience with cleansing, I found it difficult to function as a normal person with the energy ups and downs. If I could stay at day 3 peak energy, I would cleanse all day long, every day of the year and conquer the world. But that is not realistic.

Even during a short “cleanse”, it’s really difficult to avoid packaged foods since many companies are capitalizing on these trends and producing great products to suit this lifestyle. I would have loved to bake my own kale chips each day, but Rhythm Foods has already done this for me… and they taste way better than anything I could have made myself.

It is not sustainable. This lifestyle is boring, and if it were to be long term, I would be denying myself many joys of life and life experiences. Unfortunately, food and eating is no longer about survival and pure function and even the nuttiest of health nuts must come to terms with that. While I do NOT subscribe to the act of celebrating birthdays or holidays by indulging in trans-fat garbage box cakes, I do think indulging in good food and wine can provide great pleasure and should be considered an important part of the human experience.

My favorite packaged RAW VEGAN foods:

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