Why did I start the juice fast? It might have been because my Ayurveda instructor's warnings about the poisons emitted by everything from my office carpeting to the PET plastic on my bottled water were disturbing enough to keep me lying awake at night, full of mistrust for my undeniably-toxic IKEA bedroom set. Or maybe it was just that the Midwestern winter's barrage of dusty heater air, other people's germs, fatty comfort foods, caffeine overloads and smoky indoor bars left my inner self yearning for some spring cleaning.
In any case, I logged onto craigslist one afternoon and there was the juicer, begging to be adopted. I took it as a sign. A juice fast is, well, exactly what it sounds like. For a set number of days your calories come only from liquid, in the form of fresh-squeezed fruit and vegetable juices and good old H20. Juice fasting is a gentler take on traditional medicinal fasting, a homeopathic cure-all for ailments ranging from morning breath to migraines and far worse. The idea: Give your body a break from constant digestion, and all that energy can go to healing and restoring the cells and purging years' worth of built-up toxic stores.
Proponents claim that cleansing increases energy and reduces stress. One friend and yoga-school buddy credits a 14-day juice fast with her newfound ability to do tough Astanga-style jump-throughs, which in the yoga world is a feat akin to running the bases with Bobby Jenks on your back.
Fasts last anywhere from a 24-hour "mini-fast" to marathons of three weeks or more. The juice calories make it easier on those of us with jobs and activities that limit our quiet time, but even juice fasters should only take on the challenge when they're able to lock in at least eight hours of sleep every night and concentrate on self-healing.
I decided a three-day commitment would be a good inauguration. After perusing the helpful recipe guide at Altmedicine.about.com, I chose a green-apple-celery combo that tasted fresh and tart-sweet, and was said to target kidneys, liver and intestines. A walk to Stanley's and $9 later, I was set to start.
Day One: Not too bad. The best part: no post-lunch food coma! One Nalgene lasted me the workday; a few more cups around dinnertime, and I felt like a fasting champ. I fell asleep contemplating the number of hours I could add to my life if I stuck the fast out for a month.
Day Two: Tougher. The excitement was evaporating, along with my energy. I doubled my juice intake, but still felt downright spacey by 8 p.m. Crabby and a little lightheaded, I tucked in early.
Day Three: Total turnaround. My legs actually felt lighter when I took a step; my head was clear, and my attention span was back on track. I decided it was best to stick to my three-day goal and end on a positive note. I broke the fast gently with a meal of crackers, hummus, avocado and sprouts, washed down with green-ginger tea.
The final take: I'll trust my gut, which felt pretty good about the whole process. In the short term, the fast gave me an energy spike and made me really proud of my own willpower. But the real success is in the long term: Fasting forced me to take a hard look at the way I take care of myself, leaving me with an honest craving for more fresh and healthy foods, regular sleep and more water, which may just help me form habits that stick.
Venture Out: Want to reap the benefits of fresh juice, but not quite ready to commit? Outstanding places to get a great natural elixir:
Jerusalem Cafe A tall glass of frothy carrot-celery is one of the freshest things going at this explosively popular falafel-and-shawarma joint in Oak Park.
Cousin's Incredible Vitality As if this raw foods trendsetter needed any more attention, the fresh juice "smoothies" are unbeatable, with intriguing ingredients like carob and red chilies.
Orange Fashion your own recipe from a long list of fruits and veggies ranging from orange and apple to watermelon, kiwi and cucumber.
Charmer's Cafe Coffeehouse manager Danah Albaum is a proponent of all things liquefied. Ask to try her newest concoction, or opt for the delicious pear-ginger combination.
After four greener-than-average college years as a co-op dweller-turned-aspiring-permaculturist, Julia Steinberger finds it hard not to feel guilty about her one-bedroom apartment, daily commute and indulgence in the occasional dollar burger. She'd like to dream that she could live in a tent/treehouse/rabbit hole, but the truth is, she'd rather stay in the city while doing her best to leave a lighter footprint on the earth. You can contact her here.