Recently I embarked on a five-day juice cleanse in an attempt to get rid of reoccurring daily migraines that I’d had for several weeks, which even the strongest painkillers prescribed by my doctor weren’t fixing.
I was already quite healthy, exercising regularly and eating a diet mostly free from grains, dairy, legumes and added sugar. I thought that was enough to keep me well, but to be honest I’d noticed that red wine, dark chocolate and ‘treat meals’ were creeping in more and more. I didn’t exactly think a glass of wine and a slice of cake a few times a times a week were the cause of my head pain, but I decided to go back to basics and eliminate all possible causes of my migraines, starting with what I was eating and drinking, and see if that helped. So I decided to embark on the purest diet I could – homemade juices using only organic fruit and vegetables – for five days.
What is a juice cleanse?
A juice cleanse is a short-term detox to purify your body. Taking a break from solid food gives your digestive system a rest and floods your cells with nutrients.
Depending on the cleanse, you drink up to eight raw fruit and vegetable juices a day, with nut milks and herbal teas optional , and eliminate all solid food, soft drinks, coffee and alcohol. Three to five days is a common length of time but some crazy people do seven to 14 or even longer.
While the first two to three days are usually really tough – think headaches, hunger, irritability, not sleeping well and lack of concentration/focus – the following days are meant to bring benefits of clearer skin, sound sleep, weight loss, increased energy and mental clarity. I experienced mostly all of these, both good and bad.
Why did I do a cleanse?
As I mentioned above, I had developed severe headaches that went from every few months to every few weeks to every day. I was taking painkillers every two hours, alternating between the strongest over-the-counter paracetamol with codeine and ibuprofen but they weren’t helping whatsoever. I went to my doctor who advised me to take a slow-release anti-inflammatory – like a super-Nurofen once a day – but after two weeks they hadn’t done anything either and I was getting frustrated. I was also concerned for my poor liver have to work overtime to process all those drugs.
It was kismet how the process started. It was a Saturday and I had been out for lunch with friends, but had to come home early because the headache I’d woken up with was getting so severe that I needed to lie down in a dark room. When I arrived home my partner had set up a movie for us to watch (that I had downloaded months earlier, but hadn’t got around to watching) called Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead, a documentary made by Australian businessman Joe Cross. Fed up with being “fat, 40 and 40kg overweight”, Joe embarked on a 60-day juice fast – drinking only freshly-made fruit and vegetable juice for an entire two months – to lose weight. But along the way he also cured himself of a lifelong disease, discovered a clarity and vitality he didn’t know was possible, and inspired countless others to lose weight through the power of fruit and vegetables.
Armed with a bucketload of inspiration, I found some juice recipes, cleared my calendar of social engagements (if I was going to be hungry and grumpy, I wanted to do it in the privacy of my own home) and mentally prepared for the massive task of foregoing wine, chocolate, meat and coffee for the following five days.
How did I start?
While there are now companies that make the process much easier, sending you out pre-packaged juices for however many days you choose to cleanse, there weren’t any such services in my area at the time. So I stocked up on cheap fruit and veg at the farmers markets and made my juices fresh each morning (with my awesome Breville juicer, which I have since used daily and it’s still going strong) and put them in glass jars to drink throughout the day at work. It took me about 20 minutes in total to get the produce out of the fridge, wash it (with this fruit and veg cleaner, which I recommend, or you can make your own), make the juices and clean the juicer.
What did I eat?
The brave souls who attempt cleanses normally just have juice. While I was prepared to drink juice during the day, I knew night-times would be a major psychological hurdle for me – I didn’t think I could go without “eating” dinner – so I decided to have a bowl of raw vegetables. I also had a coconut water and herbal teas throughout the day. This was my menu:
9am Carrot, celery and apple juice + green tea
12pm Raspberry, spinach, banana, pear and apple juice + coconut water
3pm Kale, silverbeet, cucumber, green apple, celery, lemon and ginger + peppermint tea
6pm Raw vegetable salad (three cups of cabbage, carrot, mushroom, cucumber and broccoli) + chamomile tea
While I was doing the cleanse I kept a detailed diary about my headaches, sleeping patterns, hunger levels, energy and moods. This is the summary of how I went.
Why on earth did I decide to start a juice cleanse on the day of Melbourne Cup?! As if it wasn’t hard enough being ridiculously hungry, a bit sleepy, and having a pounding headache, I had to justify to colleagues why I didn’t touch the catered lunch which included mini quiches, meatballs, barbecue chicken, cupcakes, banana bread, mud cake and much more. Somehow I found the strength but I was starving the whole time but by the time I got home I was really sleepy and napped for an hour on the couch. I woke up at 7pm feeling even hungrier and when my raw vegetables didn’t hit the spot, I strayed from my plan and ate an avocado too.
I woke up with a pounding headache but it was the day of the US election and amidst the craziness I didn’t notice it again until the afternoon. But when it was all over at 3pm, without Obama fever to distract me and being on an adrenaline high I suddenly realised I could barely think straight from the pain. I took some Panadol and Nurofen but they didn’t do anything, which confirmed it was pointless even bothering with painkillers again. The good thing was that I while was hungry throughout the day, I was less hungry than the day before. But I didn’t think my body could already be used to so little food so I just put it down to the hullaballoo of the day. Later in the evening my sister came over for dinner. I’d told her I wouldn’t be eating but that I’d still cook for her. I was fine eating my bowl of raw vegetables, but I did feel a pang of annoyance that I still had to buy groceries, cook and clean up and get none of the benefits of a fresh home-cooked meal! But I just reminded myself that in the scheme of things it wasn’t a big deal.
I started to notice the first benefits of the cleanse on Day 3. Normally I used to wake up tired and sluggish, pressing snooze on my alarm at least 62 times (only a slight exaggeration). But I woke up by myself half an hour earlier than I had set my alarm for, feeling very refreshed – amazing! I still had a headache but it was less severe than the days before. Unfortunately in the evening I slipped up and had three glasses of wine… my partner, who finishes work at midnight most nights, got home “early” (9pm) and wanted to have a few drinks. I protested – and felt mad that he wasn’t being supportive of my efforts – but I still went ahead and drank. But I couldn’t be too angry at him or even at myself for it; I just reminded myself I was human and resolved for it not to happen again.
I woke up with a headache again, but it was definitely duller than the previous days. I could feel its presence throughout the day but while it was annoying, it wasn’t severe. I had a big win at lunchtime when I caught up with a friend; I had mentioned to her a few days before that I wouldn’t be eating, so we met at a café and I just brought along my green juice and coconut water. I was perfectly content to sip at those while she ate her delicious smelling lasagne and coffee. The mental breakthrough of “I’m fine doing my own thing around other people” felt amazing. I also wasn’t as hungry throughout the day, which made a nice change. By 5pm I’d actually eaten less than by the same time on Days 1-3, but I was nowhere near as ravenous. It seemed my body could adjust quite quickly.
I couldn’t believe it – I woke up without a migraine or the slightest headache. I also got the most amazing sleep. I had woken up feeling refreshed for the past few days, but Day 5 was the first time I had slept absolutely soundly through the night, without waking up or tossing and turning, which hadn’t happened in months. Another success was stepping on the scales – while weight loss wasn’t a goal, the scales said I’d lost 4kg (about 9lbs), although I think a more accurate loss would be closer to 2kg (4.5lb), which I kept off for the following months despite returning to my normal eating patterns.
Overall, it was an amazing success. The purpose of the cleanse was to rid myself of the insane head pain I’d been experiencing on a daily basis in the weeks leading up it, and it did just that. The other benefits – better sleeping, weight loss and saving money – were just an awesome bonus.
For the next part of this post visit What I Learned From My 5-Day Juice Cleanse and see what I learnt, the habits I’ve kept up since and if it’s something you’d like to try yourself.