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What I Learned From My Five-Day Juice Cleanse

Juice 2 - orange
Juice cleanses are like Miley Cyrus – they’ve been around for a while but lately they’re getting lots of attention.

I completed my first cleanse towards the end of 2012 in an attempt to get rid of severe daily migraines. I did it for five days and it was a success: I woke up on the last day feeling amazing and completely free from head pain.

For a more detailed explanation why I did it, how I got started, what I ate and how I felt see my Diary of a Juice Cleanse, but for now here’s what I learned along the way and the habits I've kept up since.

What I learned

The benefits are true
The benefits you hear about juice cleanses are true. Apart from my primary goal of getting rid of migraines (the only thing I was actually concerned with), here’s how the cleanse helped me:

  • Better sleep. I fell asleep more quickly, slept soundly the whole night, and woke up feeling refreshed.
  • Clearer skin. I had less breakouts, no bags around my eyes (also the whites of my eyes were brighter) and was more glowing in general.
  • More money. Well, I saved money, so that’s kinda like the same thing. (I also apply this principle to clothes… surely if I’m getting a dress for $80 down from $200 I’m saving $120…?) I discuss this more below, but basically it’s not hard to see how when you social with friends who are spending $10 on a glass of wine or $20 on a lunch and you’re sipping a green juice, you’re saving money.
  • Weight loss. The scales said 4kg (9lb) but I think it was actually about 2kg (4.5lb) from the way my clothes fit. Also my stomach got a lot flatter because the nature of a juice cleanse eliminates any bloating foods.

Vegetables are delicious
My mum was right all those years about broccoli! I developed a taste for vegies that I never thought was possible, which has stuck with me to this day. Now I can't get enough of salad, look forward to snacking on celery and carrot sticks with homemade avocado dip, and every time I eat out at a restaurant or café my first thought is, “which dish has the most vegies?” I always thought I was healthy before but my cleanse opened my eyes as to how much my diet lacked vegetables and now if I don’t eat them, I crave them.

Preparation is everything
Meal prep is essential for a successful juice cleanse – or really any healthy eating plan in general. When you’re prepared, there’s no chance of eating something you shouldn’t, getting so hungry you want to faint, or giving up altogether. Before my cleanse, I worked out what I was going to have and when (eg. every three hours at 9am, 12pm, 3pm and 6pm) as well as "back up food" if I got really hungry, like cherry tomatoes, blueberries and avocados.

Eating right saves you more money in the long run
Normally I spend a fait bit each week on groceries for myself and my partner, eating out, socialising and on alcohol. The cost of my cleanse was only about $10 a day (which included $2 for coconut water, so $8 for the fruit and veg) so you can see how a juice cleanse can save you money. But even when you’re finished a cleanse, lessons it teaches you like cutting out processed food and drinks, shopping at farmers markets and bulk whole food stores, limiting alcohol and catching up with friends for a walk instead of lunch are all bank-balance friendly.

You can recover from FOMO
By the end of my cleanse, any pangs of FOMO – the “fear of missing out” – were gone. On Day 4, I went out for lunch with a friend at a café and was perfectly content to sip on my green juice while she ate lasagne (one of my favourite treat meals), fries and a creamy mocha. Previously, this would be my thought process: “Mmmm that smells delicious… I would KILL for that! Maybe I could ask for a bite? No, no, it’s not worth it. Bloody juice cleanse! I’ll have to make a lasagne at home in the next week…” But instead, my thoughts were much simplified: “I would love to eat that, but oh well.” It was amazing. I learned that the more you eat and drink a certain way, the easier it gets to tune out cravings for bad food, and eventually those cravings actually disappear.

Calorie counting is exhausting, difficult and unnatural
I started counting calories about three years ago, and more recently carbohydrates and protein too. But I felt like I reached saturation point. It made eating a chore. I slowly became more and more obsessed with food – I was scared to eat out at restaurants; petrified when I couldn’t weigh foods to work out their exact weight and therefore calories and macronutrient breakdown; guilty when I’d eaten over my self-appointed daily calorie limit; upset when I missed out on morning teas at work because I couldn't accurately calculate the calories in the treats that colleagues had baked. It was just no way to live. Counting energy intake in any form – calories, kilojoules, ‘points’ (ie. Weight Watchers) – may provide a good framework for beginners who would like to lose a significant amount of weight. But it’s not sustainable and certainly in no way enjoyable, and I think unnecessary for someone like myself who is focused on health rather than weight loss. I’m glad I went through it all because it gave me a good understanding of fat, protein and carbs, as well as how to work out an ideal macronutrient average for myself (I try to stick to 50% fat. 30% protein and 20% carbs). But it was just so unnatural and I’m so glad I’ve found an eating style (paleo) that works for me and is just effortless.

Juice cleanse

Habits I’ve formed

I’ve kept up so many good habits for a whole year since the cleanse. I truly believe that these are so beneficial (and sustainable) that I’ll keep them up for life.

Drinking juices every day
Previously I made a carrot, celery and apple juice a few times a week. Now I make one every day as well as a green juice (with kale, silverbeet, green apple, cucumber, lemon and ginger) which I take to work and have with my lunch. I’m not surprised that since drinking these two juices every day I’ve never been sick. I used to get colds or the flu three or four times every winter, and now that doesn’t happen.

Having plenty of fresh vegetables and fruit
As well as the two juices I also have strawberries with my breakfast, at least half an avocado and a cup of spinach a day (in a smoothie I made for lunch), I love snacking on vegies if I’m hungry in the afternoon, and my dinner always includes a huge plate of salad or steamed/roast vegies. Also if I'm out for dinner I always order a side of salad or vegies – you'd be surprised at how so many meals don't actually contain many vegetables at all.

Being free from counting calories
It feels amazing to put together a meal and not have to work out its calorie content, because I know it doesn’t matter when I’m using fresh, natural and unprocessed ingredients. It’s liberating and makes eating more about tasting your flavours, enjoying the textures, listening to your hunger signals, eating intuitively and being grateful for access to good quality food. It makes it less about guilt, shame, control, disappointment, regimented and tiny portions, and set meal times. And that is an amazing thing.

Some final thoughts

As much as all the benefits of juice cleanses are true, the hard parts are too. Hunger, irritability, moodiness and caffeine withdrawal are definitely part-and-parcel of a cleanse. For me those drawbacks only lasted three days, but they can be much longer for other people. I did my cleanse when I didn’t have any social engagements on – because not only can temptation can get the best of anyone, but being unpleasant to your friends and family is a definite possibility!

As well as being a homebody, I also didn’t exercise during the cleanse. During any sort of detox your body gets very little energy from food and so it’s vital not to over-exert yourself. For the record, I worked out my cleanse to be approximately 800 calories (very little) which mostly come from carbohydrates (mainly in the form of sugar) so there's no protein or good fats to keep you full, build muscle, repair cells or do any of the other millions of things that protein and fat are vital for.

In terms of length of time , I think anyone would see benefits from just two or three days, though five days is good and seven would be the maximum.

Thinking about cleansing?

Australia-wide: Schkinny Manniny. From $295 for five days.
Perth: Pure Glow Cleanse, Perth’s newest juice cleanse delivery company.
Sydney: Orchard Street, which offers premium, organic juices and is a favourite with Aussie celebs such as Lara Bingle. From $425 for five days.
US and Canada: BluePrint Cleanse. From $325 to $400 for five days.

So there you go. If you have any other questions please ask away in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them!