Juicy Juicy

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I guess that it should not surprise me that I haven’t written as much about my experiences on the month-long journey of the juice fast as I’d intended to. The days have caught up with me. I’m surprised to look at the calendar and see only one more day left of fasting. I was on the phone with my naturopath two days ago, checking in with her, and going over some of the foods that I will be using as I start my raw diet for the next ninety days.

While I have done juice fasts before (I have habitually done juice fasts in the high heat of August every year, fasting as briefly as three days or for as long as the entire month, depending upon the year, my schedule and the way my body feels), I have never attempted a raw diet—vegetarian, yes, raw, no—before and needed some guidance.

I was pleased to hear from her that perfection is not required in a raw diet, that only about 80% of the foods need to be strictly raw and that I was allowed, for instance, brown rice (which I love) and baked tofu (ditto) while on the diet. I feel that with these allowances, and with the occasional baked sweet potato, I’ll be able to make the diet work, especially with the help of books like Raw Food Made Easy by Jennifer Cornbleet and Ani’s Raw Food Essentials by Ani Phyo to help offer food plans, great recipes and, perhaps most important, composed shopping lists for staple foods.

But I digress: the juice fast.

The who/what/when/where/how of it. The thing in life that I have found easiest and hardest, both at the same time.

The first thing you need to know about juice fasts is that you are not really fasting at all. You are flooding your body with every nutrient it needs, in a form in which it need not be digested, only absorbed directly so that every ounce of the goodness is easily used by your body. You will be amazed by the lack of waste. Your body will use everything you give it if your juice is well-composed. And the energy (and a great deal of energy it is) that your body usually uses for digestion is instead used to heal that which needs healing.

Thus, after a juice fast, I have been told by a dental assistant that I had the healthiest gums she’d ever seen. I have had my blood tested before and after juice fasts to prove that the process of fasting has a dynamic influence over everything, from high blood pressure to cholesterol to blood sugar.

Everything comes into balance; the body heals itself. This is the blessing of the juice fast.

Along with the complete detoxification that also takes place. Using only pure organic juice allows the body to flush out all that it is holding in. The bowels detoxify. (I leave that process to your imagination. I will only say that that part of the fast—the first ten days or so—is unpleasant.) The body breaks down fat that is has hurriedly stored, in which it places excess sugars, uric acid, etc. (Also no fun, but the way you feel after it has been broken down and the toxins flushed away is well worth it.)

The process of detox can be harsh; the person fasting may need to use probiotics to support this phase and may also need to use a source of protein (I use brown rice protein powder) to supplement the juice in order to keep strength up. Once the detox phase passes (you can see it pass by watching your tongue, which will at first be thickly coated and later a clean pink as the toxins leave your system), the fast becomes pleasant.

I have never experienced actual hunger while on the fast. Because I make sure that I have plenty of juice at all times. I make sure I am satisfied; so what I miss is not actually eating but chewing. There is something in the act of chewing that is pleasurable. Believe me, you miss it when it’s gone.

To give you some general information about juice fasts, it’s important, right up front, to point out that they should always be undertaken with the agreement of and supervision of your health care professional. Like anything else that dynamically impacts health, they should never be done in secret. (It always amazes me how many Americans feel that their health care professional should be able to help them, even though they keep secrets form them, go to other doctors to get other pills that they want that they never mention to their primary care doctor. They abuse the trust that exists between themselves and their doctors and then get angry when that doctor can’t help them to get well.)

Once you’ve set up the terms of the fast (and, as I’ve said, they can be as brief as three days or as long as thirty—after thirty days, the body may begin to digest muscle as well as fat, and we don’t want that, so thirty days is the absolute limit, even though I tend to feel, after three weeks in, as if I could fast endlessly, which is when my naturopath steps in and tells me to stop), you begin to prepare yourself for it.

First, you need a proper juicer. There are many on the market. Over the years, I have come to the conclusion that Breville makes the best juicers. They are expensive, but they have strong motors that last a long time, sharp blades and, best of all, wide mouths that all whole apples to pass into the machine without needing to be chopped. You can do the research for yourself; there are many fine juicers on the market. But one tip: don’t bother with those under a hundred dollars. They never work right and break immediately under constant use (and during the fast they will be used constantly).

Find the juicer that is right for you and order it. While you are waiting for it to arrive, begin to prepare yourself for the fast. You can’t just start fasting, you must allow your body to slowly prepare itself.

You do this by dropping specific foods over the days. Stop meat first, then the rest of animal proteins (dairy, eggs and the like), then stop with any processed foods, like catsup, and then stop with the carbs, like rice or wheat, and then slowly winnow down off vegetables and fruit alike until you are ready to let go completely. I take a week to do this. (On the other end of the fast, you have to do the exact same thing and add foods in slowly, slowly to allow your body to adjust.)

Then, juicer in hand, you begin. Over the years, I have always used a full array of fruits and vegetables when I’ve fasted. I would make “meal” juices of vegetables and “snack” juices out of fruit.

This time, I decided to do a much stricter fast. One that involved only green vegetables. So I was juicing kale, Swiss chard, cucumber, zucchini, celery, cabbage, parsley, watercress, and the like. For fun, I occasionally threw in carrots (too much sugar for this fast, so I limited them), tomatoes, and radishes.

What I have found is that the juice fast that involves fruit juices in easier and more fun, with its balance of sweet and savory juice, but the fast like the one I am on now, the fast involving green vegetables only is deeper and far more powerful. I’ve lost more weight on this fast than I have on any other. It also has cut through bloating, and given me a deeper sense of detoxification as well. I recommend it, although it is a more difficult fast.

In fact, as I look over the last paragraph, I see that I (subconsciously?) omitted broccoli from the list of things I juiced. Perhaps because I’ve found broccoli juice to be the single worst taste I’ve ever had on my tongue. And yet, broccoli is such a powerfully healing food, it is needed to be included in the juice. (By all means, mix some coconut water—you can find raw coconut water if you are a stickler—and some green tea into the juice to cut it and give it a sweeter, more pleasant flavor.)

I make three juices a day and I make about 30 to 40 fluid ounces at a time. This is a lot of juice, several glasses per juicing. But in this way, as I’ve said, I never experience hunger.

It is important that you drink the juice within fifteen or twenty minutes of juicing for best benefit, but, as we live in an imperfect world in which we tend to be running around all the time, it is possible to keep juice for a few hours. It won’t be as good as it would have been in the first few minutes, but what can you do? Just keep it in a closed, opaque container, like a water bottle. Don’t let the air get to it, or the juice will oxidize like an apple that has had its skin removed. Nothing will kill the benefit of the juice faster than contact with air. And make sure the container is opaque to keep it away from sunlight as well. Finally, keep it cold. Either in a hamper, like you’d use on a picnic—I know people who keep these in their trunks to protect their juice during the workday—or the refrigerator.

Finally, there is one other aspect of the juice fast that I want to mention: time.

You will find that, during the fast, you have so much more of it. You don’t take hours a day to prepare food. You don’t take more hours to eat it. When on the fast, I find that I have more time for myself and my thoughts than at any other time. And this is great, because I also find that, during the fast, while my body heals, my mind and spirit do also. In taking the time to slow down, to rest (and you do have to rest as much as possible as you simply will not have all the energy that you regularly do and because rest is key to the healing process), issues that have been as or more toxic to the body than sugar, flour, etc, will also be washed away. The fast brings a mental and spiritual clarity as well as physical.

As I said in the beginning of this post, I was talking to my naturopath the other day to help set up the plan for the days ahead when I step away from fasting (which is, strangely akin to going away to a health spa, even if you are at home in your own bed, kitchen, etc) and return to eating.

What I haven’t shared as yet is what I said to her. I told her that, since beginning my fast, I’ve been sleeping deeply, drinking in sleep. I’ve awakened energized, where I usually awaken to find myself still exhausted. I’ve lost weight—about twenty-five pounds so far. All bloat is gone. My feet have bones showing. My chin has reappeared and the shape of my face has changed from round to the oblong thing that is was twenty years ago. My skin is clearer and the texture of it has changed. My energy is up—in the last week or so of the fast, it always amazes me how much energy that I have in spite of not having had a solid meal in weeks.

My naturopath said to me, “You sound so good.” She sounded very pleased. Then I thanked her for her help and said that she had quite literally given me my life back. The arthritic pains that trouble me constantly have fades. My joints are fluid. My feet don’t hurt. I now have dropped two pants sizes and one shoe size. I’ve even dropped as ring size. Best of all, I look and feel younger, rejuvenated.

“The only thing that worries me,” I said to my doctor, “Is where I will be in five years. Will I be able to keep this up?”

“As long as you know me you will,” she answered.

I found this very comforting.

Starting Over from Scratch

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For me, it all started with numbers. I disliked all the numbers associated with me. My age. My blood pressure. My blood sugar. The waist size on my pants. My shoe size. All of them described someone older than I, sicker than I, more restricted by life than I. Over time, it came to seem as if gravity were pushing me down more than others.

So I decided to make a change.

I have been doing juice fasts every year for years now. Always in the high heat of August, when it feels so good to drink down the cool juice and then to sit outdoors, catching what breezes I can.

Sometimes the fasts are as brief as three days, just enough for a little detox and a little rest. Other times they can last a full thirty days, a period of time in which I can reassess, decide what aspects of life are working for me and which ones are not. It is a time to reassess work, relationships, and, most important, lifestyle choices—food, locale, etc.

Last August, I had set out to do a full thirty days. And I was nearly there. On day twenty-eight, Hurricane Irene swept up the East coast and walloped the state of Connecticut. We were without power for days. And, with no power, I had no juicer. Our excellent health food store, New Morning, was closed. Everything was closed. Trees were down everywhere, roads were flooded. Radio stations disappeared. The batteries on our old radio failed and stores were closed. So we went without.

In short, that fast ended abruptly.

One day I was juicing carrots, zucchini and cucumber. The next I was baling out the basement.

And after that we ate what food we had. Canned things. Bottled things. Crackers with peanut butter. Not the usual ending of the fast. I had intended to move onto raw foods for a time to continue losing weight and cleansing my body. But Irene changed my mind. Within two weeks it was as if the fast had never happened.

So, I’m on to the next fast now. To change those numbers. And I pray this time for a soft landing.

It was a funny thing that motivated me this time. It was a picture that I saw on Facebook. It has been all over the Internet by now, I’m sure, but I’ll post it here:

This bloated possum serves as the "Before" image for my juice fast

It’s a possum you broke into a bakery in Australia. You can see from the hole in the back of the box that he was a good bit smaller when he chewed his way into the box then he was when he finished eating. Image what the little guy must have thought when he got into that box. I’m sure he smelled the pastry, and so he had a clue as to what was ahead. But to find so many! And so many flavors! He apparently ate all night until he not only was too swollen to get back out of the box, but even to move.

Take a close look at the picture. His expression tells the whole story.

So I saw this picture and, at first, laughed. It is funny. (I just hope that the people who had the sense of humor to take the picture also had the sense of humor to let the poor thing go.) But then I began to identify with the animal. I realized that I look like that too many nights after too many dinners. That could be me on the couch instead of the possum in the box. And, like the possum, my own discomfort, my own bad numbers (aside from age) were those that I earned from my own bad choices.

So I have decided to make a good choice for a change and to decide to go on a juice fast as a means of starting from scratch. If you’ve never experienced a juice fast, it is an amazing thing. A time of detox, which can be quite difficult, followed by a time of rest and reflection that can yield powerful results if you let it. And then, at the end, there is a time of joy, as your being feels charged with energy and healed from within. It it, as I say both a difficult thing that requires determination and a wonderful, powerful tool for healing.

Last summer, I mentioned my juice fast in passing here at Psora Psora Psora, as a bit of an amuse bouche. This time, as the stakes are higher, I intend to write in more detail, giving notes on how to do a juice fast safely and effectively. Even with a nod to giving some recipes for specific juices. (Hint: lots of carrots are involved.)

There’s nothing that I can think of in life, short of joining the witness protection program, that can give you a fresh start like a juice fast. I hope that, as you read these entries, you come to agree.

Juicy

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Because it has been a habit of mine for a long time now, I no longer think that it is strange.  But when I stop and think about it, or when I put it this particular way, I can’t help but find just how odd my habit is.  You see, I have a habit of not eating for one month out of every year.

Or to put it better, I have a habit of not chewing for one month out of every year.  I eat plenty, in fact I pack my system with nutrients, but I do not chew them.

 

Every August, I go on a juice fast.  I started it some years back when I was feeling what I can only say was “extremely middle-aged.”  I felt fat, tired, rather listless and, worst of all, trapped.  Trapped in my own body and trapped in a cycle of thoughts and actions that I knew were not the healthiest, the best they could be.

So I sought out a reset button.  I went to my naturopath before beginning my juice fast, and she mentored me through it.  Not only did she stand by and add rice protein powder when it was needed, but she encouraged me through it and educated me as to what I could expect from the juice fast.

And, if you are ever to undertake one, you need to know what to expect.

You need to know that the first stage of the fast, the detox stage, is a doozy.  Your tongue is coated white, your breath smells.  You feel achy and tired and irritated.  You may break out in rashes, and some of the stuff that will come out of your body will appall you.  Still you have to go through it.  It is an important part of the fast.

You see, the whole reason to go on a juice fast it to allow your body to heal.  And detoxing the system of all the junk that you regularly carry around inside, packed down in your bowels is an essential part of that healing process.

When you go on a juice fast, you are literally flooding your body with nutrients that are given to it in liquid form.  These nutrients are absorbed directly into your body.  They do not need to be digested.  And because the body does not have to use the amount of energy that it usually dedicates to digestion (especially of things like fried foods and red meats), it is able instead to dedicate that energy to healing, to rebuilding tissue that needs attention.  Kind of like when a community dedicates itself to rebuilding infrastructure.

And more, the juice helps cleans the bowels, sweeping away built up waste.  Therefore, the first few days of the fast can be remarkable in terms of what is lost.  Bloat goes away.  Toxins are flushed.  By the end of the first ten days or so of the fast, your system is beautifully cleansed, your eyes are brighter and your skin looks better.

For one thing, the juice fully hydrates.  For another, is fully nurtures the system.

I learned long ago that, for me, the best time of year for the fast is the high heat of summer.  Others swear by the first days of Spring as the best time.  But whenever the fast takes place, it renews, reinvigorates and it heals.

Most years, I only fast for three days.  To get to those days, I do three days of prep, in which I eliminate foods each day until, on the fourth day, I begin my fast.  While fasting, I take at least four large juices a day—two vegetable and two fruit.  In addition, I drink plenty of water.  At the end of the three days, I take three more to slowly add foods back into my diet, always breaking my fast simply with vegetable broth.  Then I add cooked vegetables.  Then I add brown rice as well.  Then I begin the fourth day with yogurt and begin to build back up to eating as usual.

Sometimes, however, I go for a full four weeks.  These are special fasts, and special times when I can take the time to rest and pay attention to myself and my needs, when I can meditate and be still.  In years when I am working hard in August, I can only do the short fast.

But this year, I will do the full twenty-eight days.  I am eighteen days in already.  My detox has passed and been replaced, as it has been in the past, with a sense of energy and concentration. In the first part of the fast, I was too tired to write about it.  Now, with time on my hands (it would amaze you how much time you have when you don’t have to cook, eat or clean the kitchen every night), I will finish up the fast here, with you, letting you know more about juicing (something I have become passionate about over the years) and the occasional juice fast.