Monday, February 10, 2014

Juice fasting: Hard lessons and headaches

After a particularly pleasant festive season, I found myself in need of a bit of a reset on my eating and drinking habits at the start of a new year. I’m quite fascinated with the relationship between nutrition and the body so most years I will try something new at this time, diet and exercise-wise.

For 2014, I chose a juice fast to be completed over just three days. That’s a pretty short cleanse – people regularly do them for 7 days – so I expected it to be a breeze. I've done juice/smoothie fasts of this length before, but usually incorporated a small, clean meal for dinner comprising a simple protein like fish or chicken with light veggies or salad. This is the first time I attempted a full juice-only fast and I followed the recipes and plan in this website; I found it to be very clear and helpful, with a good variety of recipes to choose from.

You can type ‘juice fast’ into Google any day and get a raft of personal experiences detailing the side effects, which range from headaches to a fuzzy head, an obsession with solid food and, eventually, an almost euphoric state of clear mindedness and extreme energy levels. For the sake of making an honest documentary of my experience, I experienced none of the upsides – they were a hellish three days and I could not wait for them to be over.

Here are the four most important things I learned during my juice fast:

  1. You absolutely cannot maintain an exercise and conditioning program while doing a juice fast. I’m not even talking hard training; even a brisk walk is difficult. Granted, most of the guides to these sorts of fasts advocate almost complete rest but I thought I’d keep up my normal routine and see how I fared. Wrong move. I wasn’t eating enough protein to regenerate my muscles and barely had enough energy to see straight, let alone run.
  2. Don’t underestimate the mental impairment brought on by fasting. This is true of all very low cal diets – you quickly lose the ability to think straight and be mentally agile. If you’re going to do it, choose a set of days you don’t need to go to work or choose a job for which you don’t need intelligence or any sort of mental prowess. (hhm, maybe that’s why models can survive on very little food...)
  3. I really like savoury foods. For years I thought my love of sweet baked goods was my weakness but after a full day of sweet, cold juices I had an almost incontrollable hankering for hot soup and salty nuts.
  4. Try not to hang around with people that are eating normal, delicious food. The smells will either drive you to absolute distraction or pound your headache up a notch.

A couple of times I momentarily wondered if I should keep the fast going for another few days to see if I could eventually make it past the nasty bit and get to the good but I just didn’t feel like I could make it. Perhaps I can give it another go in a couple of months when I can lock myself away for a few days and do nothing but drink juice and ignore the headaches. For the time being however, I have a life to live and work to do. I think the point at which I realised the full extent of my debilitation was when my work colleagues and boss started excusing my mental blanks on my own diet and calling for me to eat something!

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