I have a really bad stomach.
Years ago, I saw a gastroenterologist who told me I have Irritable Bowel Syndrome, which is also commonly known as the diagnosis doctors provide when they can’t figure out what exactly is wrong with you. IBS doesn’t show up on any tests or scans and it doesn’t change your bowel tissue, so there’s no way to definitively diagnose it.
Without going into too many details, I have a belly that is easily upset and reacts badly to a lot of foods. Stress and anxiety go directly to my stomach, and most days, I have some degree of discomfort.
IBS isn’t a serious illness, but, if you’ll excuse the pun, it’s a pain in the ass.
I’ve always tried to manage it with a healthy diet, exercise and lots of Zantac, but there are periods when it’s particularly bad where nothing seems to help.
The last few months have been brutal, and I decided to try something I’d never done before to see if it would make a difference.
A friend of mine had recently done a 3 day juice cleanse to “reset” her system and launch her on a path to healthier eating. The idea appealed to me immensely. I loved the idea of emptying out my system completely and starting fresh to see how I’d feel afterwards. Maybe I’d just starve for three days and feel no differently at the end of it all, or maybe I’d feel awesome. It seemed like a pretty innocuous experiment.
That said, you should know that I didn’t consult a doctor* about going on a juice cleanse, nor is there any actual proof (at least none that I could find) that juice cleanses do anything to “detoxify” the body or manage stomach issues. I decided to take my chances.
I contacted the lovely Joanna at Rejuice Nutrition** and asked her to prepare the same cleanse my friend had done – which consisted of one fruit smoothie with vegan protein, 3 green juices, and a small salad with about a couple of tablespoons of nuts and seeds or chickpeas with an alkaline dressing per day – for three days. The salad actually replaced a second fruit smoothie since I wanted to continue exercising while I was cleansing and Joanna suggested it would help provide some extra energy. I was also allowed to snack on veggies if I felt hungry or needed something to chew. Drinking lots of water is encouraged, and herbal teas are fine too. Coffee is not encouraged. I anticipated this would be a problem because I LOVE my coffee and have a cup every single morning before I’m even fully awake.
I picked up my three days of juices and salads on a Monday morning, and drank my first smoothie in the car on the way back home. “That was delicious!”, I thought to myself. “I could do this for weeks!”
I followed up the smoothie with a power yoga class and was ravenous when I got home. I poured my first green juice over a glass of ice, squeezed some lemon into it, and pretended to enjoy it. Some people love green juices (filled with kale, cucumber, spinach, celery, green apple and lots of other very healthy stuff), but I don’t. It took me a while to down that first one. Then I looked in the fridge and counted 8 more that I’d have to consume over the next 3 days. I may have cried a little. I no longer felt like I could do this for weeks.
That night, because I must be a masochist, I prepared macaroni and cheese, from scratch, for my family.
I sipped the second juice while I cooked, weirdly excited for my salad which I expected to eat while my family gorged themselves on pasta covered in cheese and heavy cream.
I couldn’t actually wait that long and had my supper at 4pm. I had my third juice at around 7 when I was hungrier than I’d ever been in my life. I made an herbal tea, a plate of cucumbers, and got into bed at 8 because I just wanted to stop thinking about food.
On Tuesday I woke up with a massive, pounding headache and zero energy. I skipped the gym (I never skip the gym), had my smoothie and tried to wait it out. I really felt like shit. Then, in the interests of full disclosure, I committed a cleanse sin and had a half a cup of coffee with a little almond milk. It definitely took the edge off, but you should definitely not have coffee if you’re really committing to a cleanse. This would be a good time to mention that you’re supposed to prepare for a cleanse by slowly modifying your diet and eliminating things like caffeine, wheat, dairy, alcohol and processed sugar. I did not do this. In fact, I may have had a bowl of ice cream the night before I started the cleanse. Ice cream never agrees with me. I am clearly not the best at following directions.
Overall, day 2 sucked. I had so little energy, I felt depressed. I bitterly prepared dinner for my family. I should have told them to order a pizza. By night-time, my kids claimed I was delirious.
I almost punched my daughter in the face when she tried to take a bite of my salad and I pretended the kitchen floor was a skating rink and glided my way around the island in my socks.
My family encouraged me to go to bed early so they wouldn’t have to deal with me for any longer than necessary.
I felt pretty good the morning of day 3. I had coffee again to avoid the splitting headache of the previous day. I got to a yoga class, went to a lunch meeting, drank juice and tea while everyone ate various delicious things and stole the cucumbers out of my friend’s salad. I went to work with a juice in hand where the father of one of my students asked if it tasted as bad as it looked.
I proudly declared that I was on day 3 of a juice cleanse, feeling quite morally superior and extraordinarily virtuous.
I didn’t get home from work until after 7, and didn’t get to my salad until close to 8pm which had been my bedtime the two previous nights. I don’t know if I was in a state of euphoria because I knew I’d get to eat food the next morning, but I wasn’t particularly hungry and definitely felt more energetic and less crazy.
The post-cleanse rules are similar to the preparation rules that I didn’t follow. Given all the effort I’d put into the three days, I decided to be a better listener. I stuck to a vegetarian diet for a few days, avoided dairy, gluten and sugar and refused to look at a can of Diet Coke – my guilty pleasure. I slowly introduced fish and chicken and continued to eat tons of fruits and vegetables, just not in pureed form. I tried to give up refined sugar but I like chocolate too much and I am not a saint.
I assumed I’d gradually go back to my old way of eating which, while generally healthy, didn’t really exclude anything – even foods I knew aggravated my system. But it’s five weeks post-cleanse, and I’m still off gluten and dairy, still eating tons of fruits, veggies and other clean foods, drinking water instead of Diet Coke, and I feel amazing.
My stomach has never felt better.
I don’t have Celiac Disease, and while I’ve never tolerated dairy well, tests show that I’m not lactose intolerant. But I think there must be something in gluten and dairy that trigger some sort of inflammatory reaction in my gut.
Whatever is it, staying away from those foods and maintaining a clean diet has made a huge difference in the quality of my daily life.
At the end of the day, I really believe that despite what the critics say, doing a juice cleanse rebooted my digestive system. More importantly, it prompted me to make some huge changes in my diet and I’m reaping the benefits.
Now if only someone could tell me how to break up with wine.
*You should consult with your doctor before you decide to do a juice cleanse.
**No sponsorship was provided by Rejuice Nutrition for this post, but I’m happy to share that I was super happy with my cleanse experience.