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My Battle with a Juice Cleanse, as Told By a Survivor

By Emily Frost | January 28, 2013 7:29am

NEW YORK CITY — Food seemed to be everywhere in a way I'd never noticed before — the smell of frying fish wafted through a crack in my window, the scent of French fries permeated the subway car, ravenous New Yorkers sat at a window folding pizza slices into their mouths. 

My senses were on high alert. I was two days into a juice cleanse. 

The decision to cleanse coincided with Organic Avenue's launch of a juice concierge service, a person to assess your needs, steer you in the right direction and help you through the process. 

Perfect, I thought, someone to gripe to and answer all my weird hypochondriac questions.  

I started the cleanse against the advice of friends, relatives and strangers. My roommate even insisted mid-purge, "You should never start a cleanse in winter, that's when your body is in hibernation."

I was assigned to Ellie Scully, one of Organic Avenue's two new concierges and the kind of woman I aspire to be calm, poised, eager to listen and help.

But she was also direct. At our pre-cleanse meeting, Scully had some hard truths to deliver. "Two days before the cleanse, cut down to half caffeine," she said.

The theory is that ingesting only raw, plant-based ingredients detoxifies and purifies your body, essentially resetting it. The ingredients are easy to digest, taking the energy your body would have invested in breaking food down and redistributing it to the cleansing process, juicers claim.

I had some confessions Scully didn't want to hear. "I have weaknesses for burgers, pizza, beer, ice cream." 

We decided together on the Love Fast, which includes six juices a day and one small salad at night. 

Though it seemed like Scully was trying to get me to back off of bad habits pre-cleanse, I did the opposite. The weekend beforehand, I went out for beer, a tower of pickles and fries. Just hours before I stopped eating, I devoured an enormous double chocolate chip cookie from the legendary Levain bakery.

The cleanse started with the worst-tasting liquid I've had in a long time. The packaging said to dilute the "immune-boosting shot" of chlorophyll with water if you preferred, but that was a mistake. It's never going to be pleasant, best to hold your nose and knock it back.

As I labored through the drink, I tried to remember Scully's words.

"Chlorophyll helps bring oxygen to your blood. It's very healing for injuries. It's the deepest green you can get. It's very good for you." 

But not all the offerings tasted like fertilizer. Some were delicious and refreshing, like the pear or orange juice or the ginger-ade. 

By mid-afternoon each day, I'd feel faint, dazed and weak. On the verge of collapse, I'd reach for a spicy avocado soup, tomato basil or gazpacho verde, all of which come in juice bottles, and feel slightly whole again.

The first day was the worst. Knowing there are two more days is an uphill psychological battle. On day one, I hadn't started to feel that euphoria and burst of energy people are always raving about. I was exhausted.

Scully had promised "you [will] feel pretty darn good." Cranky and craving everything in sight, I went to bed. 

On the second day, I made the mistake of waiting to pick up my juices until I was near my office in Midtown. Hours went by and all I had was water. I felt delirious, and like I might say something strange and off-putting to one of my colleagues at any moment. 

Scully's words echoed eerily: "You shouldn't have fear around [the threat of hunger]. If you feel a twinge of hunger, move on to the next juice." 

I thought repeatedly about my next fix that day and whether I was rushing through the day's juices too quickly. 

On the second evening, my roommate came home with a friend in a boisterous mood, carrying wine and M&M cookies. 

Rather than let the cookies torture me, I called it a night. I remembered what Scully had told me: "You want to go to bed early, you want to wake up early."

That's because there's no going out and there's no late-night snacking. 

On the third day, though people repeatedly told me I looked pale, I did feel an extra spring in my step. Emails from Organic Avenue with upbeat messages and positive, encouraging check-ins from Scully seemed to have influenced my outlook.

Or it could have been knowing the cleanse was almost over. 

I broke the fast the next day, believing that Scully's mantra, about how the cleanse changes your perspective, is in part true.

"You have the instinct to change your ways," she said.

I also learned another important lesson. Organic Avenue's "Mindful Mint Chocolate Smoothie" is not even close to the bliss in one spoonful of Ben and Jerry's.

Other Cleanses Available in New York City

Blueprint Cleanse

This all-liquid cleanse includes fruit juices and green juices. Blueprint has three levels. All levels include a lemon-agave-cayene mix, meant to force out impurities. The cleanse costs $65 a day or $195 for three days, compared with $210 for a three-day Organic Avenue cleanse.

Cooler Cleanse 

Priced at $58 a day, this cleanse includes simpler combinations than others, including two-ingredient juices like watermelon and lime or grapefruit and mint. The marketing-speak around the product is much simpler and more direct as well. Answering the question "why cleanse?" straightforwardly, with: "It will help your body run better."