Juice Fasts have become all the rage over the last couple of years. I’m occasionally asked for my opinion on these types of fasts and to be honest, I have never given them much thought. This may be because they are generally too extreme for most people I work with and, I just love food!
I certainly hadn’t researched juice fasts but my general opinion was that to truly detoxify, your body needs a range of nutrients that cannot be obtained from fruit and vegetable juice alone, such as amino acids from protein (for the production of glutathione, the mother of all antioxidants and critical for detoxification). Ultimately, I thought they were a passing fad.
My interest was peaked, however, as more and more evidence emerged regarding the benefits of intermittent fasting (IF), which were more than just detoxification. IF can be everything from multiday fasting to skipping a meal or two on certain days of the week. High performing athletes were eating this way and experiencing incredible results. I had a few conversations with friends I highly respect in the health world who believe in the benefits. I then came across a blog post written by fellow health nut Claire Hargreaves, on her experience and that was it, I decided to try it for myself.
Intermittent Fasting has been studied for 20 years and there is a significant amount of research in animals proving the benefits. Some of the benefits shown are:
Regenerates the Immune System and reduces the risk of age-related diseases such as heart disease. Read about it here
Ramps up autophagy – this is a kind of garbage-disposal system in cells that gets rid of damaged molecules, including ones that have been previously tied to Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and other neurological diseases. Read studies here and here
Improves insulin resistance and onset of Type 2 Diabetes - Read a study here
Increases the production of brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF), increasing the resistance of neurons in the brain to dysfunction. This may protect against diseases like dementia (and BDNF makes you feel really good!) Learn more about the study here
In more recent human studies, fasting has shown to have a positive effect on cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. It doesn’t impact the cancer cells as such, but protects healthy cells from the harmful effects of chemo, thus improving the overall side effects of chemo. Read the study here
So, I decided to experiment on myself. What’s the worst that could happen in seven days? I feel like ass and all I have to do is have something to eat?
Our bodies like being stressed. Take exercise as an example. When we train, it puts stress on the body and breaks down muscle fibres. When these fibres recover they grow, leading to an increase in muscle mass.
Feast and famine is the norm for our bodies. 100,000 years ago, we didn’t eat four meals a day. We would go off, kill some sort of animal, gorge ourselves and then eat nothing for quite a while. I figured I was well equipped to handle seven days and I was keen to challenge my body.
Before I get in to the nitty gritty, I will say here that I am not recommending this, I am simply relaying my experience. If you are interested in doing a juice fast, I strongly recommend you seek professional advice first and use a reputable company for your juices that can guide you through the process. If you have any pre-existing health conditions, do not undergo fasting without consulting a holistic health practitioner or Accredited Practicing Dietitian. (A fast is not suitable for pregnant or breast-feeding women).
I did not undertake this experiment lightly. I did my research and read an absolute shite load on the subject. I worked out a plan that was going to be the best for my body and spoke to a few health nerds like myself that have done the same thing. I chose a date to allow me enough ‘mental’ preparation (which was about a week, ha!) and gave myself time for the logistical preparation.
I decided to make all my own juices. I did this for a few reasons:
a) I wanted my juices to be organic. It seems counterintuitive to me to use conventional produce that has been sprayed with pesticides and herbicides. One of the goals of fasting is deep detoxification so I wanted to limit my exposure to unnecessary chemicals.
b) Organic Juice fasts in Melbourne are expensive, man! About 600 bucks. I bought all my organic fresh produce for under $100. Obivously this doesn't factor in the time it takes to make the juice but still, I certainly saved a fair bit.
c) Oxidation: As soon as you extract the juice from its life source (the fruit) and expose it to light, heat and air, it rapidly begins to oxidize. You want to drink your juice as soon as possible after it is made to get the maximum nutrients and enzymes.
d) I wanted control over the juices I was drinking
Making your own juice may not be a viable option for most of you though. It does require a lot more planning and it is quite labour intensive, which could make your first juice fast very overwhelming. For this reason, going through a reputable company or health café that can support you with freshly made (organic if possible) juices is a good idea.
What I Did
I drank juice (around 2-2.5L per day) and filtered water for the whole week, nothing else. Upon rising, I would have a big glass of water with the juice of half a lemon and 1/3 teaspoon of Himalayan rock salt. This provided my body with essential minerals I wasn’t getting from food. I would make a green juice (cucumber, kale, green apple, lemon, ginger) as my ‘breakfast’ and then get cracking on making my juice for the day.
I made one big batch of CABALA juice, about 1.8L, that would see me through the day. CABALA juice is carrot, green apple, beetroot, red apple, lemon and yellow apple, a recipe designed by Tyler Tolman. I was recommended to check out Tyler’s work as he has a huge amount of experience running juice fasts in Bali and has done a significant amount of research in this area. You can check him out HERE. I would then make a ‘dinner’ juice at night, depending on what I felt like. This was either another green juice or just plain carrot juice.
But what about all that sugar?? To be honest, I wasn’t worried about the amount of naturally occurring fructose I was getting from the fruit. I’m pretty sure my body was utilizing it for energy, as I wasn’t eating anything else. Was I going to put on weight? I don’t think so. (I actually lost a few kilos, we will wait and see how much comes back on when I resume a normal diet). The documentary Fat Sick and Nearly Dead shows how an Australian man, Joe, loses 37kg and reverses his autoimmune disease from a juice fast. I degress.
I also did a ‘colon cleanse’ for the first 3 days of the juice fast. Again, this idea came from Tyler Tolman and was also recommended by Claire Hargreaves, a fellow health nut, budding naturopath and CrossFit Coach, who had just recently finished a 7 day fast. You can buy these already made up but again, I just made my own.
To make the colon cleanse, I mixed equal parts psyllium husks and ground flaxseeds in a big container (you can also use ground buckwheat but I couldn’t find any so I just omitted it from the mix). I then mixed one tablespoon of this fibrous mixture with a tablespoon of Bentonite Clay to make a single serve. I had this 5 times per day, every 2 hours, for the first 3 days of the fast.
The idea is that the bentonite clay draws out toxins, impurities and heavy metals from the body and the fibre ‘scrubs’ the walls of the bowel, removing the buildup of toxic waste. In an ideal world, our bowel would work optimally with no need for this. But the truth is, we live in the modern world with diets high in processed and refined foods, caffeine, alcohol, medications and drugs, the list goes on. As a result, our bowels can become a breeding ground for disease and illness.
Every morning of my fast I did an enema – eeek! Yep, this actually happened and was the scariest part of this process for me. After extensive reading and research, however, I decided it was an essential part of my fast. I wanted to fully immerse myself in this experience and I knew I couldn't pass judgement on it until I tried it.
The bowel is one of the predominant elimination pathways in the body. If you’re fasting and releasing toxins into the body, you really need to get rid of them and when you're not eating, having a normal bowel movement doesn't really happen. Enemas are also said to clean and heal the colon and help to eliminate parasites.
There is certainly a specific process to this and you need to be well-informed before starting. I bought a home enema kit online, watched a number of YouTube clips and again asked for advice from others that have done them. Email me if you have questions regarding this.
I did a salt-water enema the first day and coffee enemas for the remainder of the week. The coffee increases liver detoxification by stimulating the release of glutathione (the body’s most potent antioxidant and detoxifier). I brewed my own organic ground coffee beans at home but I know some people just buy an organic filtered coffee from a cafe for convenience.
Supplements: the only supplement I took was a high quality probiotic.
Exercise: I didn’t do any high intensity training at all for the whole week. Again, it defeats the purpose of the whole healing and detoxifying process. I highly recommend MOVING in some way though. I did bodyweight strength training, mobility and went on long walks.
Other things I did to make the most of my cleansing experience:
Sweating is a great way to get rid of some of those toxins. This is my lazy way to sweat. At HotBox Yoga (in Windsor, Melbourne), they use far infrared (FIR) which is claimed to be great for detox
I did this every day for 20 minutes on the days I didn’t do yoga. The Apps Headspace and One Giant Mind are great to get you started
Dry Body Brushing
The skin is one of the main elimination organs of the body, playing a large role in detoxification. It removes the dead skin cells and increases circulation and lymphatic drainage, allowing for more efficient detoxification. I did this every morning before showering and then moisturized with coconut oil after. This is something I will definitely keep in my daily routine!
Epsom salt baths
This really helps with the detoxification process. I was feeling flat in the afternoon of day 2 so I had a soak and immediately felt better.
Diaphragmatic breathing helps to oxygenate the body which is important for detoxification. Yoga is great way to use breathing with movement or just lie comfortably with your hands on your belly, breathe in for 4 counts, hold for 7, out for 8, for 5 rounds.
I made sure I spent 20 minutes in the sun every day, without sunscreen. Vitamin D is essential for energy and it just makes you feel good!
Cleaned out my wardrobe
Completed unrelated but thought I may as well give my cupboard a bit of a cleanse whilst I was at it
I chose a week where I didn’t have many social commitments or stressful work events.
If you decide to do a fast and continue to live a high stress life, you are going to really struggle. For your body to truly repair, it needs to be in the ‘rest, digest, repair’ branch of the nervous system, called the Parasympathetic nervous system. If you are constantly on the go, have a million deadlines, emails piling up and still training hard, your body will remain in ‘fight or flight’, known as the Sympathetic nervous system. Your body can’t be doing two things at once, so you won’t be getting the most out of your fast.
This is why these types of fasts are great to do at a retreat or when you are out of your normal environment, where you have nothing else to do but lie by the pool, get massages and go for long beach walks.
HOW I FELT
I was really unsure how I was going to feel not eating so day 1 was scary. To my surprise, I flew through the first day with no real hunger and usual energy levels.
I woke up every morning not feeling too hungry, despite not having eaten anything. I had a lot of clarity throughout the day and once my juices were made in the morning, I had a lot more time not worrying about meals or snacks. My daily energy was down slightly but this was manageable as I had scaled training back for the week.
The first 3 days I felt really good and didn’t feel hungry at all, just empty. Day 4 I woke up and lay in bed, trying to convince myself why I should end this early. Once I got up and started the day though, I was fine and knew I could continue.
I had waves of hunger throughout the last few days, but this only occurred when I hadn’t been drinking enough juice or water. I went through times where I thought I could go on doing this forever, and other moments where I REALLY felt I needed to eat something. But each emotion and feeling would pass just as quickly as it arrived.
On Day 5 I did my usual training session in the morning with my movement coach and surprisingly made it through with plenty of energy. Then I really started to fade in the afternoon. Apparently Day 5 of a fast is when all the toxins really get released. I tried to do some movement in the gym but felt quite dizzy. I was craving some sort of nutrition other than juice, so decided to have a cup of bone broth with ginger that I already had in the freezer (thanks Claire Hargreaves for this suggestion!). The fats and amino acids gave me an instant boost and I instantly felt revitalized.
Day 6 I had huge amounts of energy and was a little bit crazily joyous (possibly from the increased release of BDNF – the feel-good chemical in the brain). Andrew said something that probably wasn’t THAT funny, but I fell to the ground in absolute hysterics, like a complete weirdo.
I drank only half the amount of juice I had been drinking as I didn’t feel I needed it.
By the end of day 6 though, I was ready for my fast to end, not because I felt hungry but simply because I was over the whole process. I was over making juice and drinking juice. And I LOVE FOOD! I love eating and sharing a meal with my partner, friends and family. This is certainly what I missed most during my fast.
Day 7, I had a family breakfast where I ate the smallest amount of fruit, about ¼ cup, if that. Later that day I had the Raw Cleansing Salad from Foxes Den and added avocado (if you haven’t tried this salad before, do yourself a favour). This was the only food I really thought about during the week, I didn’t crave any other foods.
To officially ‘break my fast’ that night, I had another raw salad I made myself with more avocado and half a mango for dessert. It was amazing!
How you break your fast is just as important as the fast itself. Your stomach has shrunk and you need to slowly wake up your digestive fire. I stuck to raw foods for the first two days and eased my way back in to animal proteins afte that.
Please note that everyone is very different and fasting can be a very unpleasant process. If you have a diet that contains caffeine, sugar, processed foods and refined carbohydrates, it’s going to be rough. Headaches, nausea and severe fatigue are common. If this sounds like you and you choose to embark on a fast, there is a small amount of comfort knowing that the worse you feel, the more you probably needed it. Things like Epsom salt baths, lying in the sun and getting a massage can really help the process.
Post fast I feel extremely energetic, clear minded and very light. I certainly feel like my body has been well and truly ‘cleansed’.
Its said that you go through a process of ‘cellular clearing’ during a fast.
Fasting can be a very emotional process. We attach many feelings to food and we use it as a crutch to get us through tough times in life. When you stop eating, cleansing happens on a very deep level. Certain emotions may come up that you don’t expect, so please be prepared for this. Fasting may be a way to help you deal with the curveballs of life without reaching for food.
I found this process to be very mentally clearing and I had a lot of clarity around certain aspects of my life.
I feel a lot more connected to my body. Post fast, I have noticed I am more mindful when I’m eating and really pay attention to how full I feel.
In regards to long-term changes, I will incorporate Intermittent Fasting into my regular routine. I will try a 24 hour fast once a week and see how I feel. This process has also rebooted my desire to be more creative in the kitchen and try new things.
Will I do another one? It’s possible. I can see myself doing a shorter fast more regularly. Seven days felt like a loooong time.
Most importantly, next time someone asks me about juice fasting, I can speak from personal experience, as feeling is understanding.
Have you done a fast before? How did you go?
Please feel free to email me if you have any questions regarding this post here.