Over the Strawberry Moon
How I Learned to Stop Eating Food and Not Love Living on Juice Alone
I am a comfort animal—a devoted hedonist, a coffee addict, a person who many weekday mornings sits down to a full breakfast of sausage and eggs. A few weeks ago, a local juice company called Strawberry Moon offered us a free juice fast. It did not make a lot of sense for me to accept. The instructions read, in part: "If you absolutely need to eat, first try raw food... But the food desire is more of a head game. You can easily survive 30 days without food." Easily! Really. Who knew. I would try this juice fast! When I told a friend it meant I couldn't drink coffee, she laughed so hard she hit her head on a table.
Strawberry Moon offers a three-day fast, but they said that many people start to feel "really good" on the third day and wish they had "gone for the five-day instead." So I went for it. I was allotted four 16-ounce juices a day. For five days. "Once your juice arrives, remove solid foods from your diet, [and] flood the body with healthy nutrient-dense and enzyme-packed juice," warbled the instructions. Simple!
My first juice was green-brown: carrot, fennel, spinach, apple, cucumber. It made my mouth tingle with fennel. I felt cleansed-er already. And already hungry as fuck. While I was drinking it, Megan Seling sent an officewide e-mail with a picture of four different kinds of cupcakes she'd just brought in, adding, "I even brought my culinary torch for the brûlée!" It was going to be a very long week.
The science on juice cleanses is spotty. People who "cleanse" talk a lot about "toxins," but in any serious article about juicing, there's a quote from a reputable doctor who explains that your liver exists to filter out toxins from your food, and it doesn't need a "break" from its job. Strawberry Moon owner Sean Dereck told me in an e-mail that it was more about enzymes: "When digestive enzymes are always in demand, the body knows how to switch a systemic enzyme (for repairs) into a digestive enzyme. As systemic enzymes deplete, the aging process accelerates." I didn't feel younger at all, just tired—very tired, on the very first day.
My dinner juice was kale, celery, parsley, dandelion, ginger, and lime. The combo made my mouth burn, like if your front lawn came to life and you gave it a blowjob, and then you found out it had grass STIs. My mouth felt like that for an hour. When I woke up, I was hungry. I had a juice. It was orange, almond, and alfalfa. It tasted like a watered-down Creamsicle that came from a farm. I was still hungry.
When I walked in to work on day two carrying juice number two, which looked surprisingly like the Jolly Green Giant's diarrhea sample, my coworker Cienna Madrid, who was supposed to be juice-fasting with me, said, "Um... I owe you a hamburger." She'd fallen off the wagon after about nine hours. She spoke of paella and something wrapped in bacon. I missed chewing.
People asked a lot, so here is how I felt: hungry and bone-tired. I was always cold, I had a headache nonstop for three of the five days, and I was buried under a deep blanket of ennui. I looked around the world and couldn't for the life of me understand why people were bothering to go about their day. Nothing was meaningful. I looked forward to little else but going home each day and getting straight in bed, another fucking bottle of juice next to me.
Halfway through, I "absolutely" needed to eat a raw food. I had a single avocado for dinner. You cannot imagine how enjoyable it was. It smelled amazing, the texture was lovely, I'd somehow picked one at the perfect stage of ripeness. It was the best avocado ever. Could there be an upside to this juice fast?
Like many modern humans, I have a complicated relationship to food. I am a hungry girl and I love to eat. I wake up in the night wishing I could have breakfast already. I'm rarely picky, and I was raised by people who spend the bulk of their entertainment budget on delicious and beautiful food. In giving up solid food, I suddenly had to account for hours and dollars I hadn't thought much of. Without food, coffee, and alcohol, how and where could I socialize? How did I reward myself for hard work? How did I relax?
I had a big party with friends where we all drank juice (they also drank gin, and I almost did too). I got a lot more sleep, because there was no point in staying up. It got easier to live with the constant feeling of hunger, but I did not feel "light" or enlightened or free. I felt disconnected from the world—in a disturbing way, not a meditative way. I misdialed phone numbers all the time, made stupid typos. I kept thinking of a Sylvia Plath poem about a long fever ("Water, water make me retch./I am too pure for you or anyone./Your body/Hurts me as the world hurts God"). Other than that, I just thought about food.
And then it was Friday. I broke my fast at dinner, at a birthday party. Everyone in the office was concerned about the breaking of the fast—start small, they said. Try pale, tasteless things. I asked Strawberry Moon for advice; they said that "salads, smoothies, soups are easy to digest" and to "go easy on the booze."
I ended up eating three pieces of the greasiest, heaviest pizza I know of—from Northlake Tavern—and I washed it down with a great pinot noir. It was, obviously, fucking incredible. I had a slice of half-butter, half-chocolate birthday cake baked out of the Dahlia Bakery's cookbook, and then I went to a show and drank beer until close. My body was delighted. It did not complain. My skin, which had been breaking out all week, cleared up immediately. My brain came back online. The world was new again.
Everyone keeps asking me why on earth I would do this thing. Because it was crazy? Because Cienna said she would do it, too? (I collected my apology cheeseburger, with bacon jam and bleu cheese, from Cienna at Skillet Diner.) I didn't do it because of toxins or enzymes; I think that's crap. I approached it as a project, a dare, a test of will, a curiosity exercise. It seemed insane and impossible, and sometimes it's fun to see if you can do something that seems impossibly insane, just to test yourself.
I don't regret it at all. The juice people might—Strawberry Moon wrote on their Facebook page that "we never heard if she slept better, weight loss, skin change, or any sick details about the sick details." (My extra sleep might seem better, but it was out of boredom and sadness. I think I lost three pounds. The "sick details" weren't sick, they were just green.) "And," they wrote, "if you play hard, a juice fast is going to be more difficult than for the more health regimented." I don't regret the fast, but I also don't regret "playing hard," whatever that means—birthday cake and gin and dive bars are not things I want to cleanse myself of.