Juice Cleanses: Healthy or Disordered?

juice_cleanse

Juice cleanses. Juice fasts. Juicing. Whatever you call it, it seems to be everywhere lately. Between going on my own veggie-based (and unintentional) “cleanse” with a friend this weekend and an article on “juice heads” in this week’s New York Magazine, the topic seems to be the yoga for this generation’s yuppies.

Last weekend I spent with a very good friend who was in New York from San Francisco, who, after a week of heavy client dinners/drinks, was spending the weekend eating vegan/organic/gluten-free — basically raw fruits and veggies, or a juice diet. We started out the weekend at One Lucky Duck in Chelsea Market, an “organic, uncooked plant-based foods” joint that specializes in juice cleanses. She ordered a green kale-based smoothie, while I went next door and grabbed some vegan sushi, figuring I could be healthy too but still wanted to chew my food. It was actually delicious (the veggie-based sushi, not the green smoothie); that night we went on to eat soup, hummus and a veggie platter at Gobo, another vegan spot in the West Village (which, at least on the night we were there, catered to lesbians, 20-somethings on a girls’-night-out, and yogis). It was tasty, and I found that even though we hit the early bird special at 5pm (about 3 hours earlier than I usually sit down for my evening meal), I was full until I went to bed that night. And the next day? My intestines were empty, and we both really did feel lighter and energized by eating vegan and raw (except for my one whole-milk latte that afternoon, whoops). But something about it felt…dangerous.

My mom (daughter of a nurse) and my dad (son of a doctor and nurse) always drilled in the importance of a varied diet when I was growing up: Start every meal with a salad, always eat a variety of foods (never too much or too little of any food group), and you’ll be healthy. I was lucky. I was in good health, but my parents still let me enjoy the occasional burger and fries. By the time I was old enough to make choices about what was served on my own dinner table, I was pretty used to having lots of greens, some grains, a bit of dairy, some meats. In other words, a pretty balanced diet.

But that’s not to say I didn’t pick up unhealthy patterns of eating. Like many teen girls faced with social pressures, insecurities, and rail-thin magazine models as your model of beauty, I struggled on and off with eating disorders. With a little counseling, I began to appreciate the good eating habits my parents had been instilling in me for years and the root behind my battles with eating. I realized that much of my unhealthy relationship with food had to do with control — or a lack thereof in my life. My issues started after a traumatic event, and from then on, whenever I would feel especially vulnerable because of a relationship gone wrong, or a bad grade on a midterm, or a shitty boss — when I turned to eating as the one thing I felt I could for sure control. Research shows that eating disorders are, in fact, grounded in the need to assert control in life.

So as I was reading the NY Mag article, it started to ring bells. “With juice, you can wash everything away, all the things that make you feel helpless. You can’t control the trajectory of your career in an unstable new economy, or where your kids get into school, or if the city will flood again–that’s all happening over your head….There’s no reason to be anxious, because [with a juice cleanse] you have everything under control.” And “Juice…[gets] its devotees jazzed up, under control, and certain they’re living right. And, or course, it hastens that other thing that’s so important to New Yorkers–exceptional, twig-like thinness. Of this you must not speak, though clearly it is the highest and most sacred goal of all.”

In this “cult,” it’s never just one cleanse. It becomes a lifestyle, a way of living, a higher goal (“what did you do today? I juiced.”). But the article forgot to mention that restriction to 900 calories per day for some on a regular basis — barely over the border of the 600-800 calories that’s classified as anorexia — also results in some nasty side effects in the long term: reduction in bone density, dry hair and skin, ulcers, and even the highest rates of suicide among all psychological disorders.

All of this not to say that every person who does a juice cleanse or eats all vegan/gluten-free/organic is anorexic or bulimic. Or that it’s less healthy than a country that’s over 2/3 overweight and 1/3 obese — the reverse issue with food control. I’m actually even considering doing more all-veggie days in the future, because eating more really did make me feel great (I just want to chew what I eat). But I do think that the NY Mag article (which, as it has its own right, tried to look at the topic objectively) failed to touch on one important point: sometimes it’s worth taking a step back from the latest diet fad to re-examine what your real goals are.

Photo Credit: http://nadineleenutrition.com/

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