Happy New Year! I woke up to the second day of 2015 with a stream of golden sunlight streaming in through the windows. After paying my respects to Ganesh and Guruji, with prayers for courage, faith and renewed zest for carrying out my duties and responsibilities in this new year, the next most pressing task on my mind was sitting down to write this post.
Much like fresh juice, it’s best to write about a period of ‘detox’ and fasting right away, when the nutrients, insights and impressions gained are still most vibrant. It’s been a week of good holiday eating up North in the Thai country side and already my body and mind feel ‘back to normal.’ Which is not necessarily a bad thing; normalcy can indicate a steady state of health. I did prepare for this though with some notes during my juice fast, so here is a day by day breakdown of it. But first, some background info…
Summary: Last year, when I was about seven months pregnant, my friend and Ashtanga yoga teacher in Bangkok, Amorn, was in the middle of a week long juice fast. I got interested in this but didn’t want to do anything drastic while pregnant, so we vowed to go on a juice fast together in a year’s time. We decided to start a six-day juice fast two days’ after I arrived into Bangkok. The Lifestyle Juice Cleanse company delivers two orders of six daily juices every other day, which you drink over a twelve hour period per day. You can supplement with water, almond milk, noncaffeneited tea, coconut water and unprocessed juice with no added sugar. The rest of the time (night) one should fast (and sleep).
Here are pictures of the juices:
Juice 1: AM: a fresh n’ fruity start to the day
Juice 2: AM: the ‘mean green’
Juice 3: PM: a vibrant dose of beetroot
Juice 4: PM: a great combination! Coconut water & a stick of cinnamon hydrates really well in the afternoon
Juice 5: PM: rounding the evening out with another leafy green tincture
Juice 6: PM: a smooth, creamy end to the day. This almond/cashew nut drink is the equivalent of warm milk before bed.
Prep: The day before the actual juice fast (and on the first day), I did a coffee enema. It was one liter of water mixed with a tablespoon of special detox coffee and a teaspoon of organic spirulina.
It was intense and uncomfortable, kind of like how giving birth in reverse (but not as bad). I practiced mula bandha like crazy and held on for dear life! For the rest of the day, I ate lightly, as recommended, so that the lack of food doesn’t come as quite such a complete and nasty shock the next day. I also got a massage to recover from travel fatigue.
Day 1: I was still pretty spacey from the long flight from Helsinki to Bangkok, in addition to the time difference and jetlag. I felt restless throughout the day but was able to detach from food quite easily. I did have a weird feeling of missing the action of chewing though! There is a lively street food culture in Bangkok, so I was confronted with food at every turn. At some point I began to be confronted with temptations and cravings, some as outlandish and improbable as braised pork knuckle?? I tried turning my attention inwards and thought about the fifth limb of Ashtanga: pratyahara, sense withdrawal, and more specifically, about how motherhood and caring for a nine-month old infant oftentimes has meant multitasking like crazy. For the better part of this past year, my senses have felt scattered everywhere, mostly in a joyful, chaotic way. Like opening a bag of skittles and having them spill onto the floor, tinkling and bouncing around in an unpredictable, multi-colored razzle of spontaneity. Happy moments that take your breath away. But also lots of wishing for order and tranquility. And quite often, awareness of food choices: what you eat and why, goes fuzzy. It’s been all too easy to begin to eat distractedly and for comfort in times of stress and fatigue.
Day 2: I started the day with my second coffee enema. It was easier the second time around as I broke it down into two parts, which meant holding half the liquid at any given time than from the previous day. I must say I felt great after it. I felt happy, light and energetic, ready to go! I had also slept well, so I felt much more rested. Uddiyana bandha felt very strong and engaged during my practice, something I hadn’t felt for several months during pregnancy. It provided me with a sense of power as I moved through the sun salutations. Later on in the day, I did start having some weird side-effects, like white coating on my tongue. Apparently it’s perfectly normal and part of the detox process, and nothing a tongue scraper won’t get rid of. I also felt very cold and sensitive to temperature. The water couldn’t get warm enough in the shower and AC felt way too strong everywhere I went. This sensitivity to the cold is another side-effect, which had me wondering how fasting would work in cold winter countries. I wouldn’t think an extended juice fast in the dead of winter to be quite the time to give it a go.
Day 3: This was a hard day for me! The inital excitement had passed and the day felt long. I was hungry, missing and craving food and felt bored. I read some raw food recipe books to keep me entertained but mostly I just tried to ride out the sensations and observe the mental chatter.
Day 4: Better than the previous day, but I needed to avoid large, noisy spaces like shopping malls and the streets of Bangkok. I stayed in to read and do some gentle yoga stretches. It was interesting to note that the supplemental almond milk that I drank during days 3 and 4 felt very heavy. In fact, I got a tummy ache from it on day 4, so I avoided supplementing with them for the rest of the fast.
Days 5 & 6: The last two days of the fast passed by smoothly. I remember feeling nostalgic for food and missing it, but with a certain amount of distance and detachment. It no longer felt like a sharp, aggressive craving like in day 3, but more like a lost love which would feel really nice to be reunited with. The effort of being with family members in restaurants when one is not eating began to wear thin, which proves once again, how social food and eating can be. In the evening of day six, I broke the fast by eating a light salad which contained healthy sources of fat like avocado and cashews roasted in olive oil:
Conclusions: My biggest concern was how the juice fast was going to affect breastfeeding, and I was ready to stop early if Sesam was unable to nurse. However, I didn’t notice any change in milk production levels and Sesam seemed happy and well fed. I wouldn’t try juice fasting while breast milk is still the main source of nutrition for an infant though, but since Sesam has now been on solid foods for three months, I wasn’t too worried about him getting malnourished. I am still not convinced about the benefits of juice fasting during pregnancy. I think applying the principles of healthy, mindful eating and making wise food choices at that time would be a safe bet for all parties involved.
Next steps: There are certain words which carry heavy currency in the LOHAS (Lifestyle of Health and Sustainability) industry: yoga…slow…green…mindfulness...detox. In this context, they can be catchy buzzwords useful in terms of promoting the entrepreneurial spirit behind health and wellness platforms. If you wish to read further about the myth and massive industry surrounding detox, read this article (and this one) published in The Guardian. Having said this, I personally highly recommend juice fasting at regular intervals throughout the year. It feels pretty amazing to give your intestines a break and not continually digest and process what is, quite often, an overload of nutritional information. I plan on doing a 2 day coffee enema & 3-5 day juice fast every quarter, to coincide with the general change of seasons. For those of you who are not yet convinced, here are my top eight tips to get you started, on juice fasting and for a general nutrition makeover, with suggestions for cold seasons and countries:
8. Start small. Choose a weekend, either one day or both Saturday and Sunday, to refrain from alcohol, caffeine and processed foods.
7. Prep well by stocking up on healthy, organic, whole food ingredients. You might even feel inspired to make a healthy meal at home.
6. If you wish to try juice fasting for a weekend and are fortunate to live in a place that has fresh juice bars, check out their cleanse programs. They usually run anywhere from one day to a week, and also offer meal replacement juices.
5. Start each morning with a glass of warm lemon/lime water. You can add a dash of cayenne pepper for an additional boost. Recommended in cold climate countries!
4. Time your evening and morning meals so that you have 12 hours of fasting at night. This is quite a straight forward way to give your digestive system the chance to take a break and recover.
3. Partner up with a friend to boost morale. It’s easier not to veer off track when you have someone towing the line with you too! I owe my thanks and inspiration to Amorn:
2. Take a 1-2 day ‘digital detox’. Clear the head of information overload. If possible, spend time outdoors and in nature. Meet up with close friends and family in person and give them all your attention.
1. If you aspire to live a religious/spiritual/mindful/yogic/aware/healthy life, one of the greatest benefits to juice fasting is the psychological practice. You get the chance to observe the workings of your mind and mental habits as they occur in your daily life and routine. You must experience cravings and temptations, which we often give into or think we cannot do without. And if you can withstand these impulses, then you are left with a greater feeling of mental discipline and clarity, and, hopefully, deeper appreciation for what you have in abundance in your life and compassion for those who go hungry or are malnourished. It’s no wonder that periods of fasting and abstinence are a part of most religious traditions.
*Bonus tip: Remember that incorporating healthy habits and smart food choices is a process. We don’t perfection or punitive measures. If you happen to fall off a juice cleanse, no worries. Life can be messy and stressy. Dust yourself off and try again.
And now, I would love to hear from you. What have your experiences been with juicing and fasting? Do you find it useful to step back for a short period of time from the usual routine? If you practice or follow a religious/spiritual tradition, is periodic abstinence recommended or required?
Here’s to a year of collective goodness to us all. Om Love!