Friday, March 1, 2024 Mar 1, 2024
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How My Juice Cleanse Drove Me to a Cheeseburger

It sounded like a great idea. But what does it do, exactly?
By Sarah Hepola |
illustration by Mark Matcho

As I bit into a cheeseburger, my friend gave me a look. “Your juice cleanse is going great,” she said. 

“Shut up,” I said, wiping ketchup off my face. I felt bad. It wasn’t supposed to go like this.

“There’s a certain violence to the way you’re eating right now,” she said. “Are you going to write about this in your column? Your total failure?”

“I don’t know yet,” I said, but I answered with my mouth full, so it came out in animal sounds. Eye-doh-oh-yeh.

The juice cleanse began so civilized. Dana Card showed up on my doorstep with two insulated duffel bags. Inside were eight old-fashioned milk bottles filled with liquids in various colors: milky white, bright red, lime green. “Enjoy yourself,” Card said. “This is a sumptuous experience.”

Card is the certified nutritional therapist behind Le Jus, a high-end juice bar that recently opened in Highland Park Village and is co-owned by Forty Five Ten’s Brian Bolke. It’s the latest in a juicing tornado that swept through our fair town in 2012, bringing Vitamixes and organic kale rattling along in its wake. Suddenly, a health trend once touted by Gwyneth Paltrow could be enjoyed by any Dallas mom with a high ponytail. Just walk into the Lakewood Whole Foods, and plop down $8 for a frothy swirl of green apple.

It was amazing that anyone would pay that kind of scratch for something that didn’t contain alcohol. “Rich people do all sorts of funny things,” my friend had said. And part of the appeal of juicing was the hope that it might walk back the damage of a night spent inside a margarita machine. “Organic green juices are a rich source of chlorophyll, which acts as a detoxifier in the body,” read the Le Jus press release. I knew what it felt like to wake up in January with the world’s most excruciating hangover, and I couldn’t blame anyone for plunking down good money for the promise of a fresh start.

So I started with a two-day cleanse, which retails for $88 a day (mine was free). And Card was right: those drinks were sumptuous. Press materials sang the praises of a “cold press” juicer to preserve nutrients and enzymes, but what I tasted was simplicity and nuance. When my friend arrived, I was sipping a concoction made of pineapple and mint, and I swear it was one of the best juices I’ve ever tasted. “You have to try this,” I said, thrusting it out at her.
“Eeesh,” she said. “I just don’t understand what juice cleanses do.”

And, to be honest, neither did I. Acolytes offered vague answers on this point. It would eliminate toxins. It was packed with micronutrients. Card told me one of the goals of the juice cleanse was to “give your digestion a break,” but later I wondered: a break from what? What was my digestion going to do during its two-day vacation, catch up on Homeland?

I called Jo Ann Carson, professor of clinical nutrition at UT Southwestern and a registered dietician. She was not aware that the digestive system needed a break either. “Does this cleanse make you go to the bathroom?” she asked. “Because if you eliminate most of the fiber from your diet, you’re going to get constipated, which strikes me as the opposite of a cleanse.”

An enema or a colonic had indeed been recommended. (I declined.) Carson didn’t think juicing was dangerous, but she said that anyone hoping to kick-start her health might do better to consult the dietary guidelines on the USDA website, which are free. “I know,” she said. “Not very sexy.”

The juices were pretty darn sexy. They made me feel like a very special, very yuppie baby who required bottle feedings on the stroke of every hour. But I’m lousy at following such a demanding regimen. On the afternoon of my first day, I was two hours late for my noon juice (a mistake), and as I stepped toward the information booth at a bookstore, I discovered that the ground beneath me had disappeared. I nearly fainted. Thirty minutes later, my hands were dripping with burger grease and guilt. 

The next morning, I tried the cleanse again, and it went fine. I still don’t know what juice cleanses do, exactly, but I know they can make you feel like an agent of change in your own life.
And change is hard. It is slow and difficult. There is nothing fast about it. It takes years to transform your life. No more stuffing your face with burgers. No more evenings inside a margarita machine. It’s so intimidating when you think about it. And who wants to do that? Eh, screw it. Enjoy your juice cleanse.

WRITE TO [email protected].

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