Summer is coming. Unlike Jon Snow’s famous words, these three truly strike fear into the hearts of all who have intentions of entering a body of water in the next 6 months. This is the time of year when I see people starting to hit the gym to shed the layer beneath their winter layers. It’s prime time for marketers to start serving up ads for slim-downs, shape-ups, fitness apps, and of course, juice cleanses.
I have done a lot of juice cleanses. Probably over a thousand dollars worth of them at this point. That’s embarrassing to even type, because I know it’s probably closer to two-thousand. I even bought a juicer at one point thinking it would save me money, only to find out the thing that makes juice so damn expensive is the massive amounts of high quality organic produce you should be shoving into it. In all my years of drinking liquid for days in a row, I’ve found one thing that unites each experience: It doesn’t work.
Juice cleansing is the virtuous equivalent of a bachelorette weekend. Three days of existing on white wine, charcuterie, and gobs of brie won’t make you unhealthy in the same way that three days of drinking expensive smooshed produce won’t make you healthy. Juice cleansing is a product of the all or nothing mentality that is so pervasive in the US. We are either feasting or fasting. We’re on the wagon or off of it. The middle is so unbelievably uncomfortable and ungoverned that we want rules, and we want them to be punishing. Balance is fuzzy. Without any hard and fast guidelines, how can you tell if you’re doing it right?
The one thing a juice cleanse can get right is creating a blank slate to eat better. But you can do this while still moving your jaw in a chew-like motion.
If you need a hard restart, I always suggest that people do a food-based cleanse. You won’t be hangry. Your body is getting the fiber it needs to actually clean out any crud that might be weighing you down (yes, I’m talking about poop), and you’re not missing out on entire groups of macronutrients, like protein and fat. Juice as most people drink it is straight sugar. If someone told you to do an apple juice cleanse, you’d second guess it on sugar content alone. Throwing in a few stalks of celery and leaves of spinach doesn’t improve it by much.
So, if you’re looking for some spring dietary cleaning, here are a few guardrails to help you out. Green smoothies and soups are great if you feel like you want to do the liquid diet thing. Just make sure they have some fat and protein in there to keep your system humming.
The single best thing you can do to feel better is to ensure that you’re eating the best quality food available. That means avoiding pesticides and opting for food that’s grown as close to your front door as possible. Nutrients are lost in over transit distances, so the less organic food has to travel, the more benefits you can reap from it. This is why everyone who is into food is a freak about eating locally—quality, taste, and nutrition are unparalleled.
Eat The Rainbow
Foods are different colors because of the different nutrients they contain. Vitamins, minerals, antioxidants—they all have their own shade of good stuff they can add to your diet. If you’ve done a juice cleanse before, part of the reason you have likely felt superhuman is because you’re getting all your colors, and therefore more vitamins and minerals than your body has likely seen ever. Red, orange, yellow, dark green, blue, purple, even white. Get each color each day.
No Sweet Stuff
I’m not talking about fruit. Eat berries, apples, citrus, or whatever other fresh fruit you want to your heart’s content. Cool it on added sweeteners like white sugar, anything artificial that ends in “-ose” and even natural sugars like honey, dates, coconut sugar, and maple syrup. Sugar is sugar, and while some of the unrefined options contain some fiber and health benefits, if you feel like you are always reaching for sweets, try taking a break for a bit.
Grains Are Good
Unless you have a medical issue that recommends avoiding grains, you should incorporate them into your diet. Not flour, mind you, but whole grains. Things like brown rice, quinoa, millet, buckwheat, amaranth, and oats count. Things that are made from whole grains like pasta, bread, and cereal totally don’t count. They are still refined and are lovely foods to have sometimes, but not if you’re trying to do a bit of a reset.
Try Weird Stuff
Spring cleaning is a fun time to try out new foods that you wouldn’t normally add to your cart. Pick up some gomasio to sprinkle on a salad or seaweed snacks to get all of the insane health benefits of sea veggies without going full-on spirulina. Sip on a kombucha or add a little sauerkraut to your dinner to get in some gut-healing probiotics. Try some sprouted nuts and seeds to reap the activated nutrition that comes with giving them a little soak before you eat.
Real Picky Protein
When you eat an animal, you eat what it eats. So if an animal is eating bone meal or pesticide-laden feed, so are you. At a minimum, I suggest getting organic protein. At a maximum, pasture-raised is king. Pastured animals graze on grass and are very humanely treated, so it’s the best environment for the animal and the best animal protein for you. If eating things with legs isn’t your style, the same standards go for eggs. For fish, look for sustainably-caught or sustainably-farmed seafood. Vegetarian protein is easier, though I still recommend going organic and avoiding forms of soy that are unfermented.
Love Your Fats
Fat is by far the most understood macronutrient in our diets. For years it was demonized as our foods were loaded with more and more sugar to taste good. Fat is essential for good brain function, proper hormone production, and feeling full. So eat it. For nuts and seeds, go organic—they can carry pesticides too. For oils, only use coconut oil and pastured ghee over high heat. Otherwise use olive over medium heat and leave nice nut oils raw. Avoid canola, soy, peanut, safflower, corn, and sunflower oils—odds are what you’re buying at the store is already rancid, not to mention they contain no health benefits. I am a proponent of butter or ghee providing it’s pastured. I also use it sparingly, favoring plant oils more.
Be A Water Bottle Person
Get a 40 oz reusable water bottle and make it your goal to drink the whole thing by lunch. Fill it again and drink the rest by dinner. Often when we don’t feel good, we’re actually just thirsty. Get a minimum of 64 oz, but aim for more to help lube up your body’s cells and feel great.
What about booze/chocolate/fries?
I could create a big list of foods on a “no” list here. I find that to be awful. My personality is such that as soon as I see that I can’t have it, I want it. And I will bitch and moan and torture myself until I’m allowed to add it back in. Or worse, I’ll “cheat” and feel like a failure. Instead, I’d rather not even have any of those scenarios be an option. So, rather than prohibit anything, here’s a general rule of thumb: If it has a barcode, consider skipping it. That goes for things that you drink and things that you eat. A UPC means it’s in a package, and a package means that it’s processed. For things that don’t have a barcode, just buy the highest quality you can while still being able to pay your bills. Do this for two weeks and get used to eating real food and feeling great. Cooking every dang day isn’t always sustainable for the long term, but commit to it for a bit and then add in whatever packaged foods have ingredients that you want to include in your life.
Oh, and if you want to have a juice every now and then, go for it.