We’re ten days into 2024, and I just need to remind everyone of a few things:
- I don’t make resolutions.
- I don’t do the ins and outs.
- I don’t eat black-eyed peas, purple-hulled peas, or whatever pea brings good luck in the new year.
- I did, however, do a three-day juice fast to open the new year, and I didn’t die. Let me tell you about it.
Four years ago, at this time, I had just finished competing in my one and only sanctioned fight for Black Tie and Boxing. The training leading up to the fight was incredibly arduous. It was so arduous, in fact, that I decided to give up alcohol for the three months of pre-fight training.
When the fight was over and my face (and ego) bruised and battered, there was a silver lining to all of it; I realized that my three months of pure sobriety made me feel better – lighter and clearer, to be specific. I could also sense that my body had gone through some sort of reset and that it didn’t respond the same way to alcohol as it had before I quit cold turkey. I didn’t crave bourbon like I did; the taste, while not repulsive, was definitely not as appealing. The after-effects of even one drink in the evening were much more pronounced than before. My first few drinks after my alcohol fast left me foggy and slow the morning after. I probably would’ve continued my alcohol celibacy had COVID not hit two months later.
From March to August 2020, I resumed my regular pattern of drinking most nights – a couple of glasses of bourbon, which would inevitably lead to late-night snacking and feeling hungry the following day right after I had woken up. Because I had A LOT of time on my hands during those months, I also realized that my body craved different foods when I was drinking consistently; I wanted the foods that would hamper my overall health the most – chips, cookies, fast food, etc., Nothing of substantive value. When school finally resumed in late August, I felt lethargic and tired and weighed more than I ever had. I realized, however, that while I can be extremely vain, my weight or physical image wasn’t what inspired my change; what inspired my change was how I felt…and I felt miserable.
Beginning in September 2020, I stopped drinking and, by default, found myself not craving certain foods. I felt more in control; I felt more disciplined. I realized how much my cognitive functioning was tied to my food consumption – what I would eat, when, and how fast I would eat. I also began to monitor stressful situations and what I would crave when I felt the ambiguous pressures from my work life and personal life. When I would feel these pressures, automatic cravings would ensue. I learned to ride those momentary waves of desire until the waves became smaller and smaller over time.
By the Spring of 2021, with an entire season of basketball officiating behind me, I had lost nearly 30 pounds, but, more importantly, I FELT so much healthier. My abstinence from alcohol had opened the door for me to monitor as much as I could regarding my mental and physical health and the ways those two areas connect. And, while none of it was easy, I felt like I had unlocked the secret to life – mindfulness, awareness, and moderation. Easy to realize, difficult to maintain.
Fast forward to the end of 2023.
By and large, I have maintained the healthy stasis I created at the beginning of 2021. My weight still hovered between 190-195. My habits of healthy eating had remained intact for the most part, but some old habits had started to rear their heads over the course of the year.
Every so often, I’d make a trip to the package store and buy a bottle of Woodford. Sometimes, I’d eat a bowl (or two) of Lucky Charms or Cap’n Crunch Berries before bed. Did I mention that I’m a big fan of the Baconator at Wendy’s? No? Well, I am. And while I never timed myself, I think I could eat a double in under two minutes.
Needless to say, old habits die hard.
I spent the last five days of 2023 in Pennsylvania with my partner, her sister, and her parents. Even though we were all just outside of Philadelphia, we had ourselves a good ol’ fashioned southern Christmas dinner – homemade dressing, macaroni and cheese from scratch, sweet potato casserole with an emphasis on SWEET, pee-can pie with chocolate, regular old chocolate pie, pumpkin pie with ice cream…all consumed on rotation over multiple days. I needed another reset. I could see it; I could feel it. My body didn’t know what I was doing to it. I needed to shock it out of its holiday malaise.
Because I can be somewhat impulsive, I went straight to Amazon and ordered a juice cleanse – 18 bottles of raw, pressed juice to last me for three days. I would start my reset on January 1.
I flew to Nashville from Philadelphia on December 31. On the way home, I stopped at Wendy’s, ordered a number 2 (large-sized), and inhaled it as I drove west on I-40. I got to Jackson with a few hours to spare before the Packers played the Vikings on Sunday Night Football – enough time to order a Shaq-a-roni pizza from Papa John’s. By the time the game was over, the pizza was, too. This was my Fat Tuesday before Lent, emphasis on fat.
My juice fast started on January 1 – a literal and symbolic turning of the page, a reset. It’s the closest I’ve ever come to having an actual resolution.
When I started the fast on the first morning of 2024, my weight was the furthest thing from my mind. My fast wasn’t about losing weight because any weight loss coming from three days of juicing would be unsustainable; I needed to shock my body out of the cravings that crept back into it over several months.
Let the fasting begin.
*Disclaimer: The following summarizes my personal experience doing a three-day juice fast. At the time of the fast, I was a 6’2, 199-pound, 44-year-old male in reasonably good health. If you are considering doing any sort of a liquid diet or multi-day fast, please consult your healthcare provider for advice before starting.
The box from Amazon containing 18 servings of my New Year’s elixir was large…and frozen. As I unboxed each bottle, a set of instructions fell to the ground. Without further boring you with needless details, the crux of the instructions centered around a few core principles:
- Drink a juice every two hours and supplement heavily with water throughout the day.
- If you feel like you need to eat, then eat.
- There are six different flavors/mixtures of juice, and you will drink the same six in the same order each day. Ingredients include lemon, apple, orange, beets, kale, and carrots.
Each morning of a juice fast starts with a small shot of ginger, honey, and cayenne pepper. It’s not the greatest taste, but it definitely gets your attention. After 30 minutes, I cracked open my first juice – a mix of lemon, apple, kale, and spinach. I was on my way.
The beginning of any journey – a vacation, a sports season, a juice fast – is supported by an inordinate amount of hope. There is so much hope, in fact, that the reality of the journey finds its way to the shadows and waits to attack when you least suspect it.
The morning flew by. I didn’t feel much different than usual, other than a few rumblings from my stomach asking where my slices of pie were.
I went to the gym and lifted weights like I normally would, but as the afternoon wore on, I began to realize how much of my daily schedule is centered around food – not just the act of eating but also the scheduling, preparing, and sitting down for a meal. I missed that routine. I would find myself wondering what I would eat for supper or what time I’d tell my daughter we’d be eating, but then I remembered that I wouldn’t be cooking or chewing for the next three days.
By the end of the first day, I felt slightly light-headed and a little tired, but overall, I felt better. There seemed to be more sustainable energy for everyday activities – not the usual peaks and valleys. I was also drinking a lot more water than I usually drink, so the effects from hydration were also being felt during the process.
The first night of sleep was a little light and somewhat restless, but the clarity of dreaming was noticeable. I’m not entirely sure if that’s related to the fast, but it’s something that I noticed.
When Day 2 began, I was awake by 5:30 and at the gym around 6:15 after my morning shot of ginger, honey, and cayenne pepper.
My energy level at the gym on Day 2 was through the roof; it was truly the best I had felt in several months. My strength was essentially the same despite not having any solid food for the previous 36 hours.
Most of the morning of Day 2 fell right in line with my energy levels from my morning workout – naturally high and sustainable.
The cravings I felt on Day 1 weren’t nearly as pronounced on Day 2, and if they did appear, they were short-lived. I continued to drink a lot of water during my two hours between juices and coasted through my second day.
A few minor things I noticed after Days 1 and 2:
- I felt and looked lighter due to a lack of bloating.
- By the end of Day 2, I was starting to feel fatigued despite my energy levels being very high throughout the day.
- I fell asleep faster than usual on Day 2 without help from a Delta 8 gummy.
- I had a slight headache on the morning of Day 2 but drank one sugar-free energy drink mid-morning, alleviating the headache for the rest of the day.
- My voice began to sound a little weaker and less pronounced; I started to feel like it was taking effort to speak for a length of time.
This was the most challenging day by far, and I had already decided to eat my first solid meal that evening. I just needed to make it until 7:00 PM.
Just like the day prior, I slept lightly and woke up early. This time, however, my energy level at the gym was next to nothing. It was a S-T-R-U-G-G-L-E. I attempted a few pull-ups and situps and then walked right out the door.
Day 3 was my first day back to school from Christmas Break, and I was scheduled to present during inservice. My mind didn’t feel very sharp, and a fogginess had settled over it that never dissipated throughout the day.
My body was also sending different signals to me that I hadn’t felt until that point. The only way I can explain the feeling of those signals is to say that they felt more like a need than a want. These signals were different than cravings – less acute but more general—a low, consistent whisper of demand rather than a cacophonous wail of craving.
My voice continued to sound weaker as the day moved toward its end. There was finally light at the end of the tunnel, but I had trouble deciding what I wanted to eat. I had earned any meal of my choosing, but nothing sounded appealing.
I gave a cursory glance over the instructions that came with my juices and noticed some recommendations for a healthy first meal post-fast. My meal needed to be something light, so I settled for a grilled chicken salad with no dressing at Chic-Fil-A.
The next morning, I was back to my usual breakfast of bacon and eggs, and I appreciated that basic meal more than I ever had before. The bacon was more flavorful, the eggs fluffier. Even the water I drank with my meal tasted less water-ish than usual. My fast was over, I was still alive, and I felt a strong sense of accomplishment.
I’ve been eating solid food for a week now. For the last seven days, however, none of the old cravings have returned. I’ve enjoyed baked chicken breasts with seasoned squash and broccoli for lunch. My daughter and I have had our standard meals for supper – pasta, burgers, and sushi. I’ve been able to stay away (for the most part) from my guilty pleasures of Lucky Charms and the Famous Amos cookies that scream at me from the vending machine at my school. It’s much easier for me to pass on those snacks now than it was two weeks ago; I realize the benefits of sacrificing a few minutes of pleasure for long-term mental and physical health benefits.
My decision to “reset” my brain and body’s cravings was never about losing weight or altering my physical appearance. I needed to change my habits and practice not giving in to my cravings. I needed to see if I had the willpower and endurance to abstain from something when my body really wanted it. I needed my brain to tell my body that a want isn’t always a need.
Before I decided to order the juice and put myself through three days of liquid-only sustenance, I read a lot of articles about it. There’s no study or scientific evidence that a juice fast or juice reset has any long-term benefits. In fact, it might simply be a psychological placebo masquerading as a chemically altering fad. Either way, it did what I needed it to do, and I feel better for it.
Again, if you’re considering doing something like this, please consult your doctor. Everyone’s bodies are different, and what works for some people doesn’t work for everyone.