The Sad, Pathetic Truth About the Juice Cleanse and Detox Fad

I was taken over by a mixture of frustration and panic as I stared at the number flashing between my toes. How did the pounds creep up so quickly? I thought to myself. Either the cheap electronic scale I ordered online was a total dud, or I seriously needed to get my weight back in check.

The size of my body typically fluctuates, and I've learned to love its curves and thickness over the years. But I was approaching a moment in life where my age appeared to be catching up with my metabolism and worried the weight could one day reach a point of no return if I continued a sedentary lifestyle. A lot of people I've spoken with about losing weight share those same concerns: that one day, you might look at yourself in a mirror and not recognize the person staring back. In those moments of fear, people are often drawn to a quick-fix solution. I know I was looking for something, anything to shed the pounds. Not to mention, I was planning on taking a trip to California in February, and didn't want people to look at my gut and think I've been practicing human hibernation tactics in snowy New York City.

I knew I'd be spending more than usual to rid my body of unnecessary fat and toxins, but I had no idea the cleanse would cost as much as what many of my friends pay for their monthly Obamacare insurance.

As anyone with a quickly approaching vacation and unwanted belly fat does in such times, I took to Google. If an FBI agent was monitoring my web activity that day, I'm sure they were deeply concerned by my searches: "Is it possible to lose 30 pounds in five days?" "Can you ingest a tapeworm to lose weight?" "How do you go about ordering a tapeworm?"

After several digital rabbit holes and potential diet ideas, I came across a popular three-day detox cleanse. Unlike the celebrity-endorsed Flat Tummy Tea products advertised across social media and Kardashian-approved waist trainers, the juicing diet seemed to be more than just a fad. Whereas most branded detoxes are often pricey powders loaded with caffeine that suck the water out of the body, the recipes for these shakes were loaded with greens, nutrients, fruits, and fiber. Not to mention, no brand was making any money off of the cleanse: everything was available to purchase at my local grocery store.

It Costs a Pretty Penny to Eat Healthy

I wasn't trying to support an Instagram model's sponsored content career, but I was definitely trying to shed some pounds before hopping off the plane at LAX. So instead of buying into the tea trend, I took the plunge and opted to try out the three-day juice cleanse. How bad could not eating solid food for a few days really be, especially if the end result is a truly flatter stomach in a matter of days?

I went to a grocery store across the street from Popeye's, where just $5 can get you an entire box loaded with fried chicken and potatoes. I knew I'd be spending more than usual to rid my body of unnecessary fat and toxins, but I had no idea the cleanse would cost as much as what many of my friends pay for their monthly Obamacare insurance.

The organic cayenne pepper, almond butter, coconut water, kale, and other ingredients on the checklist cost $75. I also bought a juicer at the dollar store for $19.99. The last time I spent nearly $100 in a grocery store was with my mom. Ever since college, I have become an expert in the art of millennial food shopping: if Uncle Ben doesn't have a permanently reserved section for his rice in your cabinet, you're doing it wrong.

I was shocked at the price of my groceries. For a split second, I thought of abruptly quitting the cleanse before I even began, leaving my groceries with the cashier, and sprinting across the street to fried heaven. I desperately wanted to get my body back and believed this was the change required to make it happen, however, so I bit the bullet and forked over my credit card. I figured I'd just add it to my life tab, along with student loans and other things I never plan on actually paying for.

Unsplash | Toa Heftiba

Day 1

I'm not sure if it was the adrenaline from embarking on a new adventure (though an admittedly boring one) or my mental preparedness for the cleanse, but my body seemed to take well to the sudden change in diet. The breakfast juice went down easier than I thought it would and was actually pretty delicious. I forced my roommate to test the drink and see if I was going insane. She, too, thought it was delicious, and even asked for more.

One thing I quickly learned was that the ingredients listed in the chart for each meal actually make enough for at least two servings. I began saving the second cup of juice for the next day in a mason jar or a second serving if I felt hungry in between meals.

I also learned to give yourself credit for even trying to cleanse your body and not to deny yourself the ability to make changes. That's a much longer way of saying this: the lunch juice was disgusting. I simply couldn't stand the amount of greens loaded into one juice; there didn't seem to be any consistent flavor. Instead of finishing an entire serving, I decided to drink some of my leftover breakfast. Though I may not have had the exact dosage of meals the cleanse was calling for, I was still following the basic ingredients and directions. That's good enough in my book.

Dinner was decent enough, and I didn't feel any cravings for solid food throughout the entire day. What was most surprising was the total lack of headaches, digestive issues, or general discomfort. Not only did I go to the gym, but I had a full day of traveling and activities, and I felt totally fine — and full — by the time I went to sleep.

Day 2

Since I knew there was no way I was about to drink that lunch juice, I decided to alter my breakfast somewhat and turn it into more of a smoothie, combining milk with the ingredients instead of a cup of water. I saved the spare serving for my lunch and went about my day as planned. I didn't have any sort of fatigue; in fact, I felt pretty damn good for most of the morning and afternoon.

The cleanse did exactly as it had promised: in a matter of days, I felt that I had truly cleansed my body, at least somewhat, from the normal toxins and preservatives found in a typical American diet. But that doesn't mean the pounds stayed off.

I didn't go to the gym, but walked a few miles with my dog and had a light day of activities and writing. I couldn't be sure if there was a placebo effect occurring, but I felt more clear-headed and focused than usual, even without the daily multiple cups of coffee.

It was a different story by night, however. I couldn't stop thinking about the taste of pizza or any solid food for that matter. As I drank my decent-enough dinner juice, I dreamt of brunching with friends, cooking chicken in a skillet, and a variety of other food-focused activities. Those were my happy places and what got me through the brunt of the cleanse.

Day 3

As if by some miracle, all of the lusting for food had dissipated from my mind on the third morning of the cleanse. I woke up with a spring in my step even greater than the day before and no cravings or lightheadedness whatsoever.

I had become a master at concocting the breakfast blend, as I now referred to it, customizing my own doses of each ingredient for the perfect mixture. Preparing the juice was about a 15-minute process from start to finish, and gave me a reason to wake up somewhat earlier than usual. I realized as I drank my juice on the third day that I couldn't remember the last time I had gone without coffee for a full day, let alone three in a row. I also spent the entire weekend avoiding alcohol, which was a lot easier than I had anticipated.

Surely, I was about to step on the scale tomorrow and see extraordinary results. I began researching what other reviewers of this three-day juice detox were saying about their experiences. The vast majority of folks who tried it out claimed to have lost anywhere from three to seven pounds. I began pulling back the skin on my neck and cheekbones while looking in the mirror. You're going to be so skinny, I imagined to myself.

I dusted off the electronic scale — my once enemy, whom I never thought I'd be excited to use again — and laid it out in preparation for the next day, when I would weigh myself bright and early in the morning. The day dragged on, though I felt absolutely fine throughout. It was as if the final day of the cleanse was Christmas Eve, and I couldn't wait to open my present the next day.

Unsplash | Oscar Nord

The Very, Very Temporary Results

The morning after my three-day juice cleanse, I woke up and sprinted to the bathroom before anything else. I stepped on the scale and quickly did the math: I lost three and a half pounds in just three days. Granted, I was hoping for at least five pounds having disappeared after reading reviews from others, but was happy with the rapid decline in weight.

The cleanse did exactly as it had promised: in a matter of days, I felt that I had truly cleansed my body, at least somewhat, from the normal toxins and preservatives found in a typical American diet. But that doesn't mean the pounds stayed off.

I had an incredibly busy week following my juice cleanse: I flew to Los Angeles, walked several miles each day throughout the city in California, and rode bikes across Venice Beach and the Santa Monica Pier. All the while I maintained an unusually healthy diet, consisting primarily of fish, rice, and protein. I shunned my favorite vice, Coca-Cola, and continued focusing on my health. I was sure that I had not only kept the weight off since the juice cleanse, but had lost even more pounds as the week went on.

To my horror, the exact opposite was true. By the time I weighed in the following week of the juice cleanse, I had gained five pounds. The weight I had lost during the detox was either almost entirely water weight or was completely impossible to keep off with a normal, healthy diet. I wasn't exactly shocked by the weight gain — it seemed to make sense. Of course anyone would gain back a few pounds if all they were previously consuming was kale, spinach, and cayenne pepper in the form of juice.

I was dismayed but decided I wouldn't give up with my weight-loss journey. The cleanse was a learning experience, though I wouldn't recommend it to a friend. As unfortunate as it may be, there is truly only one way to sustainably lose weight in a healthy way, and that's maintaining a good diet and exercising. I also learned to stop sweating the small stuff: so long as you can take a walk for 30 minutes each day and go to the gym several times a week, you should probably give your body the reward of solid food. Instead of Flat Tummy Tea or a radical detox, maybe all it truly takes to lose weight is a little bit of portion control and a willingness to push yourself when all you feel like doing is sitting on the sofa.

I've since lost the weight I gained back after the juice cleanse and then some. That hasn't happened by waist training or any sort of detoxes, by the way, just good old-fashioned cardio and salads.