Matt Shook of Juicebox and Juiceland is many things, but did you know that he is the Metaphorical Oracle? Having worked with him for over a year now, I had some inkling of his knack for functional prose, but it wasn't until I embarked upon a juice cleanse that I understood the extent of his skills. Shook is a self-styled Juice Cleanse Consultant, having recently garnered some press by advising the Austin Chronicle's Claudia Alarcon on her recent juice cleanse.
My partner in this endeavor would by my close friend Jodi Bart, well-known in foodie circles as Tasty Touring. Isn't she cute? Her recent innocent question ("David, what kind of juicer should I buy?") became an invitation to do a juice cleanse. These food blogger types are always hungry for a story, so she eagerly accepted. She had never tried any sort of fast or cleanse beyond your average Yom Kippur observance and was eager to submit herself to Mr. Shook's tutelage . Being a great proselytizer of his various enthusiasms, Shook leapt at the opportunity to rope me into it. I am a fairly avid home juicer thanks to Shook's influence and an 18-year-old Acme Juicerator, and, having tendencies towards South Austin hippie-dippiness, I have experimented in my day with the grand-daddy of all cleanses... ... the Master Cleanse. That's the famed spicy lemonade cleanse. You drink nothing but water mixed with lemon juice, maple syrup, and cayenne. As off-putting as that may initially sound, it is actually a likeable, somewhat addictive beverage. You drink as much as you want, for as long as you want. The recommended length is ten days, but I had never gone beyond four or five days. It is hard to enter this kind of discussion without becoming fairly graphic, but suffice it to say, in combination with nightly senna tea doses and morning quarts of warm saltwater, it lives up to its name very well.
The cleanse that Jodi and I undertook was just a straight juice cleanse, and I opted to go primarily with just a straight green juice sweetened with a little apple and acidified with a touch of lemon. It still had to be a teensy bit culinary. I also mixed in the senna tea and the saltwater rinse. When I asked Shook about the relative merits of the various cleanses, I received my first metaphor: "Cleansing is like jogging. Sure, somebody could tell you what shoes to buy, what stretches to do, what path to take. But ultimately it's all about running. Just get out there and run, right?"
In support of the juice path, he also noted: "As long as the juice is fresh and raw, your body is feeding its cells with live enzymes that activate the building blocks of chi and heighten the ability of mitochondria to function. As opposed to having your friends over to your apartment to rip bong hits and leave Dominoes pizza boxes littered throughout while the the trash can overflows because everyone forgot what day garbage day was (which is what your body feels like during your normal diet), on a juice diet your body will start to feel like one of those houses in the 'What $750,000 Will Buy' section of The Times."
It started fairly well. I think Jodi may have had a slightly harder time at the get-go because it was virgin territory for her. She was pretty hungry and sought out Matt's help. The Metaphorical Oracle told her: "The first few days will feel like a mountain stage on the Tour de France, but next week you'll be cruising down with your legs stretched out and the wind in your hair."
I had a pretty easy go of it early on. You can see that the lack of calories had no effect on my bowling skillz. Just check out the last four frames. <insert famous bowler name here>, eat your heart out.
The first question people generally ask is, "Aren't you hungry?" The hunger is there, it comes and goes, generally waning over the course of the cleanse. You are heartened by the thought of the sheer nutrient load that your body is enjoying, but the greatest payoff is the energy. Your physical energy and mental clarity zoom off the charts after day two. Whether it is a factor of your body just functioning better or an instinctive hunter/gatherer fight or flight reaction to the lack of calories (I tend to think mostly the latter), it is a profound effect.
My surprise juicing superpower, however, was not entirely welcome. My olfactory sense sharpened (again, likely a vestige of a prehistoric instinct) dramatically and I... I could smell everyone's breath. Everyone had a different olfactory imprint... it was slightly unnerving, but interesting. It's like I knew something secret about each person I met.
But along about day four, I was feeling pretty good and pretty clean. The weekend was approaching. But the missing social aspect of eating with my family and friends was beginning to become a slight drag. I told Matt I was thinking about stopping the cleanse. He expressed dismay and produced another metaphor. "You're driving to the Grand Canyon right now, and you've only made it as far as Junction. What you're telling me is that you want to stop in Junction and just turn around and drive back to Austin. Tomorrow morning you'll be in El Paso! And then next week you'll be standing on the rim of the Grand freaking Canyon."
When Jodi expressed similar dismay, he said, "You are Michael Jordan and you are going to take this all the way to the hoop. You're going to throw as many elbows as you need to, take as many takeoff steps as you want, you're going to stick your tongue out as you soar through the air and you are going to jam this."
I took his advice and stuck with it. But the following day it really was the weekend and the broccoli in our garden was starting to flower and it needed to get eaten, the sugar snap peas were bursting off the vine and were oh so inviting. I sent him the text you see at right. Drained of his metaphorical resources, he simply turned to brute force and threats.
It did the trick, however. The mention of the "fat trucker" is what did it. If you don't know who that is, then you haven't seen the incredibly motivating film that has inspired quite a buzz in the juicing world, Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead.
When I first told Matt he needed to watch the film, he said, "What happens? Someone has a horrible diet, is really sick, then starts
juicing, then gets better and lives happily ever after?" I said, "Yes." So yes, if a 15-word synopsis is good enough for you, don't watch it. But you might want to watch it, it is quite compelling and touching. The story about Phil the trucker is pretty moving.
All that aside, I ultimately did not have the willpower to take it all the way. I suffered some serious professional complications (website woes... someone else's fault) on Saturday night which snowballed throughout Sunday. Sunday night, I was so wired and upset by everything that I could not bring myself down... I used food as a sedative. I had a nice toasted piece of delicious multigrain bread with butter and went to sleep. The next morning I indulged in two El Primo migas tacos and a cup of coffee. Not the approved method for coming off a juice fast, but I'm still here to tell you about it. It was good.
What I learned from my cleanse this time is this: Food is almost purely emotional. You don't need much in the way of food to get by; in fact, to excel. On a cleanse: Physically, you're completely functional. Mentally clear. Emotionally balanced. Spiritually in tune. You have a nice shiny coat. You feel like a clean running machine. The difference between fuel and food is purely described by an emotional component. Keeping that balance between food and fuel, between emotion and reason in your diet is probably a key to being a pretty good human.
Next time, though, I think I might try this 46 day beer fast.
Jodi is still cruising and she's going to take it to the hoop. She's expressed some boredom. Matt chimed in with his last bit of metaphorical inspiration: "You've come a long way and if being bored of fresh juice is the only problem, consider this mission accomplished. Take each juice these remaining days and drink it down in the same way Michael Phelps puts gold medals around his neck. Sure, it is a little boring to be so good at something, so out of everyone's league, but soon you'll be down from the mountain top, back with the squares. It is the intention you finish with that will define your time on the juice. Make it count. Be grateful that you have access to fresh, raw fruit and vegetable juice, because millions of Americans will NEVER have the opportunity to juice feast. Imbibe! Swish! And do unto yourself the Internal high-fiving that only a bonafide 10-day Juice Feast can inspire!"