I’ll be the first to admit it: the term “juicing” makes it sound almost cult-like. The media has often dismissed it as yet another diet fad. Unfortunately, it’s also a term for those who choose to bulk up by using anabolic steroids. Awkward.
I have to be careful when I tell people I juice in case they think it’s the latter definition (it’s not, I swear), or that I’ve been brain-washed by some evil religious movement. It also sounds vaguely like a sexual inneundo.
So what is it, if it’s not any of those things? Juicing is the process of extracting juice from fruit and vegetables via – wait for it – a juicer. Many people (including myself) have found it beneficial for health, weight loss, energy levels and more.
I realised last year that because of my Ehlers-Danlos and POTS, that I also have mild gastroparesis. Gastroparesis means the stomach is very slow to digest things and is very temperamental (think IBS, but higher up). It means that I really struggle to digest foods that are high in fibre (by far the worst symptom when I did consume such foods would be huge and very painful bloating).
I was eating very healthily at the time I figured out that I had gastroparesis but unfortunately, many healthy foods are very high in fibre. I realised that in order to improve my symptoms, it made sense to put myself on a diet of mainly refined and processed foods despite the fact that it felt counter-intuitive since I had come to love eating healthily. I avoided fruit and vegetables, wholegrains and pulses as I noticed they triggered my symptoms (unfortunately these are the main staples of a healthy diet). Instead I ate white rice, white bread, lots of biscuits, etc etc.
During the time I ate this refined, processed diet I was even more unwell. My bloating had gone, as had many of my unpleasant digestive symptoms, but generally I just felt unwell in myself, had a lot of urinary tract infections (in fact just last year I had 18!), and was very lethargic. I had lots of other unexplained symptoms and just didn’t know what to do with myself.
In March this year, I was admitted to hospital with a nasty infection called Clostridium Difficile. I’m 25 years old, which is very young to get C. Diff – it normally affects those over 65 and with very compromised immune systems. I had been on a lot of antibiotics for my recurrent UTIs, and the most recent course had been a 3 month course of low dose Cefalexin as a preventative measure. Cefalexin is quite notorious as a pre-cursor to C. Diff, and given that my gut flora had already been completely annihilated by a year of almost constant antibiotics, I was very susceptible to infection. However, I really don’t think my diet helped – I think it exacerbated my UTIs in the first place, and probably didn’t help my body cope with the antibiotics I was on. The fact that I was completely lacking in nutrition could only be a bad thing.
By the time I left hospital I realised something had to change and I was desperate to do something to improve my health.
In April, I saw a post from a guy I follow on Facebook called Jason Vale, also known as “the juice master”. The post was advertising a documentary called Super Juice Me, about people with various health conditions who had gone on a 28 day juice fast. All of the participants experienced remarkable benefits. I had originally heard of juicing and Jason Vale during my first year of University when I was 20. I briefly tried it and enjoyed it and felt that I was getting some benefits from it, but because Uni life was quite hectic and I was living in a flat with 7 others, I just didn’t feel like juicing was convenient or realistic for me at the time. Anyway, watching this documentary in April inspired me to try juicing again, and since then I haven’t looked back.
I am more energetic, able to think more clearly, in less pain, I struggle less with physical exertion than I used to, my nails are stronger and a healthier colour, I feel healthier in myself, and I don’t get as many random aches, pains and unpleasant symptoms as I used to.
What’s great about juicing is that you get all of the nutrients from the fruit and vegetables via the juice, without any of the fibrous pulp. I feel noticeably lighter when I’ve had a juice or smoothie compared to when I’ve had a meal. My body expends less energy digesting the juice and means I have more energy for other things.
I’ve only been doing this for 3 months and there are still a lot of things that are wrong with me – my health is still not perfect and nor will it ever be. There’s never going to be a cure for my Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. I will have it forever and I just have to live with it – all I can do is manage it. But that means I want to manage it in the best possible way so I can have the best quality of life within the constraints of my chronic illness. I genuinely believe juicing has helped me with more effective management since I am giving my body the nutrients it needs, and thus giving it a better chance of coping with my illness.
A quick note: you should NEVER use juicing or any other alternative approach in the place of conventional medicine. It is to be used alongside conventional medicine. If it means that you no longer need your conventional medicine, that’s great – but don’t just come off all your pills thinking juicing will cure you because it may not. You should also consult your new GP before you embark on a diet or lifestyle change.
I’ve tried incorporating “proper” fruit and vegetables back into my diet as well as other healthy fibrous whole foods; to start with I coped with them remarkably well but now the bloating is affecting me quite badly again. It’s a source of great cognitive dissonance for me! I know that the nutrients from the fruit and veg are helping me and are imperative for a healthy body (as I have experienced with the juice), and I know that fruit, vegetables, wholegrains and pulses in their whole forms are fundamentally healthy foods. If only they didn’t set off this ridiculous balloon-belly. So, in terms of regular every day food I’m not sure what to eat (if any of you have any advice on this I will love you forever!). But I plan to continue with my 2-3 juices/ smoothies a day as I’ve experienced such great improvement in my general health since I started having them and they don’t trigger any digestive symptoms for me at all.
In a recent appointment with my GP, she was totally bowled over by the drastic change in my health over the last few months and was so inspired that she wanted to know all the details of what I do so she can try it herself and recommend it to her patients. She was delighting over how I’m “fixed”! Maybe a bit optimistic, but still 😉
A few FAQs about juicing:
Can’t you just buy some juice from the supermarket and get the same benefits? Unfortunately, absolutely not. It has been so pasteurised by the point that it’s sold that it is virtually devoid of nutrients and all that’s really left is sugar, flavour and water.
But surely even fresh juices are still full of sugar?
This is a difficult question to address. The sugar in fruit is fructose – fructose is used in a lot of refined/ processed foods as a sweetener and can contribute to weight-gain when consumed in excess. But I wholeheartedly believe, based on mine and other people’s experiences, that the sugar in freshly extracted fruit juice is treated differently by the body to the fructose used in unhealthy foods and drinks (e.g. coke). Have you ever known anyone getting diabetes or getting fat from eating too much fruit? Moreover, it’s important to balance out the fruit sugar by juicing vegetables too. I often aim for 50:50 fruit and veg in my juices. (Don’t worry, for the most part you really can’t taste the vegetables as long as you use a sweet fruit for the base such as apple or pineapple). I think it’s just a case of trying freshly extracted fruit juice for yourself and noticing how different your body feels after that compared to a glass of supermarket juice, a bottle of coke or a bag of Maltesers. I can’t scientifically back up my point on the body treating fruit sugar differently and I’m pretty sure there isn’t any concrete evidence out there. But based on ‘anecdotal evidence’, there is a difference. I’m pretty confident that science will prove it one day. Until then, don’t take my word for it – just try it for yourself and see what you think.
What’s all this fuss about detoxing?
A lot of juicers I know – including the ones I follow like Jason Vale, Joe Cross and Neil Martin – talk about detoxing and say that juicing can detox the body and make it more “alkaline”. I’ve heard stories about things “binding to toxins” and “drawing them out of the colon”. I’m very skeptical to be honest. I’m not an expert, but a lot of people who are have called bullshit on the detox theory. Hey, maybe one day science will find that detoxing is a viable concept but at the moment I’m not convinced. I think it’s probably a misunderstanding of physiology rather than malice behind the detox theories. I do believe, however, that aiming to fulfil your nutrient requirements through juice and healthy eating whilst avoiding processed and refined foods and sugars will help your body enormously. I think “detox” is an inappropriate word. “Cleansing” is a similarly loaded word but I have less of a problem with this, just because eating a healthy diet does feel cleansing in some respects. But if it’s applied to the concept of cleansing your body of toxins, again I’m skeptical.
Don’t jump straight into a juice fast. You will feel like shit and not enjoy it at all. The first time I did a fast I hadn’t been juicing/ eating healthily for long (it had been about 3 weeks) and my body was not happy about subsisting on just juice – everything ached, I had a permanent headache, I was incredibly lethargic and generally I just didn’t want to leave the house. I gave up on day 4 of that fast (by that time I was feeling a little better but I wasn’t going to have access to a juicer for a couple of days so had to stop anyway). I did another fast about 3 months after incorporating juicing into my diet, and it was SO much easier and an all round pleasant experience! I actually felt full of energy and generally amazing while I was doing it. I really do believe that a lot of the difficulty people have if they start juice fasts too early on is due to withdrawal from processed and refined foods and sugars. If you go from eating crap food – which you’re psychologically and physically accustomed and addicted to – to consuming just juice, your body is going to wonder what the hell is going on and make you aware that it’s unhappy with you.
It’ll also make you crave the junk food you may be used to, in the same way that a drug-addict craves a fix. You’re basically withdrawing from highly addictive substances.
My advice would be to start trying to make the foods you eat more healthy in general, and incorporating one or two juices a day as snacks alongside that. Maybe then move on to trying to have a juice instead of your normal breakfast, but eat normally (healthy food!) for the rest of the day and carry on with one or two more juices as snacks. If you keep that up for a month or two, that’s a good foundation upon which to try the proper juice fasts. Hopefully by then you will have kicked any addiction to junk food/ sugar, and your body will deal better with consuming just juice.
Deliciously Ella – a girl who has the same medical problems that I do but has learned to manage them effectively through healthy-eating.
I’d be interested to hear people’s views and experiences on this! If you give it a try let me know how you get on and if it helps you in any way.