Juice Cleanses Are Twenty-First Century Penance

At this point, pretty much everyone has heard that juice cleanses are kind of bad for you. So why keep doing them — unless they're a modern form of self-punishment?

When Judith Newman of the Times decided to do one of the cleanses — many of which involve buying a set of prepackaged juices from a company, then consuming very little else for several days — she talked to an expert. Says Dr. David Colbert, who says, "You have to ask yourself this question: With a juice cleanse, what are you really cleaning? Really, nothing. The bowel self-cleans. It's evolved over millions of years to do this." Also: "most people aren't Einsteins. Often their idea of a juice fast is having nothing but orange juice or apple juice for a week. In which case, you might as well call it the Toblerone diet, because that's how much sugar you're pouring into your system."

So why does Newman say "I may do a juice cleanse again?" Well, it could be this rather strange form of euphoria: "At the end of the three days I felt rather lithe and long-limbed, like a gibbon. I also felt a kind of shimmering on the surface of my skin, as excess weight worked its way out of my pores and escaped my body." I know when I want to feel like a gibbon, I hang around in trees eating bugs off my friends and waiting to evolve into a great ape — but to each her own. Aside from that exciting early-primate feeling, Newman offers this explanation: "I loved what generations before (and undoubtedly after) me loved about fasting: the triumph, however briefly, over sensuality."

Cleanses have been around for a while now, and my guess is that most people who can afford the brand-name kind (Newman used BluePrintCleanse, which cost $65 a day) have access to the many news articles that say these weird juices have no health benefits. No doubt some people who cleanse anyway don't trust traditional doctors' opinions. And for some, the cleanses may be part of an eating disorder. But Newman doesn't seem to have a clinical problem — she just wants to do penance. And she makes the connection to religion explicit, explaining at the beginning of her piece that "virtually every major religion has some fasting and cleansing ritual that supposedly allows the body to heal, regenerate and, in a sense, apologize for being such a jerk."

Which, fine. Apologize to your body if you feel like it. But go ahead and admit (as Newman, to her credit, does) that what you're doing is basically a ritual. And don't confuse drinking juice for a week with being pure in other ways. It's gotten all too easy to pretend like what you eat is the most important aspect of your personal morality, but it's really one of the least important. And say what you want about organized religions, a lot of them have traditions of good works and charity. If you're going to do the fasting thing, consider emulating those as well.

The Juice Cleanse: A Strange And Green Journey [NYT]

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