Taking the Qi Juices cleanse challenge

BEIRUT: On the second day of a three-day juice fast, my kitchen looked like it had been attacked by an angry squirrel. Spewed everywhere were bits of almond, spilled onto the floor, floating in the sink and fused to the stovetop. I started the Qi Juices cleanse in hope of offering some advice to readers looking for ways to get healthy while the new year is fresh. The cleanse is a juice-only fast that consists of six beverages made from locally grown, organic produce delivered each day. The faster should consume only those juices and as much water and herbal tea as he or she likes.

I first met the creators of Qi Juices in November 2013 while on assignment for a different health-related article at Edde Sands in Jbeil. Like me, Leila Fakih Nashabe and Hana Abireza were participating in a cooking class; while munching on scallops and avocado chocolate mousse, we got to talking.

The pair imported the idea for a juice cleanse from the United States, where they both became health nuts. Their passion for healthy living was infectious, and after our second meeting, I found myself researching vegan brownie recipes.

Their project to create the country’s first cold-press, organic juices has had a ripple effect of sorts. For example, we can thank them for bringing the superveg kale to the country and demanding more organic produce from local farms.

When they opened for business in March to spread the juice-cleanse gospel, I was definitely skeptical. But I knew the only way to really understand the hype about juicing would be to try it myself.

Cut, a year later, to my almond-strewn kitchen.

After 18 hours on the cleanse, I awoke in the middle of the night to hunger pangs so fierce they drove me out of bed and in search of something I could eat – well, drink – that would not undo the cleanse.

I was dedicated to getting the full experience without cheating. So I decided to turn the serving of almonds I had in the pantry into a protein-infused herbal tea.

At 2 a.m., starving, sleep-deprived and dreading the next day at work, I sat on my bedroom floor with an Arabic coffee cup and a wooden garlic masher pulverizing 20 almonds.

The low point, however, was not this scene but minutes later when I tripped and hurled half the grinds across the kitchen in a spray of nut dust. After boiling, straining and drinking what was left, I went to bed defeated.

Fortunately, by the second day, things improved.

In spite of the nut fiasco, I awoke the next morning alert and refreshed after only five hours of sleep. Nashabe later explained that feeling rested is a common benefit of juicing. She said the body’s digestive tract and liver get a break from processing food, and therefore, the body as a whole has more restful sleep.

On day two, I also felt little-to-no hunger and nothing like the pangs from the night before. Instead, my main physical concern had become a noticeable change in my mental capacity.

My brain felt like a steamed-up bathroom, and I was having a harder time articulating and, much to my horror, writing efficiently. I reread a document for about 30 minutes trying to decide whether to replace the words citrus fruits with mandarin oranges. After 250 words of nonsense, I abandoned the article, an ultimately fruitless task, to answer emails.

Though Nashabe seemed surprised by my stymied brainpower, other firsthand accounts I read online described a similar state of mental fog. When I expressed my concern openly at work, colleagues mentioned a lack of protein as the potential culprit. Detox diets with minimal protein can result in fatigue, according to a doctor response on Mayo Clinic’s website.

The juices contain less than 5 grams of protein a day, 10 percent of the recommended intake for an adult woman. If my late-night, nut-water binge wasn’t evidence enough of protein deprivation, in three days no other food fantasy could break through the image of a medium rare beef patty.

That’s not to say I didn’t like the juices. I actually enjoyed them more as the cleanse wore on. The carrot-based juice in the evening tasted richer than it did the first day, the green lemonade sweeter and more refreshing. Even the veg-rich breakfast juice – the aftertaste of which is a bit like tabbouleh – had grown on me.

By the end, I looked forward to all my juices with the exception of my teatime meal, the “Red Magic,” which to me never stopped tasting like sweetened dirt.

Nashabe and Abireza are against promoting the detox as a diet to lose weight, although I did lose 2.5 kilos. The benefits, they told me, are really cleansing the body of processed foods and renewing better eating habits.

“Our body doesn’t have the ability to tell us: ‘Don’t! I can’t digest this,’” Nashabe said. So the cleanse gets detox-ers in tune with what their bodies need, she said.

If those were the expected outcomes – and despite all the discomforts – then my juice cleanse was really successful. I’ve suffered from mild acid reflux since the ripe old age of 10. It comes in unpredictable chest-seizing waves. My old-man’s disease has been under control since the beginning of the cleanse without any medicine.

Personally, the biggest benefit – and hopefully the long-term effect – was a change of habits, not a forced change but one that feels instinctual.

A week of omitting sugar from my tea, and I feel no need to bring it back. I’m not craving starches at all. I made a pot of quinoa and red lentil mujaddara in preparation for eating real foods, but the protein-rich carbohydrates looked so dense and heavy in their pot, I gave them to my roommates. I opted for a homemade quinoa tabbouleh instead.

And although I was craving beef for three days, when it eventually came time to chow down, I broke my fast with – what else – a bag of unsalted almonds.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 17, 2014, on page 1.




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