The delivery occurs some time before 2 a.m., when someone comes to your house or apartment and drops off the same kind of black insulated cooler you might ordinarily use to take a turkey sandwich to work. There is no food in this soft-sided package, however. Instead, each contains six bottles of freshly made juice from Total Cleanse, a service offered throughout the Greater Toronto Area, Vancouver and Montreal. Like its American counterparts, Blueprint and Cooler Cleanse, the program touts itself as a healthy way to detoxify the body through the convenience of home delivery.
Think of it as liquid breakfast, lunch and dinner - and three liquid snacks in between. Also allowed: herbal teas and water. Forbidden: solid food.
There is no particular magic to juice cleanses: Countless websites and blogs offer instructions and recipes for do-it-yourself approaches. But their recent association with celebrities - Salma Hayek is a partner in Cooler Cleanse, Oprah has pushed green juices - and availability via credit card have propelled the regimens from fringe phenomenon to fad.
On the surface, they seem like the yin to KFC's Double Down yang. That's not to say juice cleanses aren't controversy-free, especially among nutritionists and medical practitioners who worry that women will resort to the fast as an extreme way to drop a dress size. Juice-cleanse advocates, on the other hand, defend them as wellness tools that allow our overworked digestive systems a much-needed rest, the internal plumbing equivalent of spring cleaning.
Since everyone can use a tune-up now and then, I decided to give the Total Cleanse program, which launched last summer, a try for three days. Its entirely liquid "meals" alternate between a Green Energy cocktail (romaine lettuce, spinach, cucumbers, parsley, celery, kale and apples), "Lemonade" (a cayenne-infused citron beverage sweetened with maple syrup) and something called "Very Berry" (a filling blend of blueberries, pineapple, apple and wheatgrass).
Rebecca Malen, who started Total Cleanse as an offshoot of her Nutrition in Motion diet delivery service, estimates that one day's allotment of the juices (including the three snack bottles) contains more than 15 pounds of raw fruits and vegetables. The six juices provide anywhere between 900 and 1,100 calories per day, which is a significant reduction for most people but sufficient enough to maintain some degree of energy.
"The goal is to have the body do the least amount of work as possible," she says, noting that weight loss is inevitable but should not be the focus.
In my case, I made the mistake of starting the program during a week that was packed with evening engagements. On day one, all was fine until dinnertime, when I had to tote two juice bottles to a restaurant where my book club was meeting. When my friends' food - pizza and burgers, natch - arrived, I was sipping green juice out of a highball. Not fun. To avoid further torture, I cancelled my plans for the following night.
Most of all, I did not want to become one of those people who gloats incessantly about being on a cleanse. In their company, the sharing of frequent bowel-movement updates is bad enough, but the holier-than-thou, "my body looks awesome" self-praise that has a way of making everyone else feel guilty for eating a salad is intolerable. As it turned out, gloating wasn't a problem for me: Increasingly weak and progressively starved, I could only congratulate myself on small victories like getting off my sofa.
Marni Lokash, a Toronto real-estate agent who tried Total Cleanse in November, had a similar experience. "I just felt that there weren't enough calories to keep me going," she says. "I couldn't get through yoga class the same way I normally do. And as much as I liked idea of doing it, it didn't accomplish what thought it was accomplish."
Lokash was hoping that going through a juice cleanse would help her kick a few of her "bad habits," such as drinking coffee and wine. She was aware, though, that five days of juicing wouldn't dramatically change her appearance.
In my case, the trade-off for a flat stomach - not to be mistaken, alas, with firmness, as the jiggle doesn't disappear - was progressive brain fog, an ever-present cleanse cloud. By my third day, I was so numb with hunger that I started to experience the euphoria (or insanity?) described by many who juice regularly. Even so, one thought kept weighing heavy on my conscience: Why do people pay good money (between $48 and $55 a day for Total Cleanse, depending on program length) to deprive themselves of food when there are so many people in the world who would give the clothes on their back for three square meals?
Nutrition expert Joy Bauer has watched juice cleanses rise and fall in popularity over the years and speculates that home delivery is responsible for the latest spike. "It can be sexier to purchase than to make at home," says the author, whose newest cookbook, Slim and Scrumptious, made its debut last week. "But the ingredients, when you look at them, are inexpensive. Sometimes, it's disheartening to see what people will pay for a magic bullet."
Joseph Mercola, the widely followed natural-health-care doctor based in Hoffman Estates, Ill., says freshly pressed vegetable-based juices can be a simple way to isolate food allergies and clear up some chronic health issues, but he warns against cleanses that are too fruit-based because of the high fructose content.
In the first few days following my cleanse, I craved foods that snapped, crunched and reminded me why I have teeth. But I also found myself missing the sweet, refreshing juices.
"People don't realize that it's all sugar, so it can, ironically, intensify a sweet tooth," Bauer explains.
The motto for the Blueprint program - "We think. You drink." - is also helpful to keep in mind. Sure, the slogan is catchy, but it also unintentionally highlights the naiveté of some juicers."Once you go through the efforts of removing yourself from some foods, you do develop a new level of awareness that definitely helps," Mercola says. But at the same time, "you haven't addressed the emotional issues or triggers that may be at the root of the problem."
Cleansing tips and tricks
Follow the advice to prep pre-cleanse. This means cutting out all meat, dairy, caffeine, alcohol, sugar and wheat three days before juice time. Similarly, resist the urge to pig out post-cleanse.
Attempt the program only when daily demands aren't too taxing. Decline dinner party invites, scale back on aggressive exercise and don't schedule any major work deadlines in anticipation of cleanse cloud.
Drink plenty of water or green tea between juices.
Avoid gum. The chewing sensation will trick your body into thinking it's getting food, leading to even more hunger.
Some juice junkies recommend a teaspoon of olive oil with a squirt of lemon before bed to help move your system along. Not only is it effective, this small allowance of fat tastes good.
Brush your teeth as soon as you finish your last drop of juice. Nothing helps quell cravings like a minty fresh mouth.