First off, despite the dramatic title, I want to say that juice fasting or juice cleansing is wonderful and when done correctly it can be an amazing, physically cathartic experience. I’m a HUGE fan of Joe Cross and his Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead documentaries and I have seen MANY people completely reboot their lives and overcome chronic disease through juice fasting.
BUT I DID IT ALL WRONG!!
And before I tell you why I should have never done this 28 day juice fast, I’ll also tell you that I’m extremely happy that I did and even though it nearly killed me, it actually, kind of saved my life.
My story is a familiar one. Working my desk job, combined with way too many carbohydrates, had me feeling sick and sluggish. A plethora of ailments began to take hold of my body and pretty soon I found myself walking into the bedroom and saying to my partner, Carrie
“I’m just going to fast and give my body a chance to heal. I have no appetite anyway, so this should be pretty easy.”
“How long are you going to fast?” Carrie asked.
“Until my blood pressure is normal and I get all this fat off my torso.” I replied.
As Carrie and I are trying to become pregnant I joked with people that Carrie was “now eating for two.”
“You’re pregnant?!” they’d exclaim.
“No, I’m fasting.” I’d say “She now has to eat for me, too.”
I’m certainly no stranger to fasting, having done many seven day fasts in my twenties and still, to this day, I am an avid practitioner of 16 hour per day intermittent fasting (this just means that I only eat during an eight hour window each day – there is a LOAD of scientific data discussing the benefits of this and it’s incredibly easy to do once you get used to it. Easy Hack: It’s even easier when you put coconut oil and grass-fed butter into your morning coffee, because the fat will have you feeling full all morning.)
But one look at my gut and my horrifying 153/110 blood pressure reminded me that this wasn’t going to be a seven day fast. This was going to take a while and I had no idea how long it would last.
I was literally fat, sick and wondered, in the darkest corners of my mind, if I was nearing death.
This is NOT your typical “I juiced and now I feel amazing!!” blog. My goal here is to help other sick people from falling into the pit I did. You get to learn from my mistakes. What a bargain!!
I had been feeling run down and achy. Working at home on a project that was fairly mindless had me smoking WAY too much marijuana. I knew it was getting out of control and the little voice in my head kept telling me that I should give it a break. My father was an addict and incredibly abusive, so I always get concerned anytime I start to lean on something. This project was mind-numbingly boring and the pot made it slightly less so. With each puff I wondered if I was giving myself lung cancer. By the way, as a quick aside, people like to say that marijuana isn’t as bad as cigarettes. Well, it is and it isn’t. There are actually a few things about smoking pot that are extremely bad for you. In short, unfiltered heat and tar on your lungs and throat cause health problems. I’m not going to get into a detailed discussion of terpanoids and carcinogens here. Suffice it to say that marijuana has its pros and cons and when you are abusing it the way I was, the cons start winning out. To make matters even worse, I had recently started vaping marijuana juice, which contains diacetyl. Diacetyl, which is in most vape juices, not only causes breathing issues, but it’s just too freaking convenient. I was high all day, every day. Then one day, my throat, lungs and esophagus started to burn…BAD!!
I threw the juice cartridge in the trash and cut my marijuana usage way back. But every time I would try to take a traditional smoking hit with friends, I’d get really sick. I lost my appetite. I lost my energy and honestly, I got really freaking scared.
So I started juice fasting.
I rewatched both Fat, Sick documentaries, as well as Super Juice Me and the EXCELLENT documentary on Prime simply called Fasting and I read tons of articles on fasting to make sure that I was putting the absolute best organic juice into my system.
Obviously the first few days were extremely difficult. I was not only giving up food and marijuana, but also my daily wine intake had been between two and four glasses with dinner each evening, as well as the occasional bourbon (are you starting to see how I got sick?.) But I was really expecting things to get better around day four. Like I said, I had fasted many times and once I got through the initial detox phase, a wonderful wave of energy and mental clarity would wash over me.
But mine never came.
To make matters worse, I was having incredibly vivid and disturbing nightmares each night. These visions were so bad that I began to fear sleep. In addition to my body attacking me, my mind, it seemed, had decided to join in.
I was in agony. The pain became completely isolated in my throat and esophagus and it worsened by the day, combining with a metallic taste in my mouth. And there was something new. I couldn’t breath. My chest became extremely tight and I absolutely could not get a full breath. Of course, I thought that I was having a heart attack, but the symptoms would come and go. I continued to describe the symptoms to friends and family as “a scratchiness behind my sternum.” and I noticed that certain yoga positions (I’ve been doing yoga religiously for the last couple of months) would exacerbate my discomfort.
What the hell was going on?!
Everyone was telling me that it was probably just sinus issues due to seasonal allergies. I had never struggled with these before, but I started taking a plethora of different allergy meds, had our furnace and vents cleaned, starting sleeping with an air purifier and humidifier next to my bed, yet the pain persisted.
I clearly wasn’t having a heart attack, at least not a major one, as the symptoms would come and go. So off I went to talk to Dr. Google.
Dr. Google is a merciless masochist for paranoids like myself. I learned that you simply cannot type the word esophagus into Google without page after page of articles about esophageal cancer popping up. According to Dr. Google my worst fears were real. I had given myself cancer with all the marijuana smoking and vaping. I put on a good show for the kids, then went into the shower and silently cried. “What have I done? I betrayed Carrie and the kids. I fucking killed myself!!”
I was absolutely enveloped in shame.
But wait, the scratchiness and burning stopped while I was in the shower. You can’t get rid of cancer by taking a shower. An hour later the pain returned. I hopped back into the steaming hot shower. It went away again. What the actual hell was going on?!
I went to the doctor. She said that she thought my throat and esophagus were inflamed from smoking pot and told me to drink hot tea with honey. She also said that she thought I had asthma and gave me an inhaler.
As I was in constant pain and could never get a full breath, hot tea and my inhaler became my constant companions. And oh, there was something else. I started to get really, really cold. I was wearing layers around the house, in the middle of summer, just holding a cup of extremely hot chamomile tea, sipping it constantly, just to keep warm. I knew something was really wrong when Carrie and Chloe (my daughter) were both talking about how hot it was and I had my hoodie pulled up and was wearing flannel.
After everyone went to bed, I Googled my symptoms (by the way, this is such a typical male maneuver. I didn’t want to worry anyone so I kept this secret. I am working really hard to stop doing things like this.) I was not myself. I could barely form coherent thought. According to Google I was severely dehydrated. How could I be dehydrated when I was drinking all this juice? It turns out that juice doesn’t have much in the way of electrolytes, so when juicing you have to really up your water intake. I thought about it and I couldn’t actually remember the last time I had peed. Google said to drink chicken broth and lemon water with a pinch of salt and sugar in it. As I said, I was not able to really form complete thoughts so finding these items was surprisingly difficult for me. My daughter walked into the kitchen at 1:30 in the morning and saw that every single can in every single cabinet was dragged out and onto the floor.
“I need lemons and chicken broth.” I barely got out through an incredibly dry mouth. Chloe found these items for me and stayed with me for an hour as I sat on the kitchen floor and shivered, drinking alternately from a bowl of broth and a glass of lemon water, gradually starting to feel better. Once I finally had to pee I looked at it and saw that it was brown. I had never had brown urine before. My ignorance of how to hydrate properly during a juice fast had made me very sick.
And I felt incredibly alone…
Giving up food and wine and pot and friends and sex (when you’re really sick you just can’t be around people. I knew Carrie was feeling lonely too, but I had nothing to offer her.) had me feeling extremely isolated. I was just playing my guitar and singing for hours a day, just to keep my mind off whatever the hell was happening to me. I’ve been down in the abyss before, but never this deep. I was so scared and so lonely and the pain kept increasing.
So I scheduled another doctor’s appointment. This time with a different doctor. I knew I needed to find someone new to help me with this.
The new doctor said “I think you have asthma.”, which sounded like beautiful music compared to my cancer fears, but then she added “But I want a chest x-ray to rule out pneumonia and luuuuuuuung caaaaanceeeeeer.”
When she said “lung cancer” it was like the scene in the movie where the needle slides abruptly off the record.
I said “Didn’t you just say that you didn’t hear any pneumonia when you listened to my lungs?!”
“Yeah. I did. But there IS some wheezing.” she replied.
“Okay then, by process of elimination you just said that you think that I have lung cancer.”
She smiled and said “I don’t think you have lung cancer. I think you have asthma. I just need the x-ray to rule everything else out.”
“When will I get the results?” I asked.
“It will take about an hour.” she said “I’ll call you with the results.”
“I’ll just wait here.” I said “I just can’t hear news like that over the phone.”
I sat in the waiting area and tried to read my book for the next hour. Each time the door opened I sat upright, fear pulsing through my body. I suppose I should inform you that my paranoia regarding lung cancer was largely informed by two things, my cousin, who never smoked and who was the closest thing I had to a brother growing up, and who was only two years older than I am, recently died of lung cancer. I can’t tell you how incredibly sad this made me and how it informed my fears on this matter. Also, I had recently made a new friend, who upon our second meeting came out and said
“I have no idea why I’m telling you this, but I’m currently battling lung cancer.”
“Were you a smoker?” I asked.
“Never.” he said.
Finally a nurse came out and said “Mr. Sparks, the doctor would like to speak with you.”
“Oh shit!!” I thought “If they are calling me back it must be really bad.”
As the door leading me down the hallway to the rest of my life opened, the nurse turned to me and said
“I’m sorry. The doctor is busy. I’ll just tell you. Your x-ray is totally normal. You have asthma.”
She handed me a prescription for another inhaler.
I turned to Carrie and said
“By ‘normal’ do you think they mean a ‘normal’ amount of lung cancer?”
“Just stop it.” Carrie said, laughed and punched me on the arm.
So I had asthma. I started to accept it. I Googled the symptoms and sure enough, I had every single one. I hit the inhalers when I couldn’t breath and carried on with my juice fast, making sure to juice lots of celery, beets, carrots, red cabbage, ginger and anything else that was even remotely rumored to help asthma sufferers.
I dived deep into the literature and even took a class on breathing methods that was supposed to help with asthma. I learned that asthma was way more serious than I ever knew and that developing it at my age meant that it was even more dangerous. I learned that asthma kills 11 Americans every single day and that my asthma was way worse than any of the asthma my friends had. They would get the occasional attack, whereas my attacks would last for hours. I spent more hours having attacks than I did not having them. In my breathing class I found out that many asthma attacks are ironically triggered by over-breathing and this usually occurs when the asthmatic breathes through their mouth.
I dragged my sick self to perform at an open mic and by the time my set was finished I couldn’t even catch my breath. I honestly thought I was going to die right there on the stage. Turns out I suck in a lot of air when I sing, which leads me to have really bad attacks. So I had to give that up too. Which wasn’t too much of a surprise, because lately I had been finding it increasingly difficult to speak. I suppose the most ridiculous thing I did during this time was I actually started taping my mouth shut while I was asleep. Sleep, I learned from the asthma class, was the time when most mouth-breathing was done. The solution? Tape your mouth shut while you sleep. Crazy, right?
I joked with Carrie that all my exes had been wanting to do this to me for years.
It wasn’t all bad. The juicing was achieving great strides in my blood pressure and resting heart-rate and inches were coming off my torso. Also the arthritis in my hands was subsiding. Twice I tried to play basketball with my best friend, thinking that it might be fun to see how it felt to elevate in a lighter body and shoot baskets with hands that didn’t hurt and twice I had to apologize and go home.
I just couldn’t breathe.
And neither of the inhalers were working. I was doing everything the doctor told me and reading a ton about asthma on the internet. I found out that my city, Indianapolis, has some of the worst air in the country and that Colorado is overflowing with transplanted asthmatics who go there to breathe the thin mountain air to slow down their asthma attacks. I told Carrie that we had to find a way to generate more money so we could move to Colorado. I think she thought I had lost my mind.
Every time I stopped being able to breathe I hit the inhaler. Each time the pain got worse and breathing became even more difficult. I told Chloe “I’m running out of Google search combinations. I don’t know how to fix this.”
I set another doctor’s appointment, again with a new doctor. And while I waited I kept reading and then I had my eureka moment!!
I found out that people with severe acid reflux often get asthma because the acid actually gets into their lungs and causes their airways to constrict. I rushed to the drugstore and bought Pepcid AC. I downed a capsule and waited.
I still couldn’t breathe. I was still on fire.
I called the doctor and told her that I thought maybe acid reflux was causing my asthma.
“Have you ever had acid reflux before?” she asked.
“Never.” I said “But I need to try something. These asthma inhalers are making me worse.”
She called in a prescription for Maximum Strength Zantac. I took it. Nothing.
Back to Google. Dr. Google said to mix a little baking soda in water and drink it. I tried. It seemed to get a little better.
Dr. Google said to drink apple cider vinegar. I did. It was like battery acid. It made it worse.
Dr. Google said to CHEW FUCKING GUM!!
“Where you going?” Chloe said.
“To the store to get gum. It says on all these acid reflux websites that chewing gum helps.” I said.
“That seems crazy.” she said.
“I know.” I said “But I’m desperate and out of ideas.”
I paid for the gum. Popped it in my mouth. And for the first time in a month everything stopped burning.
I came home elated.
“I have GERD!!” I said.
“What is GERD?” Carrie asked.
“Gastroesophagal Reflux Disease. Basically heartburn, but it’s chronic and much more serious. If you don’t get a handle on it, it causes ulcers in your esophagus and esophageal cancer, both of which can kill you.”
So I started doing all the standard things that acid reflux sufferers do when they get serious about getting rid their disease. I took antacids of all kinds. I even ordered antacids from England, because they have far superior antacids there (antacids that contain Sodium Alginate not only stop stomach acid, but also stop Pepsin from leaking into your esophagus and Pepsin is the REAL killer when it comes to GERD.) I elevated the head of my bed so I could sleep without acid pouring into my lungs. I drank baking soda water and aloe vera juice around the clock and chewed gum constantly, which is actually quite difficult when your jaws haven’t chewed for 28 days. The gum was really the only thing that helped.
I reasoned that I should start eating again. After all, my blood pressure was where I wanted it and I was curious if eating food would give my stomach acid something to do besides attack my throat and esophagus.
I started slowly with just some light soups and a few bites of produce and OH MY GOD THE ACID CAME IN BUCKETS!! I was in absolute agony. Every single thing I ate caused my reflux to get SO MUCH WORSE!! And, yeah, I had perused the list of trigger foods and made sure to avoid them.
It seemed that I could eat absolutely nothing.
So I suffered. After 28 days without food, I was now afraid of food. When I wasn’t eating I was in pain and when I did eat I was in hell. And I hadn’t been able to get a deep breath for weeks. I wondered if I ever would again.
Until one night, I was back, deep into Google, reading everything ever written about GERD, LPF and Silent Reflux when I came across a doctor in France who claimed that he cured himself of GERD with a low carb diet. And he wrote a book about it. His reasoning intrigued me so I purchased the e-book and twelve hours later I had finished it.
Horrified at the prospect of eating food, I fearfully approached the stove where I made scrambled eggs. I ate them and waited. No fire. A few hours later I made bacon, ate it and waited. No fire. I still had the pain, but eating these foods hadn’t worsened it, unlike every other food I had eaten since breaking the fast. I suddenly realized that drinking the juice had always put me in more pain. Juicing was literally making me sick.
According to the book’s author, Dr. Norman Robillard, GERD is caused by carbohydrates that your body cannot digest fermenting in your lower intestine, thus causing the gas to force the acid and pepsin out of your stomach and into your esophagus and throat.
Juicing, for me, was the absolute worst thing that I could do.
I have a new doctor’s appointment this week and I plan to use the time to educate my doctor about how to cure this awful disease, so she won’t be prescribing asthma medications to her GERD patients and making them sicker (Albuterol, the most common asthma medication, actually worsens acid reflux.) And somewhere between here and England are some super-expensive antacid tablets that I won’t need by the time they arrive at my door.
I’ve been taking HUGE life-affirming breaths for the past three days and every morning I wake up with slightly less fire in my chest.
Juicing is wonderful and I encourage everyone to check it out and see if it’s right for them. But if you have reflux issues it may cause them to get out of control.
If you have GERD get rid of the carbs (and possibly dairy – I tried to eat cheese and it just annihilated me.) You’ll lose a lot of weight which also really helps with acid reflux.
I know doctors mean well and sometimes we need them, but honestly, you are going to have to be your own doctor in many cases. There’s a lot of information and misinformation on the internet.
But the truth IS out there.
I’m living proof.
Blood Pressure Before Fast: 153/110 After Fast: 117/72
Resting Heart Rate Before Fast: 97 After Fast: 59
Weight Before Fast: 222 After Fast: 188