Michele Humes (I live in New York and I write about food.)

Let Me Tell You About The BluePrint Cleanse

Earlier this year, I did this thing called the BluePrint Cleanse, meaning that I took three days out of my spring break to live off very expensive juice. I did this for two reasons:

1. To lose a modest amount of weight in an efficient way. (I didn’t go around advertising this, because everyone I did advertise it to pointed out that I didn’t, strictly speaking, need to. My feeling is that snug pants are snug pants, whatever the size of the pants, and everyone is entitled to want those pants to go back to not being snug without having to swat away missionaries from the Church of Healthy Body Image.)
2. To know. I really wanted to know. I had spent years debunking detox and thumbing my nose at detox, but never actually experiencing detox for myself. I’d read about the inner glow and I’d read–with considerably more interest–about the outer glow; if it existed, I wanted a piece of it, and if it didn’t, I wanted the empirical proof to say so. So when my grocery delivery service started not only retailing BluePrint juices (previously available only through their own website) but retailing them at a bit of a discount, I took the convergence of snug pants and introductory savings as a cosmic omen to go forth and spend in three days on myself what I would typically spend on two weeks of home-cooked breakfasts, lunches and dinners for me and my husband.

And what did I get for my money? (I paid about $170, which would have been $195 if I had ordered directly from the company.) Again, two things:

1. Hypoglycemic shock: three days drifting in and out of it. I’m not exaggerating. I’m convinced that’s the accurate medical term for the debilitating lightheadedness I experienced for most of the 72 hours I subsisted on juice. I spent most of that time on the couch willing it to be 8:30pm, when it would be socially acceptable to repair to my bed and pray for a merciful sleep that, however fitful, however fragmented, would hasten the end of my self-inflicted torment. On the third and final day, a hare-brained scheme (oh, what I wouldn’t have given then for a morsel of hare, or even the brains of a hare) saw me get on the subway and head for Century 21, the designer discount store down by Wall Street. Only my Chinese blood sustained me there, a sort of genetic adrenaline that kicks in whenever there are bargains within a 50-foot radius (I’m still rocking the navy blue cross-body bag I sniffed out that day), and once I was back on mass transit, it was over: black spots ricocheted across my field of vision, and I clung to the pole for dear life whether the train was moving or not. Once home, I fell upon a Persian cucumber like a madwoman–a special kind of madwoman, it must be said, who takes a break from foaming at the mouth to season with Maldon salt. You are officially allowed to cheat with cucumbers and low-sodium vegetable broth, but only in an emergency. Just leaving the house on this regimen felt like one.
2. Sticker shock: possibly even more paralyzing than the hypoglycemic kind. The logic being that I had paid for it, so I had to see it through. It makes more sense when you are already insensate from seeing it through.

Just so we’re clear, I’m not going to talk about how the juices tasted. Judith Newman, writing in the New York Times, describes the green juice in particular as “like drinking everything bad that ever happened to me in high school,” and what could I possibly have to add to that? Anyway, how the hell do you think they tasted? I’d rather focus on how I felt between feeding times. Now, I’m not saying that everyone is going to experience this the same way I did. I don’t know if there’s a diagnosis for my “condition,” but I’ve always been hit hard by low blood sugar, which means I’m usually very careful (unless I have a $170 reason not to be) to eat proper meals at reasonable times. I do know from observing the people around me that plenty of them can postpone meals without blacking out, and maybe these are the people who will do OK with BluePrint: they might not find it terribly fun, but they’re not going to find their legs trembling or their vision narrowing into pinholes, either. But if they do (and this is the one aspect of the scheme that truly strikes me as not right, everything else being more or less fair play and my own damn fault for being so vain), they will read in the accompanying literature that they are not to worry, that these are “detox symptoms.” Bad tastes I can, and did, deal with; bad faith is something else.

I don’t think that’s overstating it. Later, I googled the term “detox symptoms” and found this remarkable forum exhorting participants in the Master Cleanse–a DIY juice fast in which you consume only spicy lemonade for anywhere from 10 to 40 days–to embrace nausea and insomnia as “milestones.” When a forum user checks in to say that her hand has gone numb (a feeling I recognize from my most severe bouts with low blood sugar), one of her peers reminds her that detox symptoms vary between individuals, but that proper laxative use should resolve most of them. Over the next 69 pages of the thread, everything from back pain to, incredibly, food cravings is attributed to the detox process. It’s a remarkable narrative that’s been constructed here, one in which every red flag of physical distress has been reimagined as a sign of progress. BluePrint’s juice program may be less extreme than the all-lemonade Master Cleanse, but the underlying mythologies are disturbingly similar.

In the end, I think I did lose the weight. I don’t own a bathroom scale, so I can’t be precise about it, but I’m pretty sure my clothes started fitting better. My face also spent a few days looking splotchy and irritated–another thing BluePrint characterizes as a symptom of detox, but which my research suggests was a symptom of good old-fashioned dehydration. There was no lasting damage, as far as I could tell: I felt fine the moment I started eating food again, which, contrary to the recommended practice of easing back into solids over a period of several days, happened at about 5 o’clock the next morning when I spread half a jar of Skippy on a piece of toast. What’s been harder to shake has been the lingering sense of shame, which is much less about being perceived as vain or frivolous than about realizing that I blithely took part in something dark and disordered. I won’t be doing this again.