Is juicing an eating disorder?

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Ingredients for a ‘Master Cleanse’ Photo by i am real estate photographer/ Creative Commons/ Flickr

Los Angeles is the only place I’ve ever been invited to someone’s house for a meal and been served a glass of juice, period. That morning, I sat on my host’s patio, sipping a small, bright glassful of antioxidant-rich juice, listening to the gentle crash of waves, and thinking that surely the plate of bagels must be coming. It never did.

I moved here for film school. During my first week, I saw a classmate sitting on the floor eating what appeared to be lawn clippings. When I invited some friends over for dinner at my small rented bungalow, one arrived with her own dinner and explained she was only eating “foods that were sprouting.” Then there was the friend whose spirit guide told him he should only eat lettuce, and the friend whose healer prescribed a diet of only yellow and orange foods.

Still, most of these dieters eventually gave in to that ancient evolutionary urge called “hunger.” Ninety-five percent of diets fail, according to various studies.

Only the juicers seem to soldier on when their comrades fall. The first true juice regimen I heard about was the Hot Lemonade cleanse. For several days, you’re supposed to drink hot water with lemon and cayenne and a drop of maple syrup. I was informed that it neutralizes acids and releases toxins from the body.

I admit I had some questions—and still do. Will lemon juice and cayenne really conquer the contaminants in my body? Even if they will, when I’m through juicing, I will still live in a polluted big city. I will bathe in its treated water and breathe its air. Besides, isn’t getting rid of toxins in our bodies kind of what our kidneys and liver are supposed to be doing?

Despite my questions, I have attempted two juice cleanses. The first time, when I was on the recently much-hyped Master Cleanse, I lasted eight hours, maybe nine, before reviving at Starbucks with a latte and Snickerdoodle. The second time, my juice cleanse included green tea, which at least lessened the caffeine withdrawal headache. That attempt lasted a full 24 hours.

So why do people like me, who know better, do this to ourselves?

I suspect part of it is just where we live. Yes, telling people how and what to eat is more than a California concern; diet industry revenue nationally was $61.6 billion in 2012. But Los Angeles was the first place where immoveable foreheads became normal. Thousands of people move out here to be a part of the “Industry.” You work to see yourself captured forever in time, forever young and healthy. No wonder we’re attracted to juicing and its promises of cleansing away the decaying, the “toxic,” and the old.

But there’s also a darker side to it. Sixty-five percent of American women between the ages of 25 and 45 report having disordered eating behaviors, according to the University of North Carolina. Juicers often use terminology that sounds all too similar to the lingo of eating disorders. They speak of the “euphoria” they experience as they leave food behind, a sentiment that is eerily reminiscent of the “pro-ana,” starvation-promoting underground, and the purge of toxins, all too reminiscent of the celebratory side of bulimia.

“I’m getting ready to introduce solids,” my juicing friends announce. The last time we talked about “introducing solids,” we were talking about our infants. One theory about anorexia is that it is a rejection of womanhood, that the adolescent anorexic is seeking to nullify her emerging body, her adult body—her hips, her growing breasts. Perhaps the youth quest leads naturally to eating disorders.

Every year, I make resolutions on New Year’s Day that I write down in my date book. So far, since January 1, I have driven my children to school 15 times without muttering obscenities about other drivers. Also on my list is another juice cleanse. I haven’t attempted it yet. But if you see a small blonde woman desperately trying to cut the line at Starbucks later this year, it might be me. Please, have mercy.

Claudia Grazioso is a screenwriter whose credits include Are We There Yet?, and Bring It On Again and the upcoming Christmas Bounty. She teaches writing at UCLA. She wrote this for Zócalo Public Square.

Below: KCRW tries juicing