As a 21-year-old living in 21st century America, it is inevitable that I’ve taken part in my fair share of fad diets. Atkins, calorie counting, you name it. But in January of 2015, juicing was emerging as the latest and greatest weight loss aid—and I wanted to give it a try.

How It All Began

coffee, fish, beer, tea
Haley Mellen

Growing up, I always had a little baby fat, but after a cancer diagnosis and subsequent heavy rations of steroids, I had developed a little more than baby fat.

After being diagnosed with Acute Promyleoid Leukemia (APML) when I was 17, I made the conscious decision to take a gap year post high school graduation to let my blood counts recuperate. Although my doctors had told me that I was in remission six months after my diagnosis, the lingering effects of five rounds of chemotherapy left me hazy, and never quite as rejuvenated as I had been before getting sick.

The time off was much needed, but it often left me feeling bored, and with little control over my life. In high school, I was the class president, top of my class, and involved in sports, and now, I was sitting around, with little direction.

So Why Juicing?

Desperate to lose weight and gain some control, I Googled “the fastest way to lose 60 pounds.”

Eventually, I stumbled upon what I saw as the Holy Grail of fad diets—juicing. I was immediately enticed when I heard claims of people losing ten pounds in a week, on top of clearer skin and sharper thinking. Plus, I had cancer, and I had convinced myself that my body needed to be cleansed of the toxins that lingered after five rounds of chemotherapy.

I relished the fact that there was no question as to what was “allowed” on this diet. There was just fresh pressed juice — no food. This crystal clear divide made juicing mindless.

The Start of the Cleanse

My mom bought me a juicer, and within a week I commenced on the cleanse. Inspired by the documentary 'Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead,' I embarked on a 100-day juice fast, where I strictly consumed fresh-pressed fruit and vegetable juices and not a morsel of food. I figured it was 100 days out of my life — what was the worst that could happen?

The first few days were pure hell. I was starving and constantly daydreaming of food. I convinced myself that as I became further entrenched in the cleanse, it would become second nature. After about a week of juicing, I had already lost weight, which had pushed any doubts I had into the periphery. As the cleanse progressed, the old symptoms were replaced with new ones.

Every time I stood up, I felt lightheaded. I was always cold and struggled to sleep at night. I often had dreams that I would eat and gain all of the weight back.

However, I had grown immune to temptation. By the end of my cleanse, I had endured a trip to Mexico, Boston, countless holidays, and more than a handful of social gatherings where I would deny any food, only drinking my fresh pressed juice.

When I Realized It Wasn't Just a Fad 

As the fast approached its final days, the symptoms I had experienced in the earlier stints of the cleanse had amplified to a seriously dangerous degree.

My bones were protruding, my hair was coming out in clumps due to rapid weight loss, and my heart was beating around 40 beats per minute—falling into what my doctors categorized as the “anorexic range." Plus, my family's grocery bills were astronomical, averaging at least $70 a week for my produce alone.

I had lost a third of my body weight over the course of 100 days, yet it wasn’t enough. My doctors warned me that if I didn’t stop, there was a chance that I could go into cardiac arrest and die. Despite the concern of those around me, I didn’t want to stop.

It had become as second nature to me as eating junk food, and I was completely addicted to watching the number go down on the scale each time I stepped onto it.

A Fad Diet Turned Eating Disorder

After 120 days and intense pressure from my family and doctors, I finally ate my first bite of food. The blogs I referenced suggested eating prunes soaked in water, so that is what I did.

After a few bites, I ran upstairs to look in the mirror and make sure my thigh gap hadn’t gone away. I weighed myself, and I had gained back a few pounds. I broke into tears and vowed to juice until those pounds came off.

Eventually, I worked up the courage to eat again. My feelings of self-control seemed to dissipate with each bite I took, leaving me feeling completely out of control. I would ransack the kitchen, eating anything I could get my hands on. I didn’t care if it tasted good or how full I felt—I couldn’t stop myself.

Thus began a vicious two-year cycle of juicing, binging, then juicing. I often abused laxatives and diuretics in attempts to make myself look thinner. I craved the way my hip bones jutted out and my jaw line looked more defined after just a few days of juicing.

Overcoming It All

I spoke with therapists and tried "eating healthy," but nothing seemed to stick the way juicing did. Eventually, I came to realize that I was fighting a mental battle, not a physical one. 

It was not until I arrived at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, almost two years after my juicing craze began, that I started to develop a “normal” eating routine, consisting of balanced meals, falling in between the two extremes that I had previously engaged in.

The point of this is neither to denounce juicing, nor to promote it, but to prove the side effects that come from taking on ‘fad diets’ to such an extreme. I am not a doctor—I'm a novice at best when it comes to explaining the tentacle effects that juicing imposes on one’s health.

Looking back, the more emphasis I put on each and every calorie put into my body, the less happy I was. Restricting myself to such an extreme made this diet completely unattainable in the long run, despite what I had convinced myself.

As cliche as it may be, my experience with juicing taught me the importance of establishing a lifestyle, not just a diet that will tide me over for a few months.