Photo by Alicia Sokol for Weekly Greens

Happy Friday, CR readers!

Hope you’ve got a fun weekend planned. After my dive headlong into Physics II and a number of power/internet problems this week, I’ve given myself a restorative Friday, which will culminate in grabbing dinner with Valerie this evening.

Did anyone see this article in the New York Times about corporate juice “cleansing? Though I’ll try my best to be more articulate than this, my feelings can pretty be summed up with one word: bummer. You can read the article yourself, but the upshot is that a number of workplaces are now pushing 3 day juice “cleanses” on employees as a means of team building. They vary in intensity (and duration, I’m sure), but one of the “cleanses” cited is the Cooler Cleanse 3 day liquid fast, on which a person consumes 1200 calories a day.

This number of calories is low for most people, especially active people; it’s the low range of most diets that are sanctioned by health professionals, which is to say that it’s recommended for serious weight loss. So one of the most immediate problems with this system is that the caloric intake being pushed on employees qualifies as a diet by most professional standards. Is this so very different from employers suggesting that their employees go on a 3 day diet?

Of course it’s not called a diet because it’s called a “cleanse” instead. All sorts of health promises are associated with this word; the problem is that there is scant peer reviewed, clinical evidence for them. The nutrition professor interviewed for the piece, Joan Salge Blake, states “there is no science to back up cleansing.” It may sound like a shockingly narrow minded statement here in this raw foods loving, food-as-medicine inspired corner of the internet, but it’s not inaccurate. We don’t have robust clinical evidence to back up the culture of fasting, cleansing, and detox.

What we do have is tons of anecdotal evidence. Lately, a lot of folks are pointing to documentaries like Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead as evidence that fasting works. The problem with using such a case as evidence for fasting it’s too facile. The documentary shows what happens when a person whose diet is so poor that he is “nearly dead” goes on a juice fast. If the diet you’re eating is so high fat and high processed that it’s akin to poison, of course fasting will yield positive results. The real issue is whether a balanced, nutritionally dense (and I mean macronutrients—protein, complex carbs, and healthy fat—not just the micronutrients that juices are rich in) would yield the same results without compromising metabolism by restricting caloric intake, all the while encouraging more nutrition and preventing the all too common mentality of “oh, I can splurge on _______, because I’m doing a “cleanse” soon.” And whether it would also discourage people who do not need to lose weight from using fasting as a form of weight loss or control.

Different things work for different people. I know this from experience, and so, as an aspiring health practitioner, I try to balance my skepticism for juice fasts with a respectful recognition that they have worked for some people with specific health challenges. If fasting works for you and for your health, then you should of course follow your intuition and judgment. But given the paucity of evidence that fasts stand to benefit otherwise healthy people, I think it’s too bad that they’re being pushed in offices. I was sorry to hear that people who dropped out of these cleanse were teased about “walks of shame to the refrigerator.” Or that the cleanses have increased productivity by making employees work through lunch. “We didn’t want to sit around thinking about food,” said one of the women interviewed.

Image © FitSugar

If nothing else, that kind of culture is tremendously insensitive to people who have eating disorder histories or issues surrounding food. I’d say that I’m bringing my own baggage to the table with that concern–and I am–but then again, how many people have food issues nowadays? I’ve worked in a few office places, and I know that ED stories (to say nothing of more everyday food and weight anxieties) were as common there as they are anywhere else. For a woman or man struggling with food, an office mandate to consume so few as 1200 calories a day, all in the form of juice, may trigger tremendous anxiety.

Of course, I’m sure all employees are offered the chance to opt out. And I’d certainly have no problem saying “no thanks.” But then again, self-assertion comes easily to me. What of vulnerable, younger employees who are trying hard to impress their coworkers? How do they voice these anxieties without calling attention to their struggles with food? What of the folks who don’t have food struggles, but simply don’t wish to be on a calorie restricted diet for 3 days—and aren’t sure how to say it?

I think it’s fantastic that office places are using the pursuit of health as a form of team building. What better and more profound way to bond people than by helping them to experience health improvement together? I’d have loved that sort of experiences with my former coworkers! But that’s all the more reason why I’m sorry that these noble goals are being executed in the form of a fast. Why not have a seminar explaining how juices are amazing, life-changing wellsprings of micronutrients and hydration? Why not place juices in corporate cafeterias for a few days, encouraging them as afternoon snacks, rather than pressuring employees to lower their caloric intake and avoid food for three days? Why not offer healthy eating lectures, or a week of really nutrient-dense, plant based food? These initiatives would be so much less radical than a fast, and—as long as the options were abundant—they would safeguard the feelings of employees who do have anxieties surrounding food.

Three days isn’t very long, and I realize that these initiatives are meant in good faith. I’m also sure that a lot of good workplace humor results from them. But I still think that there are far more healthful ways to encourage solidarity at work. If I were brainstorming about options, I’d consider a cooler of juices for mid-morning or afternoon snacks, or perhaps a week of high quality, plant-based lunches that would get folks talking about how great healthy food can be.

If you want to read more, Valerie—who is no stranger to high stress work environments and has her own unique critique of how the fasting might impact performance—posted about this yesterday. And I’d love to hear your thoughts, CR readers! What do you think about office fasts? Would you opt in or out? What other initiatives would you implement instead, if any?

Speaking of the awesomeness that is fresh veggie juice, don’t forget to enter my giveaway to win a Breville Juice Fountain Plus!

And if you’re in D.C., don’t forget to get to the Logan Circle SweetGreen for some SweetPress!!!

And enjoy it with a big, hearty salad.


With that—happy weekend!


Top image © Well and Good NYC

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