During our normal daily routine we all ingest a number a processed chemicals and have lots of undigested food in our system. This can cause you to feel bloated, logy, unfocused, and generally out-of-sorts. One way to combat these feelings is to try a juice fast. There are a number of ways a fast can help you, as well as a number of reasons it’s not a good idea for everyone. In every case there are some dos and don’ts for juice fasting and I’ll try to address some of them.

What is a juice fast?

A juice fast is a relatively extreme detox diet. It’s meant to help your body ingest needed nutrients while shunning solid foods. The purpose is to allow your body time to remove toxins in your system that build up in fatty tissue, as well as to help strengthen your colon, blood system, organs, and immune system. Many toxins are not easily digestible and end up stored in fat cells—the idea behind a fast is to allow your body to break down these cells and enable it to remove the toxins naturally. A juice fast is also believed to have the following benefits: eliminating food allergies and sensitivities, clearing up your skin, enhancing your feeling of physical and mental well-being, and reducing the burden on your digestive system.

A typical juice fast is anywhere from just one day up to ten. During that time you drink only the juice of fruits and vegetables (ideally organic). In the week leading up to it, eliminate caffeine, sugar, animal products, and nicotine from your diet. Once you’ve begun, 32 to 64 ounces of fresh juice sipped throughout each day is recommended. Additionally, you’ll want to drink about six glasses of room temperature water. Drink a combination of fruit and vegetable juices, but try to get as many greens as you can—these contain chlorophyll, which can help build up hemoglobin and have helpful enzymes. It’s also recommended that you avoid certain fruits and veggies such as the pits of peaches, apricots, cherries, and other fruits, apple seeds, citrus peels, carrot and rhubarb tops, tough skins (such as kiwi, pineapple, mangoes), and bananas and avocados. Citrus fruits also contain a lot of acid, so you’ll want to keep those to a minimum on an empty stomach. Finally, most seem in agreement that grapefruit is especially bad when it comes to messing up prescription drugs so it would be best to avoid it altogether.

What can you expect if you try a juice fast?

There are many initial side effects. The most common is a headache—especially if you are as fond of coffee as myself. There are other unpleasant ones as well—light-headedness, diarrhea, bad breath, and a general lack of energy. Most of the common side effects are short-lived, and are the result of the sudden change in diet, the body’s withdrawal from fats and sugars, and the lack of calories you are eating. As your body detoxifies, most these symptoms should lessen and you should feel healthier. However if weight loss becomes extreme, loss of energy lasts for more than a day, or any side effect becomes intense or doesn’t go away quickly, stop the fast!

How to break the fast

There are also many recommendations for how to break the fast. Since your body has become used to a liquid diet, introduce solid food back gradually. On the first day eat some fruit, and then in the following days work your way up to non-starchy veggies like spinach. Avoid re-introducing dairy and meat until you’ve been eating solid food for about four or five days. Chew your food thoroughly to help digestion, don’t overeat, and be aware of how your body reacts to particular foods—how they affect energy levels, digestion, cravings and the like. Then, ideally, use your new awareness to transition to a healthier diet.

Is a juice fast right for you?

For many, the answer is no. If you are pregnant or nursing, have diabetes, an eating disorder, liver disease, or other chronic illnesses it’s best not to. A juice fast can reduce proteins in the blood and change how prescription drugs react in your body. As I said, it’s rather extreme and should also be done in consultation with your health care provider.