The art and science of the seven-day detox
It is one thing to claim anecdotally that the seven-day juice fast works – and quite another to prove it empirically by subjecting it to rigorous scientific scrutiny.
“It is no secret that Israel abounds in retreats that offer – and extol the virtues of – three-day fasts,” says Olga Kull, the Tree of Life naturopath who serves as medical assistant to Cousens in Israel.
“Moreover, there are plenty of people who will swear they benefited greatly from just those three days.
“And who says they are wrong?” she concedes. “Who wouldn’t feel better – and lighter – after taking a three-day break from eating a typical diet of three full meals a day of frequently unhealthy processed foods? “The problem,” she goes on to explain, “is that this is not – nor can it be – detoxification. Quite simply, a threeday fast, while possibly psychologically satisfying, is physiologically irrelevant: the human body is just not physically capable of ridding itself of its stored, disease-inducing toxins in the space of just one weekend.
“The proper formula and duration for a successful detox outcome, it turns out, extends for a period of nine days: a day of arrival, registration and introduction; seven days of fasting; and one day of easing back into eating solid food.”
According to Cousens – called by everyone Gabriel, in true Israeli informal fashion, since he made aliya in 2008 – here is a day-by-day breakdown of what can be expected during a Tree of Life juice fast (not counting the day of arrival and orientation, including a festive “last meal” of colorful salads and tasty crackers):
Day 1: Physiologically, the fast is not considered to have begun, since the digestive system is still working on the vestiges of the previous evening’s meal.
Day 2: The body recognizes a fast has begun. As everyone knows, cells in our organism die every day and are replaced by new ones. Today, the pace of this process of cellular death and renewal begins to accelerate, ever so slightly.
Day 3: The first day of actual detoxing.
Toxins stored in our tissues are starting to be released, waiting to be excreted, as well as flushed out via the lymphatic system, as well as with the help of colonic irrigation. This is a problematic day for some; the toxins floating around in the body can cause some discomfort, like headaches or mild flu-like symptoms.
Day 4: Detoxing continues; in addition to possible continuing physical symptoms, there could be fluctuations in emotional feelings. (Personal note: I had the kind of aches that sometimes accompany a slight fever – plus some feelings of sadness. Full disclosure: I am a recent widower.) Day 5: Most people begin to feel better.
(In my case, it took into the late afternoon. But one less-welcome side effect was a sudden, brief return of my appetite for solid food).
Day 6: What Cousens calls the day of “mystic death and rebirth,” characterized by an overall sensation of feeling lighter. The mind grows quieter, as the toxins leave not only the bowels, but also the brain. (I felt a satisfying emptiness; and it was my first full day without experiencing a single hunger pang. Emotionally, it was a day of ups and downs.)
Day 7: Virtually everyone feels good.
With the purging of toxins, endorphins are released, inducing in some people mildly euphoric feelings. Plus, our addictions to certain problematic foods – especially sugar, the hardest one of all to break, but also wheat and gluten, which contain opioids, and dairy products, which contain caseo-morphines – have lost their hold on us. (I felt better than I had in recent months.)
Day 8: The sense of well-being continues to improve. By this day, positive epigenetic shifts have started to take place, as more and more healthy new cells replace the ones that have died. (Others report to me that I am looking particularly well, with a distinctly healthy glow visible on my face and shining in my eyes.)
Day 9: We break the fast in the morning, and lunch is served before the group disperses. All meals consist only of raw food, primarily salads. No one over-indulges. As Cousens says, “Any fool can fast; it takes a wise man to know how to come off it.”
The Bible’s guide to nutrition – and longevity
It is only natural that the focus of this article has been on the mechanics of the intriguing phenomenon that is the Tree of Life juice fast. But the week-long experience is much more than merely a detox procedure: it is perhaps better described as an intensive encounter with a master teacher and healer. And while space here does not permit conveying all – or even most – of the lessons learned in Cousens’s daily lectures, it is important to mention key ones that can most beneficially impact one’s health.
Day 8: The sense of well-being continues to improve. By this day, positive epigenetic shifts have started to take place, as more and more healthy new cells replace the ones that have died
In the tradition of allopathic (Western) medicine, physicians take the famous Hippocratic oath – but medical schools usually ignore one of his most important teachings: “Let food be your medicine, and medicine be your food.”
Yet in its most basic form, this dietary prescription can be ascribed to us, the Jewish people. “It’s all right there, in Genesis 1:29,” Cousens insists: “Then God said, ‘I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth, and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.’ “This, in a nutshell, is the ideal diet given to man in the divine scheme of things. In today’s terms, it translates to a vegan diet, consisting primarily of ‘live (also known as raw) food.’” Of course, as Cousens constantly reminds us, we are now far removed, in more ways than one, from the idyllic life envisioned in the Garden of Eden.
“Pollution, radiation, pesticides and the depletion of basic minerals in our soil – all of these negative developments have adversely impacted even the so-called healthy foods that are the basis of a vegan diet,” he laments. “Which is why even those of us who adhere strictly to our recommended live food diet need to detox once in a while.”
There are just a few basic principles that Dr. Cousens would like people to keep in mind:
The less you eat, the longer you live
Limiting one’s daily caloric intake has been shown to increase longevity. Not surprisingly, a raw food/vegan diet allows people to get more vital nutrients per serving of food, and also allows you to feel full even while eating smaller portions of food.
In this context, “eating consciously” – including eating slowly, and chewing thoroughly before swallowing – are both important techniques to add to the toolbox of healthful eating habits.
No one wants to count calories, so another rule of intelligent eating is: Fat does not make you fat; carbohydrates do. (Nor is cholesterol the scary substance so many of us have been taught to believe; the only lipids to be wary of are “fuzzy” LDL and triglycerides.) Most people know that some carbohydrates are better than others: i.e., complex carbohydrates are preferable to “white” carbohydrates (e.g., white flour, white rice, etc.). One reason, aside from the lack of fiber in the latter kind of carbohydrates, is that carbohydrates end up as sugar in our bodies – and this has led to one of the most serious health epidemics in modern history: diabetes.
Diabetes is not as simple as that one word sounds: it is actually the gateway to chronic diabetes degenerative syndrome – a nasty condition that triggers inflammation, which is the main cause of a host of degenerative diseases that dramatically shorten the human lifespan.
“Tree of Life is serious about establishing a permanent presence in Israel,” says Agmon. “Four factors are motivating this effort: Cousens’s personal commitment to the Jewish state; the Israeli public’s growing interest in holistic medicine and proper nutrition; Tree of Life’s continuing success over the years in attracting dedicated participants from all over the European Union; and the expectation that a place of our own could bring down the cost of the program to a more affordable level.”
Nor is it possible to underestimate the value of the sense of community that has coalesced around the fast. A look at the attendees is a microcosm of Israeli society: religious – even haredi (ultra-Orthodox) – and secular; Jewish and non-Jewish; Ashkenazim and Sephardim; and representatives of every socio-economic class. They all participate in holding hands while reciting the brachot (blessings) before drinking juice, as well as in kabbalat Shabbat, kiddush and havdala prayers.
Saadia P., a retiree from Beersheba, is a case in point. Born in Yemen, he reveals to non-Israelis the dark chapter in Israeli history when his own baby brother was one of the children stolen from his parents, handed over to Ashkenazi adoptive parents, and never seen by his biological parents again. Yet, he is all smiles, dispensing and receiving hugs all day long. He does not appear to have any pressing health problem, yet he scrimps and saves from his modest pension to attend every couple of years and bask in the fellowship. “This is the best present I can give myself,” he says.
“The all-inclusive embrace of this support system is both the by-product of, and the catalyst for, the unique dynamic we all experience here,” Agmon concludes. “It is the fulfillment of what may be Cousens’s most important commandment: ‘Love yourself enough to want to heal yourself.’”