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The Secret Ingredient of the Juice Cleanse: Nausea

It's juice cleanse day for my daughter, Julie, and me. We decided weeks ago, after too many days of too much garbage, that we'd try a cleanse.
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It's juice cleanse day for my daughter, Julie, and me. We decided weeks ago, after too many days of too much garbage, that we'd try a cleanse. Many friends had experimented with them, and a store in town packaged the juices, promising just the right blend of fruits, vegetables and supplements to expedite and simplify the process. How hard could it be?

Our first of six 16-ounce bottles is a "green" juice, consisting of kale, romaine, celery, ginger, parsley, apple, and lemon. Julie, 17 years old and a vegetarian, takes a sip from a thick blue straw to expedite delivery of the drink to her stomach while bypassing her taste buds.

"It has a weird aftertaste," she says. "Like some spice."

"Chewy," I say.

Julie's eyes water, and she fights back a gag. The straw trick failed.

"Don't drink it all if you don't feel like it," I tell her. "Maybe I'll do it tomorrow, too." All this juice -- 12 cups of it! -- for one day? I'm a little embarrassed about this project. When I've boasted about our plan for a one-day cleanse, the universal reaction has been, "One day? That's nothing." I think of it as voluntary colonoscopy prep without the actual procedure, and maybe a test of discipline.

It's after 12 p.m., and time for another juice. This is "super up," a fruit and vegetable mix of orange, carrot, apple, lemon, ginger, ginseng, and vitamin B-12.

"Oh," Julie says. "The first one was so gross."

I hand Julie her bottle. "If I have to drink another green one I'll throw up," she says. "I can still feel it in the back of my throat." We stare at the orange liquid. "I'm not even hungry!" she says.

"I just feel a little sick," I say.

Julie opens the bottle and takes a dainty sip, then grimaces. I disappear downstairs to help with the groceries. By the time I'm back up, she has finished almost two-thirds of her bottle. "I can't drink anymore." she says. "I could go a whole day without eating if I could chew gum, but I couldn't go another day of drinking this juice." I force down my 16 ounces. The carrot flavor is overpowering. I used to like carrots. Is it possible to overdose from too many concentrated fruits and vegetables?

The haul from the grocery store has never looked so appetizing. Chips Ahoy! Reese's Puffs! Chocolate chips! (There's a reason we went on the juice cleanse.) Julie hugs the plastic container of dried apricots. "Since when do you like apricots?" I ask.

"It's not like I would binge on them or anything, but they look really good," she says, caressing the plastic.

This is what weird diets do to you. You start fantasizing about apricots. "And look, my muffin top is going away," she says, squeezing her sides. It's been six hours.

I walk the dogs and take my 8th grader to baseball practice. Vaguely queasy and a little grumpy, I consider all the delicious food in the cupboards while my stomach lurches in hunger. When will this day be over?

Errands finished, I start craving solid food. Maybe it would make more sense to drink these juices over the course of the week, as a supplement to my normal diet, rather than as some shock and awe assault on my junk-food-addled body. Life is short; how can it possibly be healthy to wish your life away for the sake of some dieting fad, even one as short-lived as 24 hours of juice? And those nutty and self-involved celebrities always prattling on self-righteously about their silly and expensive elixirs -- is that what I aspire to be? Oh, and there was that time I went on Atkins as a kid, and had that chocolate-flavored whipped cream and fake bread, and got violently ill.

"I want to cheat!" I say to my husband, Bob, bursting into his office.

He gestures me to sit, and wheels his chair close so he can look me in the eye. "You are doing this strictly for yourself," he says calmly, the voice of reason. "Eat something if you want it," he says. But won't I be letting Julie down, cheating like this? "Don't tell her," he says.

My two boys are in the kitchen. I'll have to wait for them to leave. Julie has collapsed on the sofa in the family room, but her hearing is so sharp she can detect the crinkle of a Milky Way wrapper from 400 meters. Mercifully, the TV is on. I won't be able to tear open a cereal box, but I can probably slip a Balance bar into my pocket without detection. I grab one. And eat it. It tastes... like the energy bar it is, a blend of plastic and sugar. Still, my stomach feels less empty.

"It's time for another green one," I tell Julie. She makes a vomiting sound. Knowing she'll never finish another two cups of glorified grass, I open one bottle and pour the contents into two clear wide glasses. Julie faces off against her opponent at the dining room table.

"If I don't smell it while I drink it, it's tolerable," she says bravely. Fortified by my Balance bar, I take the challenge and inhale the smell of this leprechaun-colored liquid. The earthy odor reminds me of the distinctive stench that emerges from the poop bucket in the back yard, where we deposit our dogs' daily waste, after it's been sitting in the August sun for a few weeks. I hold my nose, close my eyes, and drink.

Gagging sounds interrupt me. "Don't you dare throw up on my dining room table!" I yell out to Julie.

"I'm done with this," she says, breathing heavily and pushing away the pungent glass. "I can't look at it, Mom," she says before grabbing an ice cube. I toss the remains of both our drinks into the sink. Julie escapes to the family room, and huddles in the fetal position under an afghan.

Eight hours in: My daughter stumbles into my office. Her hair spills out of one side of her ponytail. "I'm so hungry," she says, and flops down in her chair. "It smells like juice in here." She goes on Facebook for a few minutes, restless. "Mom," she says, "I'm dying here. Food is not just food for me. It's also entertainment."

"That's why you're doing a juice cleanse," I tell her, without shame. Hours pass in a haze. I try to distract myself by reading about a book (reading an actual book will take too much concentration). I drive my son hither and yon, to get out of the house. Finally, at 7 p.m., I'm ready for another drink. This will be our last, the protein one; we've skipped the second red juice as well as the "detox" bottle, for fear of the lemon juice and cayenne. On my already shaky stomach, the thought of more citrus or ginger seems too risky.

"I can't drink any more juice, Mom," Julie says when I present the final bottle, though this last contains just almonds, water, cinnamon, dates and vanilla bean. "I've just spent the last 20 minutes looking at food blogs and smelling Chips Ahoy," she says.

Of all the drinks, this one is the tastiest: smooth, nutty, and thick, without kale or spinach to foul it. Julie has a sip but can't handle any more. She reaches for another ice cube instead. "I just want to take a Tylenol PM and have it be tomorrow," she says.

Tomorrow finally comes. She eats a bagel and peanut butter for breakfast, without fanfare. "I feel better today," she says. So do I, though during my regular run I am sluggish and flat. Later I confess the coward's way, through email, about cheating.

"WOW YOU SUCK I DIDN'T EVEN EAT A CRACKER," she writes back. "If you had told me yesterday I might have broken down." To make it up to her, I agree to make a chocolate fudge cake. With that and a few apricots, we'll be fine.