On New Year’s Eve, 2015, my West Point roommate “Amy” and I decided to ditch traditional methods of celebrating NYE, hop in a car and head upstate to a Juice- Detox Camp. My friend found a place online, we both impulsively agreed and then made reservations for 3 nights.
Juice-Detox Camp was located a few miles outside of Woodstock, NY, which is only two hours from New York City, nestled in the Catskill mountains. The website said to pack workout clothes, lounge clothes, sneakers and a book to read during free time. Somehow, our luggage looked like we were spending a month in Europe. Girls.
After driving on the highway for an hour and a half and swapping stories from our college years, we dutifully followed the GPS lady’s voice down an empty, poorly lit road. We passed motels, hotels, wooden bear statues, signs for state parks, trucks with monster tires parked in gas stations and a big sign for Gospel Camp. “Hmmm…juice or Jesus,” I sarcastically mused. Both could be considered detoxes…
Eventually both our phones lost signals and the road grew emptier and darker. The GPS lady assured us we had arrived, and according to her, our arrival location was a dark, cold, snowy barren forest. Peeking out the window, I saw a herd of adrenaline-struck, wide-eyed deer. They all looked trim and like they could run like… well, deer. “Um, are you sure this camp is for humans? Because if not…, I’m the fattest one here,” I said to Amy. I encouraged her to keep going, assuming the camp wasn’t for four-legged herbivores.
We drove a few more miles up the road, but nothing. We decided we must have missed the one shining light on a trail of dark, turned around and drove about 2 miles per hour.
“There!” Amy screeched while pointing. I squinted in the direction she was pointing and saw the outline of a brown wooden sign. I squinted some more and there was white print on the sign. I squinted some more while leaning out the car window. “Juice-Detox Camp….this way….,” I read. Beneath these words there was a crooked, painted arrow pointing towards a dark, narrow path through the woods. “Um, did you find this ad on Craig’s list?” I asked Amy. She snorted, but ignored me.
“Does a serial killer run this place? ” I asked as the car slowly rolled forward through the dark. “Seriously, our murders are going to be trending on Facebook tomorrow…”
Amy cautiously turned onto the rocky trail and slowly took the car up a gradual incline while trying not to kill any deer or other creatures of the night. Then we drove at a turtle’s pace down a narrow, rocky hill. Finally, we saw a light. A porch light.
A huge, Victorian white house stood in front of us. A delightful wrap-around porch hugged the entire house. It was decorated with swings and rocking chairs, making me wish for a second that it was summer and not zero degrees outside. I could see myself on a porch swing on a summer’s night while listening to the crickets and feeling a warm, mountain breeze on my face and, of course, while drinking a juice. I caught glimpse of a covered pool in the back, clearly hibernating for the winter, and a gazebo in the yard next to a babbling stream. The house had to be charming in the summer. Romantic, even. Unfortunately, the cold winter night betrayed everything the house could be.
We stopped the car and parked in the driveway, taking note that we were one of three cars.
“See?” Amy said as she started to gather her things. “We’re not the only ones here.”
“They’ve probably been turned into zombies by now,” I shot back.
We unloaded our luggage and made way to the front door. The first thing I noticed was how freezing it was. I knew it was going to be cold, but I had no idea HOW cold. My fingers and toes were ice cubes and my teeth started tap dancing. Amy rang the doorbell. “I hope our killer lets us warm up first before murdering us.” I said.
A short, chubby woman answered the door. She had on stone-washed jeans and an over-sized sporty sweatshirt. Her eyes were small and brown and her skin was thin and dry. Her hair was styled in a proper mullet, but we were in the mountains and mullets are probably always in style. “You guys made it!” she said in a sweet yet husky voice, all while her breath polluted the air with the stench of mint chewing gum failing to disguise the aroma of Marlboros. I’m not sure if it was her appearance or our mountainous surroundings, but I think she could have been the troll from the story, Three Bill Goats Gruff.
“Hi, yes we finally did,” Amy cheerfully responded. “We missed the sign on the way up and had to turn around.”
“Oh, yeah,” the woman said. “I’ve been telling them they need to change that or at least add a light.”
That’s probably a smart PR move so people don’t think they’re about to be hacked to death by a madman…
“Well I’m Barb, the manager. I’m just gettin’ your juices ready for tomorrow. I have your packets here on the desk. You’ll have to sign some waivers, then we’ll get yous weighed in, and I’ll show you where your room is.”
Barb handed each of us our packets and pens, then pulled out a scale from the corner of the room. One couldn’t miss the pungent cigarette odor from her clothes, a funny bit of irony as I read the words “wellness,” “juicing,” and “detoxing” in my packet. Clearly Barb just needed the job.
“So tonight you’ll have your dinner juice, which is already in your room. Tomorrow you’ll have a rigorous walk or run and the trainer, Tom, will meet you here at 8 AM. Then you’ll have a workout session for 3 hours…,” Barb said before coughing up carcinogens from her black lungs. “Next,” she continued, “Will be yoga if you want, and your lunch-time smoothie. You can run again in the afternoon, or use the hot tub. I can also call our masseuse and schedule massages for yas. Then you have detox water and your dinner juices at night.”
Amy and I dutifully nodded while simultaneously cringing at the thought of not eating real food for the next four days.
“We need to record your baseline weights,” Barb started. “Now you don’t have to look at the scale, and I won’t tell you if you don’t want to hear.”
Amy went first and had no problem stepping on the scale and staring straight through it. She was so tiny, I didn’t get why she was here in the first place. When it was my turn to step on the scale, I placed my toes on it first. Then I squinted and looked away, as if the scale was blinding me with a bright light. “Don’t tell me, don’t tell me,” I said through a grimace.
Because I’m a glutton for punishment, I glanced at the scale. “Shit,” I thought. “Shit, shit, shit. Okay, Juice Camp, it’s on!”
It’ s not like the number was huge. But with years of disordered eating under my belt and a perfectionist attitude, I would have found an issue with any number.
“Well let me show you to your room,” Barb said, temporarily distracting me from my inner fat-girl meltdown. Amy and I grasped our luggage and rolled them behind Barb, through a wooden-floored foyer with an inactive fireplace and a few cheap, burning candles that gave the place a desperate holistic vibe.
Barb unlocked a heavy door on the first floor and gestured us in. “Here you go, girls! You can get yourselves settled and I’m going to prepare your dinner juice.”
“Thanks,” Amy said while glancing around our room. “And the other guests are upstairs?”
“Actually,” Barb started, “You guys are the only ones here this week. In fact, you’ll have the whole place to yourselves at night. No one will be here as most of the staff is away for the weekend. I’ll come every morning to fix your juices.”
Oh that’s just wonderful, I thought. We are definitely getting murdered and not even Barb will be here to help us.
I took off my sleeping-bag of a winter coat and stared at our room. Everything about it was antique: two big, wobbly brass beds covered with faded white comforters; a dusty fireplace that looked like it hadn’t performed in fifty years; a wooden desk in the corner; and a dull Oriental rug. All the room needed to complete the horror-film ambience was a sadistic looking old-fashioned doll with a missing eye. Then it hit me again: a biting chilly wind.
“Thanks, Barb. And the heat?” I asked while folding my arms and rubbing my triceps to stay warm.
“Well, there’s no heat in the house, but… I can get you a space heater!” Barb said, as if the space heater was the best consolation prize EVErrrr.
Great! So if for some reason we aren’t murdered, we’ll die in a house fire!
“Do you have wood? I can start a fire, if that’s okay,” Amy said. As long as I’ve known her, Amy’s the resourceful problem-solver. I, on the other hand, failed cognitive behavioral therapy and prefer to catastrophize.
Barb said that there was wood and she and Amy went off to fetch it.
I sat down on my big brass bed, pretending it was the impetus to Dylan’s Lay, Lady, Lay. Except, here, it would be Juice, Lady, Juice. Juice on my big brass bed…
After unpacking, I put on my pajamas, my slippers, plopped down on my bed and began flipping through my packet. I started reading about the philosophy of juicing and how it’s a process that detoxes multiple organ systems and jump starts all of our cells, blah blah blah. Then I looked at our daily non-meal plan: We would start each morning with a “Jumpstart your Metabolism” juice. Then we would work out. Then we would have a juice for breakfast. Then we would work out. Then we had a smoothie for lunch and then we would work out. Then we would have “Detox water” and a juice for dinner. Every day we would also be given a snack and could eat it whenever we wanted. In short, it sounded like starvation.
I calculated that I would be taking in between 800-900 calories a day, possibly less. If you add in the workouts, I would be burning more than that. It would have been much more accurate to call the camp “Cutting Calories” camp or “Starvation” Camp, but that’s much less sexy than “Juice Detox” camp. Especially that word “detox.” I went to medical school, and I still have no idea what people are talking about when they say they are “detoxing,” unless they are in rehab for crack, heroin or alcohol. I have yet to identify a toxin that a functioning liver, lung or kidney doesn’t handle. Most of the ingredients in commercial detoxing products have at least one laxative, so maybe the magic in detoxing is taking a good, old-fashioned dump. That can feel magical. Still, the disciples of All-Things-Wellness have latched on to this word “detoxing,” as if it’s the panacea for all illness, the solution to global warming and the answer to world peace. The “flushing one’s body of toxins,” even sounds sacramental. If religion is the opium of the “devout” masses, detoxing is the opium of wellness junkies. We all need a little opium now and then, even me, so it’s safe to say I kicked off 2016 as a junkie.
The packet also mentioned that caffeine wasn’t allowed and wouldn’t be served. This terrified me. Ever since I was 19, I’ve been dependent on coffee. Now I drink 7 cups a day. My coffee maker is my gas station. If I don’t fill myself up in the morning, I will stall, sputter and crash. Plus, thanks to family genetics, my blood pressure is naturally very low, so coffee prevents me from passing out. I use coffee as an anti-depressant. I use it to work. I use it to stay awake on boring dates. I use it to stay awake period. I bleed coffee. When I went to Pritikin in Miami, a wellness weight loss get-away where coffee is also banned, I ran 3 miles down an interstate highway to the nearest coffee shop, every morning. I totally cheated and didn’t care. Here, I couldn’t cheat. I was in the middle of nowhere and Starbucks was far, far away.
Amy came back in the room and triumphantly stated she started a fire. Heat, the first silver-lining. She suggested we drink our dinner in front of the fire, so I opened up the min-refrigerator and pulled out two jars of, what looked like, blood. Since I already felt like we walked into a horror movie, I imagined our dinner was the blood of previous guests at Juice Detox Camp. In reality, it was carrot beet juice. I wasn’t fond of beets in juice format, so I knew I’d be fighting it the whole way down.
I exited our room with my juice and plopped in front of the fireplace. Amy followed. We heard a car start in the driveway and roll down the hill, away from the house. “Barb must be headed home…,” I said in between cringes and sips. Amy nodded and said, “Yep. Sooo, we can also watch movies here. Or play board games.”
“Really? Where is the TV? Where are the games?”
“Living room. Take a look.”
I left my warm spot, possibly the only warm spot in the entire house, and ventured into the living room. There was a TV shoved in one corner with DVDs scattered around it. A pile of board games in torn, old boxes towered in another corner and a few yoga mats rolled up in another. I spotted Monopoly and Battleship, dusty reminders of my kid-hood. The couches and chairs were old, didn’t match and looked like they began serving people’s backsides in the early 1800s and should be living out retirement in an antique shop. The room felt like a bunch of poor hippies took over the space after someone’s great, great, great, great grandmother died. The ambience was cold and depressing, and if there was one thing I knew, there is nothing worse than cutting calories in a place that feels cold and depressing.
I suppose I was pensive and/or non-responsive, because Amy already had Amy Schumer’s Train wreck showing on the TV. I watched it while sipping my carrots and beets. I laughed, most of the time, but then I got sick of the “sex is funny” theme of every single joke and considered playing Battleship for a second. Nah. That required energy, and I would need all of my energy for tomorrow. Instead I finished my juice, victoriously slammed down my mason jar on the coffee table and announced I was going to bed.
“Yes. See you at Morning PT.”
Amy chuckled. She was my West Point roommate, so she understood the inside joke. PT is short for “physical training” and what the Army calls exercise.
I slept excellent that night. The combination of the big, brass bed; the tranquil, silent mountainous surroundings; the absolute darkness and possibly my dinner juice gave me one of the best sleeps of my adult life. Plus, I live in New York City, and when you sleep anywhere outside of the city (that’s also not a city), you will surely notice the lack of lights, horns, voices and other “people noises” that commonly invade your sleep and cause you to wake up prematurely. New York City is the city that doesn’t sleep, because it doesn’t let you sleep. I felt like I slept like a baby caveperson in a cave, and it felt great. A good start to 2016.
Tom, the trainer, was to meet us in thirty minutes and take us on an outdoor workout. Amy was still sleeping, so I quietly got dressed in warm leggings, a thermal black running shirt, sweatshirt, warm socks and hiking boots. Seconds later, Barb knocked on our door.
“Good morning,” she quipped cheerfully while carrying a tray with juices and what looked like a miniscule cup of nuts. She smelled like coffee and cigarettes, which was a painful reminder that I wouldn’t be allowed coffee. By the end of the day, I might resort to licking her clothes.
Amy rolled over and grumbled something, so I knew she’d be awake soon. Barb placed the juice tray on top of our refrigerator. She explained that we should drink our “Metabolism Booster” first, and then have the bigger juice for breakfast. The “nuts” were our snack that we could eat throughout the day, or all at once. I dutifully nodded, as I brainstormed a nut strategy: I told myself to not touch the nuts, because if I had one now, I’d want more, as you have to be clinically insane to have the ability to eat only ONE nut. I assumed I would want the nuts more later in the day, when my energy level was more depleted. Still, just seeing the nuts was tempting me, so I took a pile of clothes and threw them over my nuts. “What are you doing?” A now-dressed Amy asked while sucking on her Metabolism Booster.
“Burying my nuts,” I replied while ignoring Amy’s bewildered look. In that moment, I developed a genuine empathy for squirrels.
Barb left the room after telling us she was off to prepare our smoothies for lunch. Smoothie?! Yes! A tinge of excitement, as they sounded…thicker than juice.
I started on the Metabolism Booster. It tasted like…weak herbal tea. It wasn’t bad, nor was it good. It just was. I wasn’t sure how or if it would “boost” my metabolism, but I was hoping that meant there was some trace of caffeine or ephedrine in it. With 10 minutes till our trainer meeting, I began drinking our breakfast juice, which was labeled the “Green Goddess.” It was green…, but there was nothing goddess about it.
We met Tom on the front porch. He was dressed in a winter hat, a yellow and black windbreaker, jogging pants, sneakers and looked really tall and trim, like a distance runner.
“Hi ladies!” he enthusiastically said. “Are you ready for our run/walk this AM!? We will be taking a trail through the mountains, about 3 miles up and 3 miles back.”
“Hi. Yep,” Amy and I both flatly responded. We were both cold, and I was already starting to feel the side effects of my caffeine deficit: groggy, doughy and grumpy. The good thing is that Tom appeared to have enough motivation for all three of us.
We started out on the trail through the mountains, our hiking boots crushing through snow and ice at a respectable pace, when Tom started asking us questions. Amy did all the responding which suited me just fine. I actually don’t think it’s possible for me to have a conversation without coffee.
The chill was relentless and biting. My leggings and boots were worthless at keeping me warm, and I think we all tried to pick up the pace a bit in a duel attempt to generate body heat and finish the walk/run as fast as possible. The surroundings served as a hopeless distraction too: barren, snow covered trees, grey skies, zero wildlife and a few dilapidated houses with front porches sporting lots of rusty and colorful junk and decorations from, seemingly, every holiday. Oh and an occasional bearded driver in a pickup truck rolled slowly down the road.
“Wow, you guys are really fast! I’m not used to this level of fitness.” Tom cheerfully complimented.
“We went to West Point, so we are used to marching,” Amy responded.
“West Point?!” Tom cried out with enthusiasm. Here we go, I thought: A million questions about West Point coming our way, and about being girls at West Point, and I gladly let Amy handle all of them.
Amy was right, though. We were used to marching long distances when we didn’t want to…, with heavy packs on our backs, while carrying rifles, while wearing full uniforms in all weather conditions and getting yelled at the entire way. Some folks thrive under punishment. We were two.
One painful hour later, we were back in the house, lethargically plopped in front of the fireplace in an attempt to defrost. Next up was lunch, a smoothie, followed by a second workout with Tom in the gym. My caffeine deprivation was starting to really hurt: I had a pulsing headache and would have been content to take a nap in front of the fire for the rest of the day. Maybe even in the fire.
The lunch smoothie was quite tasty and surprisingly filling. I decided I could more easily do a smoothie diet over a juice one. About an hour after lunch, Amy and I put on fresh workout gear and headed to the gym to meet Tom. The “gym” was an airy, freezing-cold converted barn with a few treadmills, medicine balls, free weights, and a hot tub. It was intensely cold, despite two space heaters in the middle of the workout area. Tom was enthusiastically setting up “stations,” as he planned for us to do an interval workout, while Amy and I hovered over the heaters. Our stations included treadmill running, pushups, bicep curls, medicine ball squats, jumps, and more. Amy and I were both used to hard workouts, but this workout wasn’t what I would call hard. It WAS difficult, however, because by that point, I was really feeling the caffeine deprivation, the calorie restriction and the frigid temperature. We both dutifully went through the workout, but both of us were silent and sluggish, despite Tom’s attempts to motivate us. I kept thinking that I could have performed better if I had more calories in me, an ironic notion to say the least.
After the interval workout, Amy and I trounced through the snow and back to the house. Barb greeted us, asked us about our workout and told us she would have our dinner juice prepared in a few hours. I mumbled some sort of indecipherable reply, went to my room and fell on my bed. All I wanted to do was sleep. By that point, I also started to notice a significant decline in my mood. The dreary ambiance, the lack of other guests, the ice-cold temperature and the minimal options for distracting myself from starvation were not helping. As someone who is naturally prone to depression and uses both caffeine and food as natural antidepressants, and as someone who is extremely sensitive to my environment, I advised myself to be very careful to not slip into an all-out depressive episode.
Dinner was a “super green” juice with kale, spinach, apple and pear, along with a bouillon cube dissolved in water. I also ate my nuts from earlier in the day, somewhat proud of myself for holding out for so long. Despite eating and drinking, I felt abnormally tired. It had to be the lack of caffeine. Amy reminded me that it was only 8 pm, and perhaps we should watch a movie. I told her I was in caffeine withdrawal and wouldn’t make it past 10 minutes. She suggested I take a look at the “caffeine substitutes” laid out on a table in the dining room. I lazily agreed. The substitutes were a bunch of herbal caffeine-free concoctions that were supposed to “mimic” caffeine or give you a similar taste. I grumbled, sighed and decided not to try any of them. Looking at them was like just getting out of a relationship with a guy you were absolutely in love with and trying to date someone new. Nothing measured up.
Amy turned on a new movie. I don’t even know which one. I lasted less than 10 minutes and somehow sleep-walked my way into my bed. I crashed for the night.
Again, I had a marvelous sleep. I woke up, ready for my morning coffee, when it hit me: I was still at Juice-Detox Camp. No coffee. Instead, our Metabolism Boosters, cucumber-apply-celery juices and granola bars (snacks for the day) were waiting for us. We both were groggy and staccato in our conversation. I felt like an emotionless blob robbed of a personality. “I want real food,” I whined to Amy.
“We can’t,” she authoritatively said.
“A coffee? Just one!” I begged like the desperate addict I was.
An hour later, we were again in the workout room with Tom, who was leading us through a light resistance workout on exercise mats. Tom was fatally cheerful and tried to start multiple conversations, but Amy and I were just too calorie-starved to form words. Tom continued to talk out loud, something about how he understood how we felt and how he didn’t entirely agree with the juicing/detox philosophy and preferred to train people who weren’t energy-deprived. I guess Tom wasn’t scared of losing his job. Afterwards, Amy and I jumped in the hot tub. I told her to make sure I didn’t fall asleep and drown. I think, if I was by myself, I might have.
We had smoothies for lunch, an hour’s rest, and then Tom’s wife, a yoga instructor, came to the house to lead us through a one-hour yoga class. She was a super colorful and lovely woman, and the class was enjoyable. She ended the class by giving us tie-dye blankets to wrap around ourselves and meditate. I was a sport and meditated…. until I didn’t and fell asleep. I woke up to Tom’s wife gently nudging my shoulder, “Erin…Erin…. I have to go now, and need to take the blanket away.” My moment of bliss, gone.
I planned on taking a nap till dinner. I had no energy and no motivation to do anything, which felt a lot like depression to me. Barb, the only person allowed in the kitchen, was gone for a few hours. Hmmm. I knew one cup of coffee would cure me, or at least boost my mood. Just one. I glanced at Amy, who was immersed in her phone, and tiptoed to the kitchen. Dammit! The door was locked! People have tried to steal coffee before, I thought. I examined the lock and figured I could pick it, when suddenly I heard a voice behind me, “Erin! What are you doing?”
I dropped the lock and swung around, wide-eyed and red-faced. Amy was standing there with an accusatory grin.
“Um…nothing,” I guiltily replied. Almost caught stealing coffee, and possibly food…, I never felt so fat in my entire life.
“We aren’t allowed in there, and Barb will be here shortly to serve dinner,” Amy said in her “mom” voice.
“Fine. But I seriously am going to die without another day of caffeine, and I don’t care if I sound like an addict right now. I feel depressed, this is morbid, the house has no heat, there’s no people, I have no energy, I just want to go home,” I whined like a spoiled toddler.
Surprisingly Amy didn’t argue with me. “Well, do you want to leave tomorrow after our morning hike and massage, and not stay the extra night? ”
That’s right- we had a morning hike with Tom, supposedly through a very scenic state park, and massages scheduled.
“Yes, please. I feel like a depression case,” I responded. “I’m sure Barb will give us our juices to go.”
That night, at dinner, we told Barb that something came up in the city and we would have to leave early. She didn’t pry and promised to send us home with the next day’s juices. Heck, she was probably used to energy-deprived, grumpy guests escaping earlier than their scheduled departures.
I went to bed at 9 pm or so and slept exceptionally well again. The one thing I will miss about Juice-Detox Camp is the sleep. That morning, we packed our luggage and dressed warmly for a hike with Tom. Barb brought us our to-go juices and goodbye packets and told us that before we left, she would weigh us to see our progress.
The hike through the state park was beautiful, but cold. Lush, green pine trees, pristine white snow and a sparkling lake surrounded by mountains. I could fall in love there in the summertime. In fact, I could do Juice-Detox Camp again in the summer time. But not in the winter…, Lord, not in the winter.
I think my farewell massage was nice. I don’t actually know, because I fell asleep during it. After the masseuse woke me, I felt oily and smelled like lavender. I graciously thanked her, showered and got ready for the final event: weigh-ins.
I lost 7 lbs.! The number, after only 3 days, reinvigorated me. Suddenly, I felt cleansed, motivated and, for lack of a better word, detoxed. Deep down I knew I couldn’t stick to a diet of juices, nor was it healthy. Still, in the moment I stepped off the scale, Juice-Detox Camp was amazing!!!!
We were both quiet on the drive back. Thank goodness Amy and I know each other well enough to not have to force words between us. We played the radio and stared out the windshield. Then I spotted it, a gas station with a mini mart. “You need gas, right?” I asked.
“Yep,” Amy said, turning left into the station.
I hopped out of the car and went inside the mini mart. I grabbed the largest coffee cup and filled it up with pure black. caffeinated, hazelnut-flavored coffee. That first sip was nothing less than orgasmic. My blood stream roared. My brain awoke from the dead. My muscles started to sway and my depression started to fade. I took about five sips before returning to the car. Amy chuckled when she saw what I did. I didn’t, and I still don’t, regret doing that. Some things in life aren’t worth giving up. When I weighed the pros and cons of coffee being in my life, I was more than happy to let it stay.