I Went from Eating Pizza 24/7 to Downing a Green Smoothie Every Day
Is a seven-day green smoothie challenge the fresh start you need, or is it a raw deal?
It's embarrassing to admit, but nearly 10 years after college, I still eat like a freshman. Pizza is by far its own food group in my diet—I joke about running marathons as an excuse to eat a whole pie by myself after Saturday long runs. But I'm actually not kidding. In fact, I signed up for my second marathon because I liked being able to eat that much pizza and not stress about the carb intake.
There's a major problem with subsisting mostly on bread, cheese, and tomato sauce, though: I get, like, zero other nutrients in my diet. I may be consuming enough calories, but they're basically empty. And the worst part is, while it may not show up on the scale, I can see the effects in my dull skin, the layer of softness over my abs, and the amount of energy I have when I go running—especially when I'm slogging through marathon training.
I've always known my diet needed to change. I just didn't know how to change it. So when I heard that Adam Rosante, a celebrity strength and nutrition coach, created a (free!) 7-Day Green Smoothie Diet Challenge, I was intrigued. I've paid for and done diet challenges like this before—and failed. They were too intense, too complicated, and too hard to stick to for someone who literally can't cook herself a meal much more sophisticated than plain chicken and rice. (Related: I Lost Weight On the Whole30 Diet Without Cheating)
"Every time somebody wants to make any kind of a change, they try to totally overhaul their life," Rosante says. "The research is against you, though; you're gonna burn out and abandon everything. But if you focus on just making one very small change, it's very approachable, and it closes what's called the positive feedback loop, which is basically the time in which you get a positive response from the efforts that you're putting out." (Related: How Making Small Changes to Her Diet Helped This Trainer Lose 45 Pounds)
That's the whole premise of Rosante's plan: You swap out breakfast—just one meal a day—for a green smoothie. I liked it because it's not necessarily about slimming down (although it could probably help you lose weight if that's your goal) or "detoxing" or "cleansing." The smoothie diet was about getting more important nutrients into my body so I had more energy to keep up with my workouts.
The smoothies include different mixes of spinach, kale, avocado, bananas, pears, coconut milk, oranges, pineapple slices, honeydew melon, apples, and almond butter. (Get inspired by these healthy, homemade green smoothie diet recipes that taste great—and save your money.) "When you pack this much nutrition—all of these vitamins, minerals, all of the phytonutrients, and the flavonoids that are packed with antioxidants—into a single glass, it impacts you on a cellular level," Rosante says. "This improves health markers across the board. The smoothies are also packed with fiber, which improves your digestion and contributes to healthier weight loss. And they're full of high levels of vitamin C and copper, which aid collagen production and tissue repair-it's also what will improve the quality of your skin tone." (Related: Should You Be Adding Collagen to Your Diet?)
Plus, they're super easy to digest, which is why Rosante champions the liquid breakfast over something like say, an egg white omelet. Not only do the nutrients in smoothies get to where they need to go faster, but drinking them for breakfast also gives your digestive system some time off from breaking down heavier whole foods. That conserves energy your body can then use elsewhere, without sacrificing nutrients, Rosante explains.
I was sold on the science, but I was less than confident in my ability to pull off the smoothie diet. I know that smoothies are supposed to be the epitome of easy, on-the-go healthy eating, but I've found myself intimidated by them in the past. How do you know what to put in them? How do you know what tastes good with what? Sure, you can blend a couple veggies and some ice in 30 seconds, but is that really enough food for a meal? That's where having actual recipes to follow came in handy. Plus, they all contain six ingredients or less; the whole 11-item grocery list (even with its fancy coconut milk and almond butter) cost me under $60 in New York City. (Whatever combo you choose, give it a whirl in one of these best blenders for your smoothie diet.)
So each morning, for seven days, I whipped up one of Rosante's smoothies for breakfast. I'm not a big breakfast eater, especially since I work from home—frankly, I'm not a morning person—so having to prepare something for myself when I'm still barely conscious is not ideal. But throwing the six ingredients in the blender couldn't have been easier or more brainless. (My favorite smoothie diet recipe was the Love Child—spinach, pineapple, honeydew melon, banana, and coconut milk—because it was so creamy and smooth.)
My one issue with the smoothie diet challenge was the size of the smoothies. Based on Rosante's measurements, they filled about half of a pint glass. When I added more ice, they were a little bigger, but I still felt hungry about two hours later, which seemed a little quick to be craving another meal. This isn't necessarily a bad thing though, Rosante says. "These smoothie diet recipes are very low in calories, but very high in nutrients—so you're getting all of the nutrients you need at breakfast for not a lot of the calories," he says. "If you're used to having a bigger breakfast, you're most likely gonna be hungry a couple of hours later and that's okay—you can have a healthy, midmorning snack." You can also add protein pre-workout or if you're craving a little more substance. I added a teaspoon of whey protein powder on a couple of the days, which helped. (Related: 4 Things I Learned from Trying Harley Pasternak's Body Reset Diet)
While I didn't notice an immediate effect, by day three of the smoothie diet, I could swear that my skin looked a little brighter and that I definitely had more energy. (I did try to eat generally healthier at all my other meals, too, though Rosante says you can eat however you want the rest of the day; I made it to day five before ordering myself a pizza for dinner.) By the end of the week, I actually do think I looked a little leaner, an added bonus Rosante promised but that I didn't expect.
And you know what? I think this smoothie diet challenge is something that could end up sticking around. Compared to other diet challenges and plans I've tried, this one was totally easy to incorporate into my life—and I didn't feel like I was sacrificing anything to reap the benefits. (Psst...these freezer smoothies make attempting the smoothie diet easier if you hate mornings!)
"I want people to realize that being healthy is simpler than you think," Rosante says. "We love to overcomplicate the hell out of things, but something as simple as swapping your typical breakfast for a green smoothie can be the one change that eventually opens the door to change everything for you."
Considering a Smoothie Diet, Too? Keep These 8 Important Factors in Mind Before Going All In
Produce-packed juices and smoothies have a place in any healthy diet: They can help you get an extra serving of veggies, give you a protein boost, and score you vitamins that might be otherwise missing from your diet.
One a day is good, but subsisting solely on liquids can be downright dangerous, says Jaime Mass, R.D., president of Jaime Mass Nutritionals in Florida. Sucking through a straw for a couple days, weeks, or months in a row does not detox your body, improve your nutrition, or lead to long-term weight loss, she adds. In fact, an all-liquid diet can wreck your long-term health (just look at the startling list of side effects below.) So stick to a smoothie for one meal or snack a day—and forgo an all-juice-and-smoothie diet plan.
- Nutritional Deficiencies. "Liquid diets are usually not going to provide you everything your body requires," Mass says. The result: Poor energy levels, thinning hair, difficulty concentrating, dizziness, nausea, headaches, and a foul mood. "Even if a liquid diet claims to provide balanced nutrition, be very wary," she says.
- Muscle Loss. The average juice or smoothie diet plan hinges on severe calorie restriction. And while that can lead to weight loss in the short term, most of that weight will be from muscle, not fat, she says. Losing muscle can compromise your physique, cardiovascular health, and sports performance, and raise your risk of injuries, Mass says. What's more, many plans are lacking in the protein department, only exacerbating muscle deterioration.
- Rebound Weight Gain. "Liquid diets for weight loss usually leave the dieter feeling like a failure, when they were in fact not set up for success," Mass says. "Consuming very low calorie diets can damage your metabolism and cause aggressive rebound weight gain." (Related: How to Stop Yo-Yo Dieting Once and For All)
- Sugar Spikes. Juices and smoothies can be incredibly low in calories and sugars. But other times, they're like sucking down a candy bar—only without the taste-bud tingles. Some juices on the market contain up to 72 grams of carbohydrates and 60 grams of sugar per serving. That's comparable to about five slices of white bread—or a 20-ounce sugar-filled soda. Meanwhile, yogurt- or sherbet-heavy smoothie diet recipes are little more than 600-plus-calorie glasses with more carbs and sugar than you will find in not one but two candy bars. "Now imagine drinking that four to six times a day," Mass says.
- Crazy Cravings. Even if smoothies fill you up, they probably won't leave you satisfied, as the latter hinges on not only the nutrients, but also on the temperature, texture, consistency, and flavor of your foods, she says. Enter, cravings and eventual binge eating.
- Gallstones. When you get all of your meals in liquid form, your digestive tract doesn't operate as designed, Mass says. For that reason, while on liquid diets some people can stop secreting bile, which is needed for proper digestion. This can lead to gallstones.
- Digestive Issues. "When you consume sugar in large quantities, the body will bring fluid into the gut to balance it out," she says. "This can lead to stomach upset, bloating, pain, and diarrhea."
- An Unhealthy Relationship with Food. "These juice and smoothie diets don't teach us anything about healthy eating, portion control, meal timing, food shopping, how to eat healthfully at restaurants, or what healthy weight control is," Mass says. "They foster disordered eating behaviors and lead us to believe that fast weight loss is good—and that could not be further from the truth."