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March 2, 2015
by Angela Wurtzel, MA, MFT, CEDS

The Hunger for a Juice Cleanse

March 2, 2015 05:55 by Angela Wurtzel, MA, MFT, CEDS

“Once conform, once do what other people do because they do it, and a lethargy steals over all the finer nerves and faculties of the soul. She becomes all outer show and inward emptiness; dull, callous, and indifferent.” 

- Virginia Woolf

Hidden behind the healthy benefits of the marketing strategies of a juice cleanse lie a magical lure to lose weight. Juice cleanses plead to those who seek impulsive, quick fixes to lose weight from binge eating disorder. A five day juice cleanse is tempting because it is time limited. Even knowing that a diet like a juice cleanse doesn’t work, as suggested in a study published in the APA journal American Psychologist that dieting does not lead to sustained weight loss or health benefits for the majority of people (Wolpert, 2013), the fantasies for weight loss prevail in the minds of those who seek swift results. People who engage in binge eating suffer more deeply from a psychological hunger disease (Battegay, 1991)

In an article written in Slate Magazine, Stop Juicing (Nov 20, 2013) the author Katy Waldman writes:

“One thing that will happen to most who juice cleanse is that they will lose weight. At around 1,000 calories a day, the cleanses resemble religious fasts - purifying rituals undertaken during Ramadan or Yom Kippur or by medieval Christian mystics. Juicing also has a lot in common with the more terrestrial crazes like the cabbage soup diet and going Paleo. Be Virtuous! Purge your body! Look hot in jeans! Somehow, with juice cleanses, all of these directives miraculously become one. Juice cleanses accomplish exactly none of their physiological or medical objectives; they fetishize a weird, obsessive relationship with food and they are part of a social shift that reduces mental, physical and spiritual healthy to a sign of status.”

The Feeding Dilemma

Understanding the underlying motivations, hopes and wishes that go largely unnoticed in the conscious mind to begin a juice cleanse would initiate a more sound way to feed oneself. Simply looking at the basics of a juice cleanse brings to mind the feeding schedule of an infant and the mere fact that it is also in a bottle is reminiscent of the early feedings that must have gone awry. In Hunger Diseases (Battegay, 1991), Battegay quotes Perls(1948/1969) who thinks that certain adults treat their solid food as if it were liquid food that can be swallowed in big gulps. In his opinion, such persons are impatient and this impatience seems to be coupled with the incapacity to attain true satisfaction. People who overeat are unable to obtain true satisfaction through food which is why they eat more and more. Largely unconscious, overeaters don’t necessarily enjoy their food. They eat large quantities in haste because they hope in vain, to be truly satiated just once.  

Physical Hunger versus Emotional Hunger

Physical hunger is not typically felt in someone who overeats and who eventually turns to a juice cleanse achieve rapid weight loss. The emotional hunger, what Levy (Bemprod & Herzog, 152) defines as “affect hunger,” for maternal love and feelings of being cared for in the mother-child relationship is what cultivates the feeding processes of binge eating disorder. When repeated disconnects transpire in the early attachment process a person may come to exhibit impediments in managing their emotional life from within and to turn to the external world to attain soothing to regulate their emotions. According to Battegay (Battegay, 33), it is known that the manner and the amount of food intake in earliest childhood are decisive not only for the learning process concerning later food-intake behavior, but also for the factors determining the needs of the cells and their quantity in the body. Individuals who have learned to feed themselves excessively will reasonably be physically fixated on it and will be trained psychologically and somatically to feel emotionally hungry.

The Case of Beverly: Binge Eating and Compulsive Dieting

Beverly entered into therapy for binge eating. In her late forties, married with two children, she has been obese for several years. During her childhood, her mother was depressed and rarely came out of her room. Beverly was left unattended while her father worked very long hours. She was physically abused by her brother and her parents never protected her from his violent rages. Beverly feels like a fraud, a “chameleon,” and she changes her self to fit a given situation as a result of her parental failures to provide a secure environment. Bingeing eases her emptiness for a short time until her binge is over and she needs another one to again feel a sense of fullness. Beverly is describing what Melanie Klein (Battegay, 34) defined clinically as the basis for overeating in that the person will constantly seek food to reinforce themselves and increase their significance because in their childhood these individuals rarely experienced the loving, caring and reinforcing mother or father that is of such importance to healthy development. Beverly aptly described that without having had available and attuned parents she was not able to acquire an adequate self representation. Beverly had spent her whole life looking for self confirmation and fusion with food that might help her overcome her deficiency once and for all. 

At the age of 12, Beverly began smoking marijuana everyday in her bedroom. Neither   of her parents acknowledged her drug use. Beverly had no outlet for her feelings and experiences. She was completely uncared for emotionally. She left for college and never returned. She stopped smoking marijuana and began overeating. She completed college, traveled, met her husband and has created a life for herself.  Beverly had spent the last 10 years dieting, including a medically supervised liquid only diet. She lost 80 pounds only to regain over 100. At the outset of treatment Beverly was bingeing up to 5 times a day, the most severe at night, when she could be completely alone, suggestive of her childhood and adolescent marijuana binges in her room. Like Beverly, other obese individuals are more prone to binge eating at night as Stunkard (Battegay, 38) and his coworkers found when they conducted a study comparing 25 obese patients with 38 patients without eating problems. It appeared that the obese individuals were prone to eating much more frequently at night than the control group and they noted that especially acute emotional disturbances led to an excess of food intake at night. If these people tried to stop their trip to the refrigerator and their nightly food intake, they became depressed. Beverly expressed similar reactions when we merely discussed her limiting either the intensity and or frequency of her night binges since these episodes have been the most resilient. Perhaps Beverly may still need her night feedings, again, much like her infant self who was left alone to suffer with feelings of loneliness and her cries to seek fusion with her mother. Beverly’s reenactment of her suffering is exact in that she feeds herself only to be left just as empty never truly fulfilling the hope of obtaining the reinforcement for her sense of self. 

Although Beverly has made progress in therapy and has been able to develop emotional regulation skills so that she binges less frequently, she has considered a juice cleanse lately. Because Beverly is psychologically wired to seek external sources to assist her in losing weight, she fails to consider relinquishing her hold on her night binges after the juice cleanse is over to sustain her weight loss. The spellbinding pull of a juice cleanse overrides the truth that sustained weight loss requires psychological insight and behavioral change.

Psychotherapy as a Cure for Hunger

Beverly suffers from deep emotional pain and she has ascertained that by bingeing she can survive her own self. She needs continual therapeutic attention, emotional warmth and renewed confirmation as she progresses through life. She did not receive this necessary nourishment in her childhood and she receives very little in her everyday environment. It could be presumed then, that psychotherapy for people with binge eating disorders should be in place for a long period of time, perhaps even lifelong.  Juice cleanses offer the repetition of early life deprivations that cause rapid weight loss and a deeper well of emotional dissatisfaction that keep people engaged in binge eating. Without the containment of therapy and a space for her to explore her mind, find her words and experience her feelings, Beverly, like many others, lapse into excessive food intake.   


Battegay, Raymond, 1991, Hunger Disease, Hogrefe & Huber

Bemporad, Jules, R., MD Herzog, David B., 1989 Psychoanalysis and Eating Disorders, The Guilford Press

Waldman, Katy, “Stop Juicing: It’s not healthy, it’s not virtuous, and it makes you seem like a jerk,” Slate E - Magazine, November 22, 2013

Wolpert, Stuart, “Dieting Does Not Work, UCLA Researchers Report,” UCLA Newsroom, UCLA, Retrieved 22 December 2013.


About the Author

Angela Wurtzel Angela Wurtzel, MA, LMFT, CEDS

Angela R. Wurtzel provides individual, couple and family therapy for the treatment of eating disorders, self injury and compulsive shopping. She also leads "From a Pea to a Pumpkin: A Prenatal Psychotherapy Group."

Angela Wurtzel can be found at
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