OUR WRITER’S LIFE AS A HEALTH & BEAUTY GUINEA PIG

I’m not a girly-girl. Never have been. If you look close enough, you can see all the scars on my knees from riding my mountain bike too fast around corners of sandy roads as a kid. Sure, I own perfume and wear makeup — most days. But I would never get plastic surgery, hair extensions, fake nails or Botox. Ever.

So when Folio Weekly asked me to put together something for the Health & Beauty issue, I figured what better way to tell this story than to make myself a guinea pig of sorts. This was an opportunity to get outside my comfort zone, test my physical limits and, I hoped, make me feel healthier and look (ahem) more beautiful. (All on the company dime, no less.)

It wasn’t easy choosing the subjects to cover. There are lots of trends that are big right now, things like CrossFit and ombre hair highlights. But those fall into the semi-trite, been-there-done-that camp. Instead, I opted for three lesser-known Health & Beauty vogues that would, I hoped, result in a guinea pig process.

From a three-day juice cleanse to a detoxifying body wrap to a Pure Barre exercise class, I learned a lot about my limitations and even more about personal resilience. There are plenty of things to do in Northeast Florida to improve your physical and mental well-being (and lighten your wallet). These are my stories.

Story I: In Which I Drink my Food

My head hurts and my stomach feels like it’s eating itself. It’s been three days since I’ve had a meal. This, my friends, is called a juice cleanse. The point of this self-inflicted suffering is to flush your system and create a cleaner environment within for your body to function properly.

When I decided to do a detoxifying cleanse for this issue, a friend suggested I head over to Creative Juices Natural Café in St. Augustine. Owner Chris Faunce and his staff are known for their three-day juice cleanse, and happened to be running a January special: three days of juice for $100.

Each morning, I went to Creative Juices and picked up my juices for the day, a daily ration consisting of 16-ounce bottles labeled 1 through 5, plus a green tea. The juices included Sunrise Surfer (carrot, apple, beet, orange, lemon and ginger) and Popeye Power (apple, spinach, cucumber, parsley and ginger).

Let me preface by saying that I’m a pretty healthy — I mean, healthful — eater. But never in my 34 years have I ever done something like this. Well, I did go without meat for seven years, but that was child’s play compared to going three days without real, actual food.

The rules of the cleanse go like this: You’re not supposed to put anything into your body besides the five bottles of juice, green tea, and lots and lots of water. That means no booze, no coffee, no solid sustenance of any kind. You’re also supposed to stretch daily and do some light exercising, like walking.

My first day proved pretty embarrassing. After having my morning and mid-morning juices, it took only a few hours before I caved and brewed a cup of coffee. The lack of caffeine had given me a splitting headache, and I had a work deadline.

Then again on day one, just 12 hours after I started the cleanse, I cheated and ate a small bowl of pasta. In my defense, it was a Sunday, and I was home with my 5-year-old, who is constantly snacking.

Did I feel guilty and a bit ashamed? Yes. Of course I felt like a total loser. But I drank all of my juices for that day and swore I’d stay on course for day two.

And indeed, for whatever reason, day two was the easiest. I did have a small cup of coffee to stave off the headache (sorry) and ate half a banana at dinnertime (sorry again), but other than that, I did pretty damn awesome. On day three, I killed it. I drank all of my juices and green tea, hydrated with a ton of water, and didn’t eat a crumb.

The hardest parts were being in situations where other people were eating and drinking, and having a ton of work deadlines. If you’re thinking about doing a juice cleanse, find a friend who is willing to do it with you and willing to steer clear of anything food- or alcohol-related.

For me, that’s life in general.

It’s officially midnight on day three, which really means it’s day four and the goddamn thing is over and done with. I just returned home from a Lucinda Williams concert at Ponte Vedra Concert Hall, and you better believe I’m going to chow down on whatever is left in my fridge.

I can’t say I’d ever do it again. But I did lose four pounds in three days and got to know my body better. For instance, I didn’t realize how addicted I was to coffee or what it’s like to be sober at a concert. You know, the little things.

Good night. I’m now going to go eat the best turkey sandwich I’ve ever had.

Story II: In Which I Wrap My Body in Cellophane

A body contouring wrap sounds kind of relaxing, doesn’t it? Well, trust me, it’s not. If you’ve ever had your limbs and midsection wrapped in cellophane — and who hasn’t, right? — then you understand what I’m talking about. It’s uncomfortable, strange and a little funny.

A bit of Googling led me to Slim Body & Spa in St. Augustine, whose website lured me like so: “Our detoxifying and body contouring wrap begins with exfoliation through an herbal salt scrub. Then detoxifying cream is applied directly to the skin and the patient’s torso, legs, arms and butt are wrapped.”

Lovely, right? I made an appointment.

The young woman at the front desk had me fill out a few forms and directed me back to a small room, where she asked me to strip to my undergarments. (Where was the herbal salt scrub I was promised?) She donned latex gloves and slathered my thighs, upper arms and stomach in Herbalogica Body Wrap Cream. Next, she took out a roll of standard cellophane and got to work, tightly wrapping the said-slathered areas of my body.

Spas and medical centers market these body wraps as being a way to detoxify, slim down or even rid your body of cellulite. According to WebMD, however, these are “claims that may go too far.” OK, fine. But they’re also meant to be relaxing — and if they do that, then that’s its own purpose.

I didn’t find it relaxing. Perhaps that’s because I chose poorly.

I was given three options for how to spend the next hour: 1) Go into a portable sauna; 2) stand on a vibration fitness machine called Rock Solid (think 1960s exercise contraption with the belt that vibrates around your midsection); 3) simply lie on the massage table and read a magazine.

I opted for the vibration machine.

She hauled the clunky appliance into my small room, set it for 10 minutes, showed me how to press “start,” and promised to return every 10 minutes to check on me. No dimming of the lights, no candles, no tranquil music. Why didn’t I pick the damn sauna?

Instead, it was just me in my bra and underwear, wrapped in plastic, standing on a machine that shook my entire body. I have never felt so awkward in my entire life.

I turned the machine off after seven-and-a-half minutes, and decided to go for option three instead.

For the rest of the hour, I tried to get comfortable while flipping through an issue of Lucky magazine. But no matter how stock-still I tried to be, the cellophane would bunch up on my thighs and slide down my upper arms.

I started to worry that the cream wouldn’t work (i.e., make me skinnier) unless the plastic wrap was in its proper place. Then I remembered that, duh, there’s no cream in the world that’s going to melt away my fat. (That’s what the juice cleanse was for.)

Story III: In Which I Take Up Ballet (Sorta)

I’m not a fan of exercise classes. First, I hate being told what to do, and second, I hate exercise. But Pure Barre proved less excruciating and a lot more badass than I anticipated.

Touted as a “total body workout that lifts your seat, tones your thighs, abs and arms and burns fat,” Pure Barre is a 55-minute class set to motivational music (think *NSYNC). The idea is to perform isometric movements — essentially, strength training without changing your joint angle or muscle length during contraction. These static positions create resistance.

Pure Barre is an exercise chain with area locations in Jacksonville Beach, Tapestry Park and Riverside, and one opening soon in San Marco. I signed up for a class in Jax Beach for a first-timer fee of $19.

Instructions were then emailed to me, describing what to expect at my inaugural class, with a short video about what to wear (socks, leggings and a top that covers the midriff). I felt fairly comfortable going in; I’d done my research and due diligence. I do, however, wish that I’d brought water along, and not drunk so much coffee beforehand.

Anyway, I arrived 15 minutes early, as instructions advised, and met my instructor, Kayla, who set me up with a small rubber ball, rubber stretch tubes and two- and three-pound weights. She briefly went over some of the class lingo and positioned me in an area at the front of the room. (I would have preferred the back.)

There were about 14 women in the class, Real Housewives types with their Lululemon workout clothes and cult-like Pure Barre grippy socks (available there for purchase, natch).

As a newbie, I took a little while to get in the groove. We alternated between the rubber ball, which I tucked under my knee or between my thighs, and the rubber stretch tubes, which helped stretch out my hamstrings and biceps.

There’s also the ballet bar, which is how Pure Barre got its name. That was what I was most looking forward to. I’ve always thought of ballet as graceful and classic — a true blueblood way to get in touch with your body. But there was nothing graceful about having a red rubber ball stuck between your thighs as you make small pelvic thrusts.

For me, the ballet-bar portion of the class proved the most difficult. Remember in elementary school when your gym teacher would make you bend your knees slightly until lactic acid built up in your thighs and you thought you’d die? That’s pretty much how I felt.

After about 10 minutes on the front bar, which seemed like an eternity, we were instructed to grab a mat and move to the back bar to work our abs. I was just starting to get a handle on the class lingo — things like “tuck,” which means to tuck my pelvis into my abs — when Kayla came by to give me some positive affirmation. “Great form, Kara.”

I’ve done Bikram yoga before, and while Pure Barre was difficult, it was nothing like being in that roasting room of hell. I can dig Pure Barre. There’s music, which helps take your mind off the fact that your muscles are exhausted and your body is shaking. There’s also rest time for stretching. And most important, everybody’s just kind of doing their own thing.

At the end of class, my muscles did feel a bit like Jell-O, but I felt good, too. Loose, even. Kayla let me know that I did rather well for a first outing and invited me to take advantage of a monthly special. I let her know that I live an hour away, so Pure Barre would be a sporadic thing for me, but that I’d be back.

And you know what? I think I will be.

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