Words by Lily Martis
Illustration by Cory Sutter
A thin line between healthy kick-start and dangerous fad diet
I didn’t eat for 10 days, but I wasn’t hungry. Some said I was crazy, others said it was wrong to “starve” myself.
“It’s not a diet,” I would tell people. “It’s a detox.”
In an attempt to rid my body of all its toxins, I had sworn off solid foods. For 10 days, my diet consisted of three ingredients: lemon juice, maple syrup and cayenne pepper. And laxatives. You can’t forget the laxatives.
I was on the Master Cleanse, a 10-day juice fast that has been around since 1940 when it was created by Stanley Burroughs.
I started my days by chugging a liter of disgusting, lukewarm salt water and ended my nights with a cup of relaxing, herbal laxative tea. Throughout the day, I was free to consume as much water as I desired along with six to 12 glasses of a concoction made of two tablespoons of fresh lemon juice, two tablespoons of organic maple syrup and 1/10 teaspoon of cayenne pepper mixed with water, making for a sweet and spicy lemonade taste.
Crave something more substantial? Too bad. Straying from the 300-some daily calories is not an option. But after the first few days, all food cravings diminish. As a Master Cleanse virgin, I had a few headaches, but overall, I didn’t experience too many negative side effects. For some, however, headaches, fatigue and hunger pangs can dominate the first few days while the body is adjusting to a new diet. This is a normal reaction as the body feels like it is being unlawfully suppressed and starved, and your stomach feels like a child whose favorite toy has been taken away.
Because of this caloric deficit, Tanya Falcone, the Center of Nutrition Outreach coordinator at Kent State, advises against any kind of physical activity while on the cleanse.
“In regards to mental capacity, it might make you feel more lethargic, more tired, unable to concentrate well, which is why we tell people, when they do these cleanses, to stay at home and not be physically active,” Falcone says in regards to the cleanse.
But have no fear. The cleanse provides enough calories and a huge amount of nutrients with both weight loss and cleansing in mind. I had enough energy to get myself through the day, and after a few days, my headaches disappeared and my appetite subsided. As it turned out, the combination of lemon juice, maple syrup and cayenne pepper was enough to sustain me.
However, the Master Cleanse is not for everyone and depends on who you have in front of you, Falcone says.
Done the right way and by the right person, Falcone says the Master Cleanse can actually have more benefits than negative effects.
“If you do a Master Cleanse the right way, it kick-starts your body to clean out all the awful things you’ve been eating,” Falcone says.
The next step is continuing into a healthy diet.
“That weight will definitely continue to fall off if you move into a healthy diet,” Falcone says. “If you go back to eating burgers and fries, you are going to gain all the weight back.”
However, the Master Cleanse should only be done sporadically––no more than once a year––and under supervision.
For those who go on the cleanse multiple times, like once every couple months, the body ends up expecting it and will store fat and burn muscle for energy instead, Falcone says. Abusing the cleanse is what makes it dangerous.
“You’re going to be low on protein, but they are giving you things you need to survive,” Falcone says. “They are giving you the sodium, giving you the water, and they are giving you the sugars. It’s smart in the sense that it’s making sure that your base levels of stuff are there.”
But the Master Cleanse isn’t for everyone. In fact, Jennifer Warren, an instructor of nutrition and dietetics and food and environmental nutrition at the University of Akron, says that many dietitians would actually advise against it.
“Typically in our training and education [as a registered dietitian], diets like these don’t receive a lot of credit,” Warren says. “We are not fans of diets in general—even though it’s right in our name. We prefer lifestyles that are filled with moderation and a variety of diet and exercise. I couldn’t ethically recommend this cleanse as a trained clinician.”
Essentially, your body needs glucose to function, protein to regenerate cells, fat for energy and vitamins and minerals to make it all happen, Warren says. If on the cleanse for more than 10 days, your body will end up breaking down muscle to generate them.
Agreeing, Jamie Matthews, a lecturer for Kent State’s College of Education, Health and Human Services, says that she could never recommend the Master Cleanse.
“If the person is wanting to do [the Master Cleanse], I may dissuade them with the importance of having a well-rounded diet every day,” Matthews says. “I can’t really get behind anything that excludes food groups at all.”
While on the cleanse, Matthews says your stomach will shrink, diminishing your appetite once you start to eat food again. However, a major problem Matthews says she has seen in her years as a licensed dietician is that when people do start finally eating again, they overeat.
“It’s just I can’t support anything that isn’t a lifestyle change,” Matthews says. “You can’t stay on [the Master Cleanse] forever. You aren’t really learning anything by doing it. You’re not going to take anything away for your healthy life after you’re done because you’re likely not going to do it again.”
Like any other fad diet, Matthews says the Master Cleanse attracts circles of followers, growing and shrinking in popularity. The Master Cleanse was popularized by Beyoncé when she went on the detox to prepare for her role as Deena Jones in “Dreamgirls,” which is why it is sometimes referred to as “Beyoncé’s Lemonade Diet.”
But you don’t have to be Beyoncé in order to be healthy as there are alternatives to the Master Cleanse.
If one is trying to lose weight, Matthews says she would recommend a doctor and dietitian-monitored meal replacement program, like Medifast or Optifast, that gives you the right amount of fats, protein, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.
For those trying to rid their body of toxins, as was my case, Matthews and Falcone both say this can be achieved simply by increasing fruit, vegetable and plant-based protein intake. A good variety of these will naturally clean your body while still providing the necessary nutrients, vitamins and minerals.
But what are toxins? Warren asked.
“We do not have a lot of documentation of the presence of ‘toxins’ as something you need to rid yourself of,” Warren says. “The kidney and liver are amazing organs capable of filtering out what the body doesn’t need.”
It is inarguable that the cleanse does work, as weight loss is inevitable with the caloric deficit the body is on. However, Falcone says the cleanse should only be used as a transition into a healthier lifestyle. This psychological component means that you have to want to do it to have a better, healthier life for yourself, not just as a “quick fix” to lose weight.
In an article by SF Gate, Coleen Murphy, a naturopathic doctor who runs a three-week detox program, says she doesn’t recommend her patients utilize detoxes as a weight loss method. However, she says fasting diets can help people change their habits and pick up healthier lifestyles.
“I don’t want my patients to starve themselves or do anything unhealthy,” Murphy says in the article. “But we’re not meant to gorge ourselves. That’s the fascinating thing when you’re on this detox. You’re energetic; you feel great. You’re just like, ‘Wow, I don’t need that much food.’ You really become aware of your eating habits.”
And that’s exactly what happened for me. I chose to do the cleanse, just this once, as a way to detox my body after having taken up a poor diet of cheeseburgers, milkshakes and Taco Bell and then transition into eating a healthier diet. While everyone will experience different results, my cleanse proved to be successful as I had plenty of energy and I became more conscious of my body. And once the 10 days were up, I felt ready to start eating more fruits and vegetables, and I have, for the most part, kept to my new, healthier lifestyle.
There is a fine line, however, between the Master Cleanse being used as a healthy kick-start or a dangerous fad diet. Every person is different, and it is always best to talk with a doctor or dietician before going on the Master Cleanse.
The Master Cleanse Mixture
Fresh lemon juice is the most critical component of the diet. It is acidic, but the living, active enzymes act as a natural cleaner, working to break down calcified substances like gallstones, kidney stones and unhealthy cells that our bodies can then use to regenerate themselves, according to Health Guidance. The lemon juice also provides the body with high levels of magnesium, calcium, vitamin C and potassium.
Two common mistakes while on the cleanse include pre-mixing your lemonade and using store-bought lemon juice. Pre-mixing the lemonade causes the enzymes to go into a sort of hibernation, making them less active. Also, fresh lemons contain the most natural and active ingredients compared to store-bought lemon juice, which can contain additional sugars and preservatives. Don’t store your lemons in the refrigerator, either. You want ripe lemon juice, and the cold from the fridge will prevent them from ripening.
Rich and dark, organic maple syrup is the primary energy source while on the cleanse. Energy can come from a variety of sources, so you don’t necessarily need a cheeseburger and soda to keep you going.
Maple syrup consists of many nutrients, vitamins and minerals, but it’s mostly made up of sucrose (table sugar) and water. Used in moderation, or in the context of the cleanse, the sucrose from the maple syrup is necessary for your body to survive and function. Maple syrup also contains zinc, manganese, organic acids, minerals, such as potassium and calcium, as well as trace amounts of amino acids, according to Natural News.
It must be rich maple syrup, too—not the Aunt Jemima variety that is just highly refined table sugar. In fact, any other “imitation” syrup, according to Natural News, most likely contains no maple syrup at all but rather high fructose corn syrup or highly refined white sugars.
Maple syrup is also graded based on color, ranging from light to dark. Third grade, or “D,” is the darkest and most preferred for the cleanse as it contains the most nutrients.
“Maple syrup can be very healthy in moderation and provides a good source of sugars,” Falcone says. “Especially going toward a good grade, you can get more benefits.”
For my cleanse, I used the amber Ohio Pure Maple Syrup, which I purchased at Kent Natural Foods Co-op on East Main Street in downtown Kent.
Cayenne pepper is a super food, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center, which means it is rich in nutrients.
“It has long been used as medicine, especially in instances related to digestion,” Warren says.
When used properly in the cleanse, the pepper can work as a stimulant, which increases metabolism and helps with weight loss, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Cayenne pepper also acts as a blood thinner and purifier, and it increases circulation, which helps heat the body as it isn’t creating warmth from food consumption on the cleanse. It also helps to break up the mucous in our bodies, which is where all of our illness-causing substances are trapped.
The most active compound in cayenne pepper is capsaicin. This is what gives it the heat we taste, which also helps curb your appetite.
Salt Water Flush
The salt water flush was inarguably the worst part about waking up in the morning and doing the cleanse. It is used to create bowel movement and eliminate the toxins in your waste. Falcone also says its primary purpose is to replenish losses of sodium needed to survive.
The salt water flush is to be done in the morning on an empty stomach, and the process is a commitment in itself. Mix two teaspoons of non-iodized sea salt with one liter of lukewarm water and drink it as fast as you can (without vomiting). It’s hard to swallow (I tried “bonging” it the one morning), but stopping only makes you taste the salt and activates your gag reflex.
Once you get it down, bowel movements will be coming shortly, lasting anywhere between 45 minutes to two hours. You’ll first feel a rumble in your belly, and instinct will tell you to run to the bathroom. Give it time. You will have about five movements, possibly more, as this is the part that really cleans your system out.
The Master Cleanse recommends organic Smooth Move senna laxative tea, saying it “provides relief from occasional constipation in promoting bowel movement.”
However, Falcone says laxative teas, like Smooth Move, are dangerous in that they can deplete gut bacteria.
“The dangers with the laxative tea is that it can cause the healthy gut bacteria to decrease, which will decrease your immune system,” Falcone says. “The laxatives will also dehydrate you.”
I used the calmer Traditional Medicinals “EveryDay Detox,” which is mostly a dandelion and chicory root blended tea.
But Falcone says mint, black licorice and even the teas with a little bit of caffeine can have calmer and more natural effects, as well, and can help regulate your gut.