As a holistic nutritionist with my own cleansing program, I am bias towards The Master Cleanse, plain and simple. Even so, I can assure you that my criticism towards it began long before I started working with clients. Over the years I watched countless friends and acquaintances living in LA succumb to the temptation of one of the most popular get-healthy-quick programs. Swearing off all food, they’d set out to drink the infamous concoction of water with lemon juice, cayenne pepper, and maple syrup for ten days, somehow convinced it was healthy. More than a decade has passed and I’m still wondering how so many people fall for it.
Then again, I realize there is something embedded in our culture that makes us susceptible to its big promises. Compared to many nations we overwork, overeat, overspend, and are overexposed to marketing that tells us we’re not good enough and that we need medication for almost everything imaginable. Culturally, we are also drawn, to the idea of extreme results, perhaps in an attempt to fill a void that all that other stuff won’t fill and perhaps because we’re scared of the dedication that lasting changes require. TV shows like Dr. 90210, The Biggest Loser,Survivor, and Extreme Make-over Home Edition all feed into that mentality, even when they produce positive outcomes. That’s because we witness, in a matter of minutes or hours, how people can drop 100 pounds, survive in a remote jungle, get an instant boob job, or have their home magically transformed. All while sitting comfortably on our couch we cheer, we cry, and we long for an extreme experience to transform our own lives.
Along comes the Master Cleanse, a.k.a Master Cleanser or Lemonade Diet, proclaiming that it is “the most successful of any diet of its type” and that it presents “the finest of knowledge in healing.” Again and again the author, Stanley Burroughs, declares how the ingredients not only detoxify, but also build the body. In fact, according to Burroughs “lemons and limes are the richest source of minerals and vitamins of any food known to man”. (You should’ve heard me laugh the first time I read that!) He goes on to say that by doing the Lemonade Diet all skin disorders disappear and “all mucus diseases such as colds, flu, asthma, hey fever, sinus and bronchial troubles are rapidly dissolved and eliminated from the body.” Even better, “Fat melts away at the rate of about 2 lbs a day for most persons – and without any harmful side effects.”
It all sounds great doesn’t it? It sounds like a simple, cheap way to finally have the health and body you’ve always wanted, right? Your curiosity is piqued. After all, what would it be like to go without food for 10 days and just drink this stuff? It sounds extreme and promising, and that’s the hook. But the results really aren’t that extreme and the experience isn’t that simple. When it’s all said and done The Master Cleanse offers false promises and here’s why.
When you’re depriving yourself of necessary calories, your body thinks that you’re, well… starving. Now there are yogis and monks that have proved that through the power of the mind the body can go longer without food than usually expected. However, most of us folks are living in a different vibration, with or without the sun salutations or affirmations. But even if you are a Jedi Master that can handle 10 days without food, once you resume your regular eating habits the pounds that magically disappeared almost always reappear for two main reasons. One, having gone through starvation mode the body will now hold on to any calories it can in case another famine, or say a Lemonade Diet, may stricken the land. Two, a crucial component is missing from this radical program. There is no real opportunity to develop the habit of boosting healthy foods while minimizing unhealthy ones or to practice eating healthy portions.
Speaking of habits…we as a species are, for the most part, emotionally attached to food. It’s a central part of our social fabric whether we like it or not. So, by Day 3 most people are ready to bail and grab some nachos and margaritas with friends. In fact, over and over again I hear how few make it to Day 5, let alone Day 10.
This poses yet another problem. Most of us don’t want to feel like “a quitter.” We want our golden star, but with the Master Cleanse it’s too easy to fail. The few and the proud who do hold out to the very end often end up binging, as a way to celebrate (a dangerous relationship to have with food). Some will beat the odds and actually follow the program and adopt healthier habits afterwards, but it is rare and that’s another reason why the program is flawed.
Now, that’s just the overview. Before I get to the really good stuff, I would like to sincerely acknowledge Burroughs for some of the wisdom he did impart, like emphasizing a whole foods diet that’s pro-vegetarian. If our country had listened to him back in 1976 in that regard I believe we wouldn’t have many of the health issues we face today.
Even so, the majority of his claims and instructions in the legendary booklet have led many peop