The Real Deal on the Master Cleanse

by in Diets & Weight Loss, Food News, April 15, 2009


Many celebs praise miracle cleanses for keeping them slim. One popular detox, the Master Cleanse, has been around for decades and is a perennial Hollywood favorite. Is it a safe choice for the diet-minded? Not necessarily.

What are cleansing diets?
Detox — or cleansing — diets claim to remove harmful poisons or toxins from the body. You do this by cutting many foods and following a very calorie-restricted regime for a certain amount of time. Yes, fasting for religious reasons has been around for centuries (i.e. Ramadan or Yom Kippur), but these diets have taken on new meaning. They can be anything from a 3-day juice fast to days of just drinking unpleasant cayenne pepper and maple syrup concoctions as your main nutritional source.

The story gets messier, too — many cleansing diets also recommend numerous enemas, laxatives or both to help clear your system. They’ll even advise you to stay close to the bathroom, take several days off work and not plan any social events (you’ll definitely be tired after the nutrient restrictions).

So what is the Master Cleanse?
The Master Cleanse (or Master Cleanser) became big news when Beyoncé claimed it helped her drop 20 pounds for the movie Dreamgirls — though the detox has been around since the 70s. You might know it better as the “Lemonade Diet.”

Basically, you enjoy (okay, “enjoy”) a mix of lemon juice, maple syrup, water and cayenne pepper for a minimum of 10 days. Supplementing that are cups of salt water and laxative tea. In the end, you get about 700 calorie per day. The diet claims the symptoms from the detox are tiredness, cravings, irritability and headaches. Starve me for 10 days and ask me down disgusting drinks (not to mention enemas!), and I won’t be too happy either!

As for most cleansing diets, there’s no scientific evidence to suggest that a detoxification process is beneficial or even safe without medical supervision. And eating so little calories for days is not only unhealthy, it’s down right dangerous. Kids, teens, pregnant women or any people with medical conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure shouldn’t definitely stay away.

What do the dietitians say?
Yes, I sound like a hater, but it’s not just me. Check out this recent USA Today article that quotes leading dietitians that think this diet is a farce. Ultimately, the best form of detox is eating a balanced, whole foods diet that’s high in fiber-rich foods, fruits, veggies and whole grains. Aside from lacking most of the food groups, these fad diets often don’t have the protein needed to maintain muscle during weight loss — this means your fat will stay while your muscles deteriorate.

If you’re still determined to try a detox, consult your physician and a registered dietitian, and go for a shorter, 3-day plan as opposed to any longer ones.

[Photo by Jordan and Heidi / Flickr]

TELL US: What do you think of the celebrity hubbub around diets like this?

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Comments (71)

  1. Carrie says:

    I have very successfully completed this master cleanse, along with juice fasts and water fasts, numerous times. I think one needs to keep an open mind while doing this or any other detoxes. Your body is definitely safe while doing this cleanse. If you go to the Master Cleanse website (I beleive it is http://www.lemonadediet.com) you can read more about it in detail from thousands of people who have done it and done it safely.

  2. Susan says:

    First of all this is NOT supposed to be a weight loss diet. It is abused by people like Beyonce to fit into a dress – ridiculous. I can guarantee that after a few days of returning to a regular diet, any weight lost is regained unless you are truly overweight and begin a healthy eating plan to keep it off. If you read the original book by the creator of the master cleanse ("Healing in the Age of Enlightenment") it does not recommend that you change your entire life to do this fast. You should, if you're drinking as much of the lemonade as you need (and that's dependent on you), be able to do most tasks with the exception of a your regular work out. And when you do the saltwater "bath" you should do it early enough in the morning to allow it to make it through your system (usually within an hour) before you head out. Those are it's only conditions. The writer of this article exaggerated GREATLY! Of course you have to follow it by the letter and not try and take pieces of it and do it your own way. That's not how it's designed.

    I've done The Master Cleaser 3 times in my life. The first time in the 80s was the hardest because my eating habits at that time were horrible – processed foods and just all around junk foods, sodas, lots of partying, etc. After the 10 days I felt so much better that I totally changed my eating habits and began what has become a progressively healthier diet and lifestyle since that first fast 22 years ago. The 2nd time I did it was because I fell back into some bad habits. The third time I did it for 7 days only because that's all I needed. It was much easier because I was eating so much healthier and I finished it early because my body had already exhibited all of the stages that one should during the entire fast.

    So, all of that experience says it did work well for me and helped me to have a healthier lifestyle. I see no need to do a cleansing fast with frequency. I do fast for religious reasons at times, but that is not about weight loss either (obviously). The focus is something entirely different.

  3. Nicole S. says:

    Sticking to organic foods,if at all possible, is a good way to eliminate toxins from the body. If you start to eat healthier, unprocessed foods such as organics(bought from a natural foods store, as well as some herbal shops that may carry what you are looking for). Changing your food choices helps your body to begin elimination of the toxins on its own. Lack of sleep is a factor. (Your body does its toxin elimination and melatonin manufacturing between the hours of 11pm and 2 am. If you don't sleep between these hours, it makes your body sluggish, and the toxins will reabsorb into your body, becoming fat.) Making your own food fresh is the best way. If you like salt, use sea salt. It is from the earth, so therefore good for you. You can find organic foods of many kinds out there…dairy, meat, produce, grains. Its all in the lack of processing that makes it organic. Also, a good way to detox your body with herbs is to make tea of catnip and/or horsetail, and drink 2-3/3-5 cups a day until you have achieved your results. Look up other information pertaining to this on earthclinic.com . There are a a lot of helpful articles and information accessible to anyone there, including advice from very knowlegeable people who frequent the post, that have experience in these things. Take care, best to you all.

  4. Jane says:

    I tried it for 10 days and felt so good that I wanted to keep going but I started having red streaks going up the insides of my shins under my skin so I stopped Any one else with weird side effects??

  5. Ken says:

    To the author: What a whiny, meaningless post. Why don't you try it before dissing it? Just plain ignorant. I lost weight (12 lbs) and felt great during 10 days on the MC. It's safe and natural, and I'll do it in lesser doses from now on.

  6. John Kleine says:

    Please lose weight slow and steady and the healthy way
    http://www.onlinefornewbies.com
    Be careful out there

  7. This may work for some folk, but I get good body flushes by eating according to a diabetic meal plan and drinking a lot of water. Oatmeal for breakfast helps me a lot, but I feel that you MUST excercise 4-5 days a week to get the most out of the diet; I try to walk for 1 hour for 3 miles 4-5 days; it can and will help keep your system cleaned out with no harmful or extreme diets like this detox approach.

  8. Michelle says:

    As a doctor, I really appreciate this article. The danger is in electrolyte loss from profuse stool output caused by these. Also, people tend to forget that 60% of your body weight is water and many of these diets just cause you to dehydrate and lose dome of this water; you will reaccumulate this water eventually to obtain homeostasis.

  9. CSConn says:

    As a biochemical scientist, I would highly agree that these diets are awful for your body if you are using them for weightless. What happens when you re-introduce food into your body? For starters your body will be in shock and start storing as much as it can!
    The best way to loose weight is to make slow changes in your diet that you know you can handle and continue to do. Such as cakes and ice cream only on holidays and during these occasions remember portion size. Also, try to eat 5 smaller meals a day instead of 3, drink water with meals and alternative drinks (juice/tea/milk) in between. Maybe hold off on a beer with dinner; eat, digest your food, and if you still want to relax have the beer/drink after you've absorbed some nutrients from your meal. Little changes will lead to a healthier life and weight-loss in time.. not one week -5lbs… to only hurt your body for a lifetime.
    For those of you who seem to be taking good-care of your body and have found this to help you with digestive problems, it is great that something worked for you =)

    Good article! Please continue to remind people to treat their bodies healthier!

  10. Par la suite, après avoir passé de nombreuses heures sur Internet à la fin, nous avons découvert une personne qui certainement ne savent de quoi ils discutent beaucoup merci beaucoup merveilleux message

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