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/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 people astray and created a cult-like following. It’s finally time to purify your mind from the toxic hype of The Master Cleanse.
Let’s start with the specific reasons why people do this program. It’s cheap and people want to lose weight and/or toxins. Remember how Burroughs declares that people can safely drop 2 lbs per day? Well, a safe amount of weight to lose is generally 2 lbs per week, not per day. Individuals who are obese can demonstrate the exception to the rule and initially shed more in a shorter time frame. Ultimately though, a slower pace ensures greater success of maintaining an optimal weight range for all sizes. Again, I point this out because putting weight back on after the Lemonade Diet is extremely common.
Now, fat tissues do love to hang on to toxins. So, when you lose toxins it will help you lose pounds, but how much detoxing can you actually expect with the Master Cleanse?
Let’s look at those cheap ingredients and see why this is a classic example of “You get what you pay for”.
The booklet recommends drinking 6-12 glasses of the formula a day. If a person drank 8 glasses a day they would end up consuming the water with a total of 1 cup of lemon juice, 1 cup of maple syrup, and just under a teaspoon of cayenne pepper every day. They would be taking in approximately 900 calories a day (almost entirely from the sugar content) and be receiving a fraction of their protein, healthy fats, complex carbohydrates, and other important nutrients. The percentages listed below are based on 8 servings a day and a 2,000-calorie diet.
Maple Syrup: Touted as being rich in nutrients by Burroughs, 1 cup a day only equals 22% of calcium requirements and 21% of iron requirements. According to nutritiondata.com it is a very good source of manganese, however they also rate maple syrup as “strongly inflammatory”. More disturbing though is how it feeds yeast imbalances such as candidas and parasites, which as you can guess, is hardly detoxifying. Since the Master Cleanse is mostly sugar water it is not a safe choice for diabetics or hypoglycemics.
Cayenne Pepper: Added in to boost circulation, cayenne can aggravate any system already prone to overheating. It’s a menopausal woman’s nightmare for inducing hot flashes. Aside from providing 15% of the daily requirement for Vitamin A, there is little nutritional value as a food source.
Lemon Juice: An ancient remedy used for cleansing and balancing. It’s high in Vitamin C (187%) and has a decent amount of potassium and folate. Overall, it does not provide a significant nutritional value to rely on during the duration of the Master Cleanse. 1 cup of lemon juice only provides 2% of daily protein requirements. Additionally, ph levels will actually become acidic (not good) for anyone who has problems digesting acids. As any dentist would probably tell you, continual consumption of lemon juice is also unhealthy for tooth enamel.
Even with those negative factors, the greatest cause for concern is not what’s included in the Master Cleanse, but what’s not included. Here are a few examples of what to look for in a well-designed cleanse:
- Helps the body digest sugars more slowly so that insulin levels aren’t spiked.
- Adds bulk to bowel movements and helps clean the colon of things like impacted fecal matter (lovely thought, I know).
- Provides a feeling of being satiated, which minimizes cravings.
- Specifically targets storehouses of toxins in places like the liver to release hazardous waste and to also revitalize cells and tissues.
- Kills parasites and overgrowths of yeast.
- Strengthens immune system.
- Many herbs contain phytonutrients and anti-cancerous properties.
- Boosts immune system.
- Boosts metabolism.
- Corrects intestinal flora (strengthens the friendly bacteria and diminishes the not-so-friendly bacteria).
- Unlocks the key to digestion and maximizes nutritional value.
- Balances ph levels.
- Helps digest and remove internal scar tissue.
- Reduces gas (so you can eat healthy foods like beans without fear).
- Increases cellular energy and natural detoxification.
Of course, there are other supplements and healing strategies that can be included. All of those things combined will clue you into how comprehensive and effective the program is.
But what else is missing? Yes, there’s more. Stanley Burroughs insists that the liquid program supplies the body with all it needs for not only 10 days, but even 40 days and beyond. These claims are simply untrue because muscle-building protein, healthy fats like omega oils, and complex carbs that fuel your brain and red blood cells are all missing. In addition, the abundant phytonutritents and antioxidants present in a balanced whole foods diet are also nowhere to be found.
If you’re still not totally convinced yet as to why you would never want to do the Master Cleanse (or never do it again) here is my final warning…RETOXIFICATION.
Rarely examined by cleansers, re-toxification is a serious risk with improper cleansing. Here’s what happens. Basically, you start an extreme detox program (one with no food or with mega doses of herbs for example) and you’re body is prompted to start dumping toxins. The toxins have been released from organs such as your liver and are now hanging out in your bloodstream. Without an efficient way to exit the body (fiber, apple pectin or bentonite clay to name a few) they can end up, especially the crazy ones, in more vulnerable areas, like your brain. Heavy metals are a good example. We all know mercury is toxic, so the last thing you’d want is for it to cross the blood-brain barrier and do more damage.
Aside from utilizing things like fiber, which are missing in the Master Cleanse, there’s another way to hone in on whether you’re at risk for re-toxification. You will feel like crap while cleansing. Many people, including health professionals, will call this a healing crisis. Whether it’s with the Master Cleanse or another program though you shouldn’t have to have a prolonged experience of feeling awful in order to feel wonderful. There can be ebbs and flows, but if intense symptoms persist that’s usually an indicator that something needs to be adjusted. With my own experience, and with working with clients, I believe the mind, body, and spirit like transitions and time to adjust to detoxing as well as integrating healthier habits. Extreme approaches often induce stress physiologically and emotionally and end up doing more harm than good.
All in all cleansing, at its best, is a time to reconnect with your self and with nature. It’s a time to create greater health, both short-term and long-term. It can be a beautiful, transformational experience and I encourage you to look for plans that honor your health and the planet, whether it’s with me or any other health practitioner.
Visit the Why Cleanse
page to learn more about the benefits of cleansing and the Success Stories
page for hear what other people are saying about The Avalon Cleanse.