The master cleanse

The master cleanse

For nearly 70 years, the Master Cleanse has existed to “detoxify” and shed unwanted pounds. Stanley Burroughs, who is conspicuously missing a “Dr” from his title, created it in the 1940s. Regardless of whether or not detoxing is a legitimate concept (it isn’t), the Master Cleanse has been at the forefront of “quick-fix” crash diet trends for years: Beyonce credited it for attaining a “Twiggy” figure before filming Dreamgirls, and Yolanda Foster does it once a year, urging her Twitter followers to join in.

The Master Cleanse seems terrifying and unhealthy, but if masses of Instagram users can survive it then so can I. I will give up food, and only consume the supposedly miraculous mixture: two tablespoons of lemon juice, two tablespoons of B-grade maple syrup, and a pinch of cayenne pepper, all mixed with a cup of water. Along with me for the metabolic ride of a lifetime is my mate Kate, who has a much stronger will than I. Together we will shed unwanted pounds and flush our filthy systems.

Day One: The Ease-In

0900: I thought I’d convinced my boyfriend, Tristan, to do the detox with me: I cleverly called it “the lemonade diet,” and he got very excited. Now it’s Monday morning, and I walk into the kitchen to catch him halfway through a slice of pizza. He explains that he since hasn’t had any lemon drink yet, or done “the first evacuation,” the detox “hasn’t started.” I agree, fully aware I am weak-minded, and also have pizza, but just one slice.

Then I have my first lemon drink. I think this is bad for my teeth (sugar plus acid). It doesn’t taste so bad, though! I could happily drink this more than once, but I don’t. Instead, I drink a lot of water and play Tomb Raider.

1200: We run into Tristan’s godmother, who was about to go to Rhubarb; we join her, and proceed to stumble at the first hurdle. We agree that we’re allowed to have organic lemonade – it’s basically the same as the diet; it’s just cane sugar and “natural lemon flavour” – which sounds totally bogus, but I seize it.

Tristan’s mum turns up and the two women order lunch. Tristan and I are crying on the inside. “You’ve already had breakfast,” says his mum, “and you agreed to come over for dinner tonight. You might as well have lunch!” We relent, but I just get a small salad; I am turning this into a recommended “ease-in” day, and keep up the lemon drinks.

1930: My last supper was a delicious, healthy fish curry, and Tristan’s mum gave me a lemon for dessert.

Day Two: Irritated

0800: My teeth feel filthy, and I definitely brushed last night.

Tristan’s mum and her friend are coming over for morning tea, and as a polite host I must provide baking. I scull a lemon drink breakfast and make some cookies, trying to imagine raisins in place of the chocolate chips. I make nine, and freeze the rest of the dough so I can gorge on it next week.

1100: They’re gone, and I feed the leftovers to Tristan, who is not doing the detox. He protests. I offer to eat them. In a valiant gesture of support, he crams all the cookies into his mouth and sits down for an hour to weep and digest.

1300: It’s lunchtime, and hunger is gnawing at me. I wish I could gnaw at something. I gulp down half a litre of water and the rumblies go away. Sometimes when you think you’re hungry, you’re actually just thirsty; the internet told me that. I’m very thirsty these days.

1430: Went to the doctor and had an Eclipse mint to reward myself for enduring minor surgery. It’s not cheating because you don’t actually eat mints; they just dissolve in your mouth.

16.15: Debating whether or not I’m allowed to chew things and spit them out. Kate says no. I’m very cold, and I don’t think I have any unwanted pounds. I play Tomb Raider, because if Lara Croft can survive days of killing and climbing on one deer steak, then I can lie down for a week with lemons.

We’re allowed decaffeinated herbal tea, so I have a cup of chai. 20 minutes later, I discover that chai is caffeinated. I discover this when the caffeine starts to work on my fuel-less body: I feel sick, and my heart is racing. I don’t have any more energy, just nausea. Caffeine is terrible.

1900: Tristan mentions that it’s dinnertime. Should he go and get takeaways? Desperate for something to do, I offer to make him dinner.

1915: He doesn’t even eat it. What an ungrateful bastard. How dare he take pasta for granted? I am so done with him right now. He says I’m irrational, but there’s always an excuse to call your girlfriend irrational. I may be hangry, but I’m right, goddammit.

2130: Friends come over to see if we want to go to Nova with them. They know about the diet; they’re testing me. Assholes.

2230: Weakly resting in bed, I realise going without food is like being told to cut off someone I love. I want to text food, sneak out to food, even just watch food from a distance. Predictably, I have no libido; Tristan just holds me. “You’re cold and hard,” he mumbles into my back, “just like a lemon.” I glare yellowly.

0425: Woke up because I’m itchy ... down there. I head to the bathroom mirror to have a look. There, just inside the mouth of my vagina – the light fluffiness indicative of thrush. Better clean the whole apparatus and pop some Canasten up there. I should cut down the amount of syrup I’m using.

Day Three: Fainting Fits

0830: Feel slightly ill, and not like eating. Perfect! Time to spend some quality time with my partner in crime, Kate. Get some almonds on the way; Yolanda Foster says you’re allowed a couple of almonds when you’re feeling weak, and I sure am.

1030: Kate has two almonds to re-invigorate her before her tattoo. “Have you had a big breakfast?” the artist asks; “the biggest this week.” Afterwards, we make lemon drinks in jars, put crazy straws in them, and go to the park. We talk laxatives; I haven’t pooed since the detox began. She recommends alpine tea.

1400: I’m home alone now. I could cheat. I could eat something. I go to the pantry. I’ve already frozen most freezables to avoid this, but there is a single hamburger bun tucked into a back shelf. I reach for it and tear a piece off. I’m not thinking straight. I shove the chunk of gluten goodness into my mouth. It’s so dry, so plain, so worth it. I want to eat it forever. I throw the rest into the freezer and run away. Have I re-set my fast? Do I care?

1700: I’m having an alpine tea and playing Tomb Raider. Lara has had another scuffle with some Russians and isn’t looking good. Tristan’s mum comes in and is outraged that I’m still on the cleanse. I’m too thin to starve, she says. I’ll end up promoting anorexia. Starvation isn’t healthy, why do you think we have to send food to Africa, huh? She raises some very good points. “Not eating will make you irritable,” she serenely informs me, and has another cracker.

“She is irritable,” Tristan lies, the fucking douchebag, “she’s probably irritated at this whole conversation.” Well, now I am. Fuck. All this after he called me a quitter for eating a chunk of bread.

2030: Still so cold. Cold all the time. Wearing three layers in a heated room. Lie completely still on couch. Blurrily watch Tristan play the final missions of Tomb Raider.

2100-2300(?): Foggily recall a car trip home, and something nice-smelling near my face.

Day Four: Break the Fast

0900: I feel very sick. The memory of that morsel of bread yesterday is making me feel sick. I just want oranges. I want oranges and kiwifruit. Kate texts me: “I really want carrot sticks like you can’t believe.” She asks how I’m feeling, and admits she couldn’t even make a drink this morning without having to lie down. That’s one level of bad for me, on holiday, but a lot worse for someone in the middle of twirling a resort wear collection at Polytech. We agree to end our fast tonight with a celebratory trip to Veggie Boys: if my experience with the bread taught me anything, it’s that my stomach is gonna take some breaking in.

1100: Found a Pita Pit wrapper in the car.

1500: It’s afternoon and I still haven’t pooped, despite many alpine teas, a bread ball, and potentially a Pita Pit morsel travelling down me. My colon must have totally slowed down, or maybe I’ve entered starvation mode and my body is hoarding everything. Oh gosh, that’s a fantastic way to gain weight.

1530: We’re meeting at Veggie Boys at 5.45 to go hunting. I swear it was 3:20pm an hour ago. Can’t tell if I’m hungry or nauseous; all I know is that I keep knocking over furniture, and apparently I’m repeating conversations. Feel like Tom Hanks on an island. I never saw that movie but I know I don’t have a basketball friend. I wish I could nibble a coconut.

1745: Finally it is time for V-Boys. Kate is looking haggard. We hardly talk, and load up our baskets with everything in sight. I stare the raspberry slices, sad I cannot enjoy them yet. Kate turns to me: “are we not eating meat?” I want to eat meat. Yes, we are going to eat meat. Screw the veganism, we’re launching into full-paleo.

1930: Back at her place, we baked and boiled and fried until now, our official fast-breaking time. I eat a whole carrot’s worth of carrot sticks, eight meatballs, three kale chips, a potato, a kumara, half a parsnip, and two bowls full of our evening’s masterpiece: a “salad” consisting of chicken, bacon, mushrooms, and cauliflower. It’s the best chicken I’ve ever tasted. We gorge ourselves until our teeth are coated in a lardy film and we feel the best kind of sick we’ve felt in a week.

2145: Kate snaps me a BK bag and the caption, “oops.” I act shocked, but really I just ate some toast, so we’re equally awful.

Day FIVE: I’ve Made A Huge Mistake

0930: I should not have eaten meat yesterday. I feel sick, like I ate poison. I’ve never actually eaten poison, so I’m not sure that’s a correct comparison. I did eat a dog biscuit once, but this doesn’t feel like that. My breath is the spirit of a rotting swamp monster. After an hour of lying around feeling sorry for myself, I manage a breakfast orange.

1100: Looking through my favourite recipe blogs, and all I feel is illness; even browsing the super-cutesy Vegan Stoner. For the rest of the day I can only eat carrots.

2000: I’m feeling better. Much more lively. I noticed that even this morning I was happier, and more helpful to my flatmates. I’ve been feeling ill on-and-off, but it’s a queasiness vastly preferable to that of starvation. I’ve just spent two hours making two perfect pizzas, because it turns out that food is one of my hobbies.

Day SIX: Sugar Sugar

0830: Felt sick again, and had another orange for breakfast.

1000: Got over feeling sick and made some uber-
Mi Goreng (the packet plus red onion, other random vegetables, and a tablespoon of peanut butter. Keep some soup in it and add instant mashed potatoes for a wintery pick-me-up. You’re welcome). Obviously, I have given up being paleo.
It turns out I really love my products of agriculture, and as someone with an Anthropology degree I occasionally question the accuracy of that diet anyway. Come on, hunter-gatherers did not eat any modern breeds of anything.

1500: Did my first poo of the week. It hurt a bit.

1630: I had a cookie and it was the best thing I have ever tasted. I want to eat so much that I gain a million weights; I bet it’d be totally worth it. I go out and treat myself to a Pepsi and some jet planes.

1830: Ooh, I feel sick. I’m going to faint. Spent last remaining energy sprinting to the door so I don’t collapse in public (embarrassing!) Need to lie down.

1930: I’d better stay away from sugar for a while.

I started the Master Cleanse at 72 kgs, and I am currently 74 kgs. This is a combination of my body food-hoarding and my still-slow colon. It turns out that, unlike plants, we humans cannot rely on the elements to feed us. The only way I can see someone enduring the entire ten-day span of the Master Cleanse is by consuming gallons of the lemonade a day; and even that won’t supply your body with most of the nutrients it needs to function.

After three days of starvation – because that’s what it is, it’s not even a diet – I was frail and sick, and a week later I’m still trying to bounce back. I’ve lost control of my eating habits: I have trouble portioning, and often crave high-calorie fast food. When I’m hungry, I need something to fix it ASAP, and when I’m not hungry I feel sick from whatever grossness I’ve put into my body.

The Master Cleanse is a sham. The only reason people lose weight is that they’re not eating; they could just fast and get the same results (not recommended by the majority of healthcare professionals). Moreover, the entire notion that you can “detoxify” your body is unproven and generally considered “alternative” just like Homeopathy, a practice that gave me sugar pills for my speech impediment.

Like many other things from the 1940s, such as electroconvulsive therapy and regular beatings, The Master Cleanse is probably better left to rot in the annals of history.

Oh, and Beyonce? She gained all that weight back within weeks.
This article first appeared in Issue 25, 2014.
Posted 2:58pm Sunday 28th September 2014 by Josie Adams.