City Editor and all around thin guy Steven T. Jones weighs in with his experience on the new fad diet of the moment -- Master Cleanse!
Mmmm, food really tastes good when you haven’t eaten any for more than a week. What? Not eating for a week? That’s crazy! That’s what I thought when I first heard about the Master Cleanse from friends who had done it: initially I was intrigued by the idea of cleansing my body of toxins using a mixture of fresh lemon juice, grade B maple syrup, and African cayenne pepper; then I was blown away to hear it involved eating no food for 7-10 days.
Alix and Steve with "the bottle." Pic by Luke Thomas
I’m a huge omnivore, but I have a jealousy-inducing metabolism that keeps me from gaining weight no matter what I eat (It's true -- I've seen him in a Utilikilt and not much more -- Marke B.). So I wasn’t looking for some crash diet or hippy-dippy nutritional epiphany. Yet the idea percolated in my brain and the more I learned and thought about the concept of fasting, the more I was drawn to try it. My friends who had done it looked great and said they felt even better: happier, more energy, spiritually grounded. So my sweetie, Alix Rosenthal, and I decided to do it starting Jan. 7. And now, as we ease ourselves back onto food, I can attest that they’re right. This is a unique way to test your will, learn about your body, and hit your biological reset button.
The first couple days are a little rough - mostly because of the caffeine headaches and desire to eat - but by the third day, you start to really feel good. Your shrunken stomach no longer demands food and you feel strangely energized (I even managed to exercise the entire time without missing a beat). And that feeling of well-being only gets better in the coming days. Best of all, you learn about your body and its relationship with food. For example, the allergies that have gotten worse in my adult years and cause me to take Claritin everyday went away, leading me to understand that they’re food based and not environmental, as I thought. So as I reintroduce different types of foods, I’m investigating whether it’s gluten, dairy, or some other food that’s been stopping me up.
The diet was first developed in the 1970s by Stanley Burroughs, who wrote the book The Master Cleanse, which saw a more recent resurgence with the book “Lose Weight, Have More Energy, and Be Happier in 10 Days” by Peter Glickman, who also runs the www.themastercleanse.com website. They offer lots of advice and discussions - some of which I find a little loopy, extreme, and poorly sourced - but the basics are very simple: drink the drink (1 ounce syrup, 2 ounces fresh squeeze lemon juice, 10 ounces water, a pinch of pepper) whenever you feel hungry, or around a dozen times a day. And because you won’t shit if that’s all you consume, take a laxative tea (something with the herb senna) at night. They also recommend the saltwater flush (chugging down a quart of warm water with two teaspoons of sea salt each morning), but that’s so nasty I could only do it three times (unlike Alix, who managed it everyday). The saltwater works through your system for 30-60 minutes before you shoot it out your ass, along with all the toxins in your digestive system that the cleanse has been breaking loose.
That’s the idea of the cleanse: once you stop eating, your body begins to eat itself, and it starts with toxins stored in your fat cells and other parts of your body. Those toxins affect your mood and energy levels. The lemons and pepper help dig them out to facilitate the process. And the syrup has enough calories, vitamins, and nutrients to keep you healthy, so you’re not simply starving yourself.
So now, Alix and I are each 10 pounds lighter and we join our friends who sing the praises of the master cleanse. Apparently, we’re not the only ones. Just about everyone we talked to at Rainbow Grocery had done it or was familiar with it, and we’ve discovered lots more friends and acquaintances have done it than just the four who inspired us. Apparently it’s even crossing over into the popular culture now that Beyonce talked about it with Oprah ().
Islam and many other spiritual disciplines recommend fasting to focus the mind and body. Clearly, there’s good reason for doing so that goes beyond just staying solid with your favorite god or goddess. And in a country rife with gluttony and obesity, maybe more Americans could stand to challenge their assumptions and take an adventure of self-discovery.