Thu, Dec 14, 2006 - Page 13 News List

The master cleanse: A diet too far?

Sworn to by some, sworn at by others, master cleanse, a liquid diet, is back in vogue


Kristina Wong, a performance artist, in Berkeley, California, lasted five days on the master cleanse liquid diet. Nevertheless, she says, she lost weight.


When Teron Beal, a songwriter and aspiring actor in Manhattan, was looking to drop weight quickly for a photo shoot, he didn't double up on gym visits, gulp metabolic boosting pills or limit his diet to leafy greens and lean protein. Instead, he took a more drastic approach: He tried the "master cleanse," a fast that requires subsisting for 10 or more days solely on an elixir of fresh-squeezed lemon juice, cayenne pepper, maple syrup and water.

"I had only three weeks and I needed the difference to be noticeable," said Beal, adding that he lost nearly 4.5kg during his 12-day fast in July. "The first few days were horrible, but by the fifth day I woke up and looked in the mirror and saw two ab muscles that had eluded me for years. I was grumpy no longer."

While popular diets and fasts come and go, master cleanse remains a perennial favorite, a kind of folk regimen that owes its popularity to word of mouth and the Internet. Created in the 1940s by a nutrition guru, Stanley Burroughs, to treat ulcers and other internal ailments, the fast enjoyed a vogue in the late 1970s after the publication of his book The Master Cleanser. Its fans then were health-conscious types, interested in purging their bodies of impurities and toxins like pesticides and food additives.

But in recent years master cleanse has enjoyed yet another vogue among people seeking to shed kilograms in a short time. Celebrities, of course, are in the vanguard. On Oprah Winfrey's show, the singer and actress Beyonce Knowles announced that she had lost 9kg on the fast to prepare for her starring role in the new film Dreamgirls.

Robin Quivers, Howard Stern's long-suffering sidekick, told People magazine that she did the fast on three separate occasions in 2004 and shrunk to 67.7kg from a peak of 98.8kg. (She heard about it from the magician David Blaine, no stranger to challenging his body.)

And on a recent episode of 30 Rock, the NBC comedy, Tina Fey's character is asked: "What are you doing? South Beach? Master cleanse?"

She did look skinnier.

The Internet teems with testimonials to the cleanse, also known as the lemonade diet, claiming that it fights disease, clears the mind as well as acne, and increases energy. Bloggers chronicle their daily fasting. Master cleanse video diaries can be found on YouTube, and a cottage industry has developed with various companies peddling cleansing kits including all ingredients for the beverage except lemons.

Never mind that most nutrition and diet experts advise against multi-day fasting.

"I cannot believe how this thing has had a total revival," said Joy Bauer, a nutritionist and the author of The 90/10 Weight-Loss Plan. "People want a quick fix, and they want to be thin so badly that they're vulnerable and open to almost anything."

Bauer estimated that fasters who drink six glasses of the lemony potion a day — the low end of the recommended amount — are consuming about 650 calories, far less than the 1,600-plus calories the average woman needs to maintain her weight or the roughly 2,400 calories a man requires.

"Of course you're going to lose weight," she said. "You're starving yourself." Seldom do the kilograms stay off, she added, and people have a tendency to binge once they begin eating again.

Still, many are willing to disregard the word of nutritionists, seduced by the notion that the only things standing between them and a slimmer body are a citrus-flavored drink and several days of discomfort.

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