Cleanse Diets. The Hope. The Horror

Master Cleanse Ingredients


Lucy is a friend, educated and familiar with nutrition basics, who eats a relatively healthy vegetarian diet. Lucy recently surprised us by announcing she is going on the Master Cleanse Diet. For those unfamiliar, this is one of many “Detox” diets that purports to clean up our insides and provide quick weight loss. The Master Cleanse has been around for decades, originally called the lemonade diet. People doing the cleanse can consume nothing but a lemon drink for 4 days up to 2 weeks!

A  “serving” of the lemon drink consists of:

  • 2 tsp of juice from fresh-squeezed lemons.
  • 2 tsp grade-B maple syrup
  • one tenth tsp cayenne pepper
  • 10 fl oz.  water

The magic result at the end of the cleanse is supposed to be up to 20 pounds of weight loss. That’s a very strong incentive. Especially for our friend, who is trying to lose a winter’s worth of weight gain in a very short time. Yes, there is a wedding date, and she absolutely must be skinny by then.

What you need to know:

The cleanse diets make 2 claims: 1) clean your guts and 2) lose weight fast.

With respect to weight loss, they are right – this is basically a starvation diet. Your body loses mostly fluids at first, then starts to lose muscle and fat in order to keep basic bodily functions running. There is a potential for serious bodily damage for people who maintain calorie deprivation for several weeks. If you’re going to starve yourself, at least go on a political hunger strike to free Tibet or something.

Another problem with cleanse diets is that the low calories don’t provide enough energy for you to perform strenuous mental activities (such as working, studying) or exercise. In fact, you’ll get light headed and dizzy just from standing up. So basically you’ll be a zombie for the duration of the diet, watching TV reruns all day, or LOL CATZ on Youtube.

With respect to detoxification – guess what? That’s what your liver is for. Our body is an amazing machine that knows how to rid itself of toxins without any intervention. Calling these starvation diets “detox” plays off people’s fear that there are poisons lurking in their body that can be magically removed by subjecting oneself to days of a concoction that tastes bad.

Scientifically there is no evidence that cleanse diets do any good. Most people who go on rapid weight loss diets often gain the weight back with a vengeance.

Dear Lucy – lose a little less weight but do it the right way. Keep eating healthy food, exercise, and be patient.

One last note to celebrities – please DON’T share your diet tips and tricks with us mere mortals. The fact that your are gorgeous and can sing and act (at least some of you) does not mean you know anything about nutrition. Our idolizing societal norms mean that you are setting examples for millions of people. That’s too much of a responsibility for you to pass off quack diets to your fans.


  • Dr. Ayala

    Your note to celebrities is a true gem! 

    If we could only teach kids to treat anecdotal evidence and advice as a good story — one that should lead to critical and scientific exploration — people would make more sensible health choices.

  • Ann

    They also shouldn’t share their autism prevention tips (see Jenny McCarthy).

  • MrBillWest

    Doesn’t starving you body and forcing to go out wack produce more “toxicin” (really byproducts of living and normal metabolism)? Can any doctors out there verify this?

    BTW, the detox drink is great when you have a cold. I make it warm and swap honey for maple syrup. But only as an ADDITION to a normal diet. The honey soothes, the lemon tastes great, and the cayenne gets my plug nose running. 

    • Trina_d4

      Actually you make a good point, i am pretty against starvation diets or cleanses, but starving yourself does break down fat on your system, and the ‘toxins’ which most people do have stored in their fat are released into our system, this can be bad for you and actually make you sick, depending on the state of your system and/or the toxin released, or it could just be cleaned out by the liver and discarded, which in a way is a ‘cleanse’. So asuch as i disagree with the idea of the cleanse, i am not sure of the facts behind this article either

  • Healthy Heather

    Run, run, run from cleanses! So frustrating to see people waste their time with a cleanse only to find their poor habits patiently waiting for them two days later…when they are ravenous for food! Thanks for this great reminder, I hope people take it to heart!

  • Guest

    Just wondering if you got permission or paid for that LA Times photo? 

  • Savmj

    you’re wrong!  The diet works!  You don’t really loose weight unless you need to loose it!  There are plenty of nutrients in the drink to sustain you for 10 days or more.  I didn’t believe it first, but then I worked out, just a little at first and no problems.  Then a full workout, weights and all.  I am surprised by this reaction from such a well educated source!!!  Try it, AND then report your results.  Or are you scared???  And who cares about the celebs.

    • Simba

      Translation: um, all the available evidence  says this, but you should try it out, because personal  experience trumps evidence every time. That’s why we still test drugs by giving them to one person and asking them how they feel. You’re just  scared if you follow evidence and common sense.

      And how would your body know whether you ‘need’ to lose weight? How would it avoid losing weight if you’re taking a low-calorie diet, and it decides you’re skinny enough already? Where would the extra calories come from?  

  • TigerSoul

    I’m not a cleanser nor am I a faster, but your article fails to mention the (possible) spiritual and emotional benefits that some believe come from short-term starvation. Again, this is another claim that is not able to be clinically proved, and must be taken on pure subjectivity; I have however heard folks describing a certain “clarity” that comes from a liquid fast like the Master.

  • Lauren Slayton

    I have to disagree, not all cleanses are created equal some are shady and some are really nutritious. I did a raw, vegan cleasne that was nutrient rich and very satisfying. There may be only one “master” but many cleanses. 

  • Guest

    Have you ever tried the Master Cleanse?  I agree it is radical but if you consume enough of the drink (and don’t deprive yourself of that too) then you will not be light headed and dizzy.  Depending on how poor your eating habits were to start with you will go through a detox for the first few days (headaches, irritability, etc…) but once they and the initial psychological starvation pass I have experienced no other side effects.  This cleanse was recommended to me by my Naturopath who is very education on nutrition.  Please don’t knock something until you try it.

    • Smarter Guest

      Trial and error is certainly one way to learn. Nothing quite like learning the hard way. Knock yourselves out, zen masters.

    • Dumber Guest

      Oh “Guest”, please tell me how your “Naturopath” educated him or herself on nutrition?

  • Pmckee31

    We ingest toxins every day-through our skin-by eating and drinking-and of course by breathing.  Thankfully, our bodies have cleansing systems – the liver, kidneys, lymph system, colon and skin continually filter out and dispose of cellular waste, toxins and impurities.  Over 77,000 different chemicals are produced in North America Today, which we all now carry inside our bodies. We need to cleanse the toxins that accumulate inside our bodies every day and replenish the vital nutrients missing in our diets.
    All cleanses are not the same.  I do a nutritional cleanse which is a nutrient-dense, vitamin and mineral-rich food that supports your body’s natural ability to cleanse itself of chemicals and impurities – an internal full-body cleanse to increase energy, promote weight loss and help avoid premature aging.

    • Deborah

      Agree. Our liver is overloaded with chemicals and toxins to cleanse. It needs help(it normally cleanses from 10pm-2pm while we sleep), therefore herbs like parsley and cilantro are good to get rid of the heavy metal buildup from chlorine, mercury etc. The article above does not give a true picture of how we are being inundated with poisons that were not attacking the boy decades ago.

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  • Jim

    I came to a similar conclusion in my article some months ago.

  • FueledByYJ

    Cleansing is rediculous! Especially to try and lose weight. Providing your body the tools it needs will promise permanent, long term results. “Diets” are yo-yo’s and once you’ve completed your “diet” you will gain all the weight back and more!
    Fuel your body with wholesome raw nutrition and superfoods! 80% of what we do is based on nutrition!! Give your body the proper tools it needs to allow it to do what you want it to ;) Read your labels!

  • cleansingmatters

    I have to agree that this particular cleansing diet is not really that safe and doesnt focus on long term results, but that doesnt mean that cleansing doesnt work – there are some really effective programs out there that help support the bodies natural detoxification process and return the body to its natura balance.

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  • Sophie Ratz

    I love your site and articles. The food recipes are terrific. As a ceramic sculptor, I admire the artistry of your photos

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  • fsyafitra

    These diet are not as popular and the effects are not as drastic, but the effects of them are geared toward cleaning your skin of all of the toxins to which you are exposed. There are also food cleanses that are geared toward helping your organs regain their health if you eat a lot of unhealthy foods or take in a lot of other unhealthy substances.

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