Monthly Archives: March 2010

The Master Cleanse experiment

As many of you probably already know from twitter and facebook, I recently tried out the Master Cleanse.

Why I did the Master Cleanse
I learned about the cleanse after Zoetica said she was giving it a trial run. Having never heard of the Master Cleanse before, I looked into it and saw amazingly conflicting details- some people said they felt great, more energetic with heightened senses; while other people said they felt horrible, lethargic, and that it did nothing for them. My curiosity was piqued. Once I read on the Wikipedia article that Beyoncé lost 22 pounds in 14 days, I figured I would try it for myself and see what happened.

I didn’t believe any of the pseudo-scientific ‘toxin’ jargon… but I did think it was plausible that a short term stress to the system like the cleanse could put the body into a more efficient “get-things-done-don’t-starve” mode, and that such a thing may be beneficial to one’s health.

I’ll admit that besides curiosity of the health claims, the promise of weight loss had a lot of appeal. Over the last several months I’ve lost 20 pounds by re-adopting more moderate eating habits- not cutting anything out entirely, just eating less unhealthy things and more healthy things. A permanent (hopefully) change like that means that your progress will probably be pretty slow (mine certainly felt that way!). That, in combination with my recent return to work after several weeks of medical leave really messing with my meals and setting me back a few weeks weight-wise, meant that if I wanted to be able to reach my goal weight (losing another 25 lbs) by my target date (still a few months off), I needed to try something new. It seemed like the cleanse would be a good kick start in the right direction, and that after a successful cleanse I would almost certainly be better equipped to handle cravings and would have a much clearer idea of how much sustenance my body really needs (i.e., Eat to live, don’t live to eat).

Hey, I figured it was worth a shot! It’s only 14 days, and then I’d be able to make an informed opinion! Also, it’s a personal challenge- mind over matter and all that. Can my stupid meat brain overpower my stupid meat stomach? At worst, I’ll learn it’s a waste of time as anything but a crash diet, at best I’ll become an elite superhuman lemon-churning health MACHINE. Either way, I’ll end up being much more aware of my self, and my limits, and will be able to say definitively that I’d given it a shot. Experiences are precious things.

What the cleanse was like
Here’s a summary of what happened through the course of my cleanse. I hope this will prove useful to others considering the cleanse, so they know what to expect. I tried to follow the instructions to the letter, except where noted. I will try to leave out the overly gory details, but as the cleanse is inherently gross at times, be prepared.

  • Lead-in Day 1 (living foods, salad)
    I cheated a little to try and get rid of a horrible onion aftertaste- chewing a few pieces of sugarfree gum, and adding a bit of raspberry vinaigrette to my dinner salad. That seemed to work.
    Feeling: okay ◦ Craving: coffee, chocolate, french fries ◦ Weight loss: 0 lbs
  • Lead-in Day 2 (liquid foods, soup)
    Woke up feeling okay, but felt very achy while doing yoga, as if I had overexerted myself the day before. Butt flab was cramping on my way to work. Learned that flab can cramp.
    Feeling: achy, hungry ◦ Craving: coffee, eggs ◦ Weight loss: 2 lbs
  • Lead-in Day 3 (orange juice)
    Making 2 liters worth of fresh squeezed orange juice is hard, and takes a lot of oranges. Is this day really worth it? I feel like going straight to the lemonade.
    Feeling: ravenous ◦ Craving: lo mein, anything fried ◦ Weight loss: 3 lbs
  • MC Day 1
    I’m having sensory hallucinations! I keep smelling delicious pastries (cinnamon buns, pumpkin pie, banana bread) where there certainly are none to be smelled. Another side effect that has developed is that my tongue has developed a white coating, which is gross but not unexpected. One beneficial side effect is that it is much easier to get up in the mornings- this may be because I’m no longer getting any caffeine.
    My first experience with the spicy lemonade was today. I was a bit underwhelmed at first, but it grows on you, and does a terrific job of getting rid of hunger (that’s probably on account of the capsaicin). Also, I think I figured out the purpose of the orange juice day- to perfect your juicing technique. Juicing lemons is easy in comparison.
    Feeling: fine ◦ Craving: pumpkin pie, eggs ◦ Weight loss: 5 lbs
  • MC Day 2
    First day of the salt water flush! Drinking this isn’t as bad as some people make it out to be. If you use grey celtic sea salt and warm up the water it’s nearly exactly like drinking soup brine. My h2go bottle is only 750 mL, so I drank that much instead of a liter (same concentration).
    The post-SWF process is lengthy, and it takes much longer than you might expect. Don’t do this if you have to be anywhere within a few hours. Don’t do this if you only have one bathroom that you are sharing with other people.
    As for the fasting, I’m not actually hungry, but I do really miss the comfort of eating. Same with caffeine- I don’t actually feel like I need it at all, but I miss going out for coffee. I am already much more aware of how little my normal consumption actually has to do with biological needs.
    Feeling: energetic ◦ Craving: n/a ◦ Weight loss: 5.4 lbs
  • MC Day 3
    My sense of smell has definitely improved; I walked past some candles that haven’t been burned in several months, and smelled them clearly. This never happens.
    I have actually gained half a pound since yesterday. I think it’s because I’m absorbing a lot of the SWF. That, or I’m having too much maple syrup. I doubt that is the case, however, because I am following the spicy lemonade recipe exactly (2 tbsp lemon juice, 2 tbsp dark maple syrup, 8 oz water / serving) and am having 7-8 servings a day (recommended is 6-12).
    Feeling: productive ◦ Craving: a smoothie ◦ Weight loss: 5 lbs
  • MC Day 4
    I’m really beginning to feel disillusioned with the cleanse. After the lead-in period I stopped seeing results in terms of weight loss, and I’m pretty certain the definite benefits I have seen of the cleanse (much easier to get up in the morning, increased sense of smell, increased energy) are not worth the downsides (2-3 hours each morning taken up with SWF related things, disgusting white tongue, not eating). I will still try to carry on for the duration to see if my feelings change.
    Feeling: foolish ◦ Craving: a donut ◦ Weight loss: 5 lbs
  • MC Day 5
    I increased the amount of the SWF I’m taking from 750mL (the size of my h2go bottle), to the recommended 1L. It’s not appreciably harder to chug, and I wanted to see if a greater quantity of the stuff prompts less absorption of it. So far, it may be working, as I’ve lost a half pound since yesterday.
    Feeling: fine ◦ Craving: n/a ◦ Weight loss: 5.6 lbs
  • MC Day 6
    I’ve determined that doing the SWF in the morning (and its aftermath) take too long to allow me to get to work at a reasonable time. To work around this, I am now getting up at 5 (instead of 6), and doing my daily yoga after drinking the SWF, but before it does its thing (the waiting takes around an hour for me). At least there’s only 6 more days of getting up at 5! And, lucky for me, the MC (or at least the lack of caffeine) still makes it really easy to get up in the morning, even at 5 (I used to push snooze several times when my alarm went off at 8).
    Feeling: okay ◦ Craving: sushi, white castle ◦ Weight loss: 6.8 lbs
  • MC Day 7
    Halfway there!
    As if the SWF and its effects weren’t enough, sometimes I wake up in the morning with stomach cramps from the nightly laxative tea, meaning I have two excuses to use up / waste lots of time in the morning.
    Feeling: fine ◦ Craving: buckwheat ◦ Weight loss: 7.4 lbs
  • MC Day 8
    I’m being as productive as I can be around/in between the SWF nuisances, which I’ve grown accustomed to. I fee like I’m wasting less time now, but still will be happy to be done with this. Only 4 more workdays left!
    Feeling: productive ◦ Craving: n/a ◦ Weight loss: 8.4 lbs
  • MC Day 9
    This getting up at five or six in the morning to chug a liter of salt water thing is much more trying than the not eating thing. I miss food, but I could probably keep that up indefinitely without going insane; while I can only take a few more mornings like this. Luckily, only 3 more workdays!
    Feeling: tired ◦ Craving: coffee ◦ Weight loss: 8.8 lbs
  • MC Day 10
    This is something you might not hear regarding the cleanse as it seems that most people who do it live in California, but recently I am cold all the time. Even though it’s been relatively warm recently (0°C as opposed to the -5°C it has been), I’m still freezing. I didn’t feel this cold when it was actually colder outside.
    Feeling: cold ◦ Craving: bread ◦ Weight loss: 9.6 lbs
  • MC Day 11
    I miss experiencing different flavors. I’m not hungry. I’m looking forward to finishing this. I’m already looking forward to cheating on soup day with copious amounts of seasoning, and cheating on salad day by (gasp!) cooking my food.
    Feeling: bored ◦ Craving: rice ◦ Weight loss: 9.6 lbs
  • MC Day 12
    Only two more days… REALLY miss chewing things.
    Feeling: nearly done ◦ Craving: n/a ◦ Weight loss: 9.8 lbs
  • MC Day 13
    As I lay awake last night I couldn’t stop thinking of all the wonderful vegetables I’m going to cook come lead-out day 3.
    Feeling: anxious ◦ Craving: bread ◦ Weight loss: 10.0 lbs
  • MC Day 14
    I did it! Well, except for the lead-out… but I am totally done with the SWF. Yay! I get to wake up an hour later from now on, and will hopefully get to work an hour earlier :D
    Overall I’ve noticed I’m feeling very, I don’t know, ALIVE, recently. I don’t know how to explain it… I haven’t felt like this since I was a kid, and I hadn’t even noticed that anything was missing until the feeling started coming back a few days ago. Of course, it’s also been getting warmer out recently, and because of this I’ve been walking around outside more often; so my vigor may not be solely because of the cleanse.
    Feeling: great ◦ Craving: n/a ◦ Weight loss: 10.8 lbs
  • Lead-out Day 1 (orange juice)
    I am done with juicing things for now, so instead of juicing more oranges (which was horribly inefficient), I’ve simply bought some organic orange juice for today. Orange juice sure does taste weird after all that spicy lemonade! The orange juice day is STILL harder than the lemonade days (though watching shows about food on the History Channel probably didn’t help…). Still feeling pretty good overall.
    Feeling: good ◦ Craving: fried potatoes ◦ Weight loss: 12.2 lbs
  • Lead-out Day 2 (liquid foods, soup)
    Feeling really good. Invigorated.
    Feeling: good ◦ Craving: bread ◦ Weight loss: 13 lbs
  • Lead-out Day 3 (living foods, salad)
    I did it! Cheating a bit today by actually cooking food, but it’s all still vegan :)
    Meal one was Oven Roasted Brussels Sprouts served with baby spinach and arugula, because I’d never had brussels sprouts before and was curious. It was pretty good overall, but I think it came out a bit overcooked and hence some bits were overly bitter.
    Meal two was Zoetica’s roasted beet recipe with steamed broccoli. Delicious!
    Eating food seems so novel :)
    Feeling: accomplished ◦ Craving: n/a ◦ Weight loss: 13.4 lbs
Tips if you want to try
  • Research first! Find all the information (good and bad, dismissive scientific and ridiculous homeopathic) on it that you can. Make sure it’s something you really want to do. Make sure you know why you want to do it. Be realistic. 10-14 days of lemonade and salt water is not going to cure all disease or turn you into a supermodel.
  • To make the process easier (and more likely to happen), plan to do the cleanse well in advance. Put it on your calendar. In the weeks leading up to it, use up some of the food in your house and don’t replace it. Slowly ease off caffeine or other drugs you are taking. Tell people you are planning on doing it.
  • During the cleanse, try not to hang out with people who are eating or drinking coffee or booze. It’s easiest to resist temptation by avoiding it.
  • Some people make the SWF out to be the worst thing ever. Pfft. If you like salty soups, it’s really just about as salty as that. While the quantity certainly seems daunting in advance, if I (who can’t even chug a beer) can do it, you certainly can.
  • Do things (I did yoga) after drinking the SWF but before it takes effect. It seems to make the whole process go much quicker, so instead of wasting two or more hours of your morning in the bathroom, you are only wasting one.
  • Every time you feel like quitting, think of all the time you’ve already committed to it. Is it really worth throwing all that away? Think of all the people you told you were going to do it. Is it really worth making you a liar?
Short-term impressions
In the interest of full disclosure, I took my before and after shots while wearing the exact same outfit. I don’t think the pictures really do the difference justice, however, as I’ve dropped a few inches overall and fit into smaller sized clothing than I did when I started.

Before After

You can more clearly see just how much of a difference there was, and how quick, in the weight graph. As I mentioned in my intro, I had been losing weight pretty consistently for several months up until my return to work from some extended leave (and the resulting dietary chaos) caused me to put a few pounds back on.

Will I keep this weight off? Only time will tell, but I’d like to think I’ll be able to continue the healthier eating habits I’ve been trying to adopt for the long term. If I can do that, there’s no reason that I wouldn’t keep this weight off, and lose more besides.

Of course, weight loss is only one part of the Master Cleanse. Die-hard fans of the cleanse make all sorts of extravagant claims about its efficacy, up to and including it being able to cure cancer and eradicate allergies. I can’t say anything about the cancer claim (other than I don’t believe a word of it), but I believe that the allergy claim is exaggerated- I bought some soy milk specifically to check if my allergies are still there, and while they may possibly be diminished, I think they are. It is very hard to tell for certain, as it’s been years since I’ve had soy milk, and I am unwilling to drink a large amount of something I’ve been known to have reactions to (even relatively mild reactions).

However, having actually completed the cleanse, I can verify that some of the more modest effects claimed are in fact true.

  • Despite not eating, I wasn’t that hungry through the duration of the cleanse. I still missed food, but it was more of the taste and texture I missed than the fact that I felt I physically needed it.
  • I did develop a super sense of smell and an intense feeling of invigoration. That latter bit is hard to explain, as there’s really no better way to put it than feeling more alive and healthy than I had been used to. Of course, the feeling could have just as well been a result of the more pleasant weather we’ve been having, as well as my trying to walk around more. I can’t really say for certain, but in previous years I seem to remember cabin fever being a bigger result of nice weather than invigoration :) I don’t think the cleanse hurt, anyway.
  • Proponents of the cleanse argue that without having to worry about digestion, your body concentrates on healing older wounds. Any really old wounds I have seem to remain unchanged, but I do think there is a difference in newer ones. Some relatively new scars I have seem to have accelerated their disappearing act, or even developed new scabs where there had been none for months.

After the cleanse I definitely feel like I know my own body better than I did before. I also think I have a clearer idea of the differences between craving and hunger, and hope I will be able to retain this knowledge for future use.

Would I recommend the cleanse to anyone else? At this point, probably. I think that even if it isn’t a magical cure for anything, it is certainly an experience worth having at least once, if only for the educational value of better knowing your own body. We’ll see how I feel about it when I update this post with my long-term impressions in a few months, but at this point I’m thinking I may make this an annual (or possibly even semi-annual) occurrence to reboot after the holidays. Of course, if I do it again I think I will only do 10 days instead of 14, as by the end I was really missing the social aspects of eating.

Long-term impressions
To be updated in a few months, natch!