In the early months of every year grocery carts all over the US suddenly start filling up with a few predictable consumables: grade b maple syrup, cayenne pepper, spring water, and bags and bags of lemons. Yes, it’s time again for people to partake in a beloved American tradition: the New Year’s Master Cleanse. If you’ve been living in the back of an abandoned Quiznos and are just learning about this fuckery for the first time, we’ll walk you through it.
Cleanses are restrictive diets that you follow for a finite period of time. As they say on every drug commercial ever, results can vary. At their best, cleanses can be a helpful way to detect food allergies or digestive illnesses. But at their worst? They’re just an insane diet/starvation scheme with a fancier sounding name. The Master Cleanse is definitely an example of the latter.
The Master Cleanse was first published as a pamphlet in the 1940’s but has enjoyed renewed popularity in both the late 1970’s and early 2000’s as the health and diet industries grew. On this cleanse you- the willing participant- can only consume salt water, 6-12 glasses of a precise lemonade recipe made with cayenne pepper, and the occasional laxative tea. Yup, on top of all that grossness you have to drink a tea that tastes like gym socks, makes your stomach cramp, and butt leak. Those bullshit detox teas you see all over your instagram feed are the exact same thing as a laxative tea, so please roll your eyes here.
You follow this strict regimen for at least 10 days, with claims of achieving mental clarity, dropping weight, skin that glows, and just generally being superior human being above all those food eating mortals. While still on the expensive side (at minimum ½ cup of pure maple syrup a day isn’t cheap), The Master Cleanse is much more affordable than an equally dumb 10 day fresh juice cleanse, and thus remains absurdly popular among the new wave of pseudo-health junkies out there.
But let’s call this cleanse what it really is: snake oil, but ya know, plant-based. The idea that you could be gaining enough nutrients from the grade b maple syrup in this terrible lemonade to sustain healthy metabolic activity, as the diet’s creator Stanley Burroughs claimed, is obvious bullshit. If people could live off maple syrup WE WOULD ALL BE DOING THAT SHIT BY NOW. That’d be science that we, and all the other pancake lovers out there, would be shouting from the rooftops. Unfortunately, so many cleanses like this one are just a way to try and drop weight fast through a socially accepted version of starvation. By calling something a “cleanse” or a “protocol” it’s suddenly dressed up in the trappings of health and wellness, and thus shielded from any kind of criticism. We’re looking at you too, celery juice cleanse.
To point out the gaps in logic surrounding The Master Cleanse is to be accused of being “uninformed”, called “unsupportive” or to have your own personal willpower to participate in such a dumbfuck restrictive activity called into question. Don’t listen to that shit. When you believe something is going to give you a bunch of outsized health benefits, despite the lack of scientific evidence or common sense to back up the claims, those extra 5 pounds you’ve been worrying about are the least of your problems. You, friend, have been caught up in the cult of wellness magic. You’ve got to pull your shit together because this type of magical thinking can have serious consequences. And not just on your social life.
Starving yourself, cleanse or not, has been repeatedly shown to be detrimental to long-term weight loss goals due to the havoc it wreaks on your metabolism and health. When you starve yourself, your metabolism slows down in order to conserve energy and survive the perceived famine you’re putting it through. This process doesn’t take weeks, it only takes a few days so listen up. When you do go back to eating, your body wants to store up energy for the next famine. That means you’re much more likely to gain weight when you do go back to eating even if you consume limited calories. Your resting metabolic rate has been changed, and not for the better. Several studies of The Biggest Loser contestants illustrated this very problem, as outlined by The New York Times. So let’s stop this shit and start taking care of ourselves like the adults we’re all pretending to be.
Ok, so you still wanna lose some weight, but you’re not down old-school wellness magic like the Master Cleanse that’ll just fuck you up. We think you look great but we’re here to be supportive. We got you. First, don’t overthink it. If there was a secret drink, pill, or powder to make us all lose weight with no terrible side effects, then we’d all be thin. So stop looking for consequence-free short cuts. The best way to lose weight is through a healthy diet and some exercise. Want to drop weight a little faster? You just need to follow a handful of guidelines. Eliminate added sugars from your diet like: soda, sweetened coffee drinks, and desserts. Those are empty calories and short term energy that you can do without. Dessert is great but you can’t call it a party if you do it everyday. Eat out less and commit to cooking more at home. And, lastly, practice some portion control. Start your day with a simple breakfast of oatmeal and fresh fruit, or a basic smoothie; add a big, lightly dressed salad for lunch or a sensible wrap or sammie, and end your day with a vegetable focused homemade dinner. Something like a baked sweet potato with sautéed greens, smoky black-eyed peas, and a side of rice is a great way to go. Or do our Roasted Chickpea Broccoli Burrito as a bowl with some romaine and pico de gallo. Filling and tasty as hell. Do this for 30 days and it’ll help you slim down in a healthy way, especially if you mix in a little more exercise than your body is used to. Plus you’ll be much happier than you’d be drinking some damn cayenne lemonade that turns every bowel movement into an endurance challenge. Or you know, don’t lose any weight. There’s no right way to have a body and we love you just like you are.
The only lemonade you need is Beyoncé’s on shuffle while you power through another set or up another flight of stairs. 2022 is the year that we stop allowing people we care about to participate in wellness magic like The Master Cleanse. Our bodies and our buttholes deserve better. Just eat a fucking salad.
Thanks so much for joining us here in our general edition of The Broiler Room. For paid supporters, this week we are kicking off a series exploring the benefits and all the different ways you can make beans and rice. That shit is cheap, delicious, and universally appealing. If you are trying to cook more at home, save some money, and eat more plants, you’re not gonna want to miss out.
See y’all next week
Michelle and Matt
I had a biochemist explain to me years ago that our bodies cleanse themselves via our livers, our digestive systems, etc., and that these "cleanses" are nonsense at best. Yet the industry is growing at an amazing pace, including the charlatans who tell us the vaccines are "toxic." GMO's are safe, also. There isn't much out there that we can buy in our grocery stores that is the same stuff people ate 200 years ago. "Cleanses" can actually cause diarrhea leading to dehydration, a loss of vitamins and electrolytes from the body, and weakness and fatigue.