At the end of last year I embarked upon my first long-term cleanse. It was the "Master Cleanse" or "lemonade diet" whereby you eat no solid food and acquire your only calories in the form of a drink consisting of water, lemon juice, maple syrup and cayenne pepper, for at least ten days, up to three weeks or more. There is a lot of debate surrounding the Master Cleanse and I find the arguments incredibly intriguing. Since I wasn't writing the Zealot at the time and I've had a lot of time to process my experience, I feel this is as good a time as any to share my experiences.
Essentially the MC is a controlled form of starvation. Common sense would lead you to believe that this wasn't a rational endeavor from the get-go. The concoction drink is designed to provide just enough calories to feed your basic needs (anywhere from 600-1200 calories per day depending on how large you are and how intense you are cleansing), while your body ultimately turns on itself and starts burning your natural fat reserves. One of the immediate results (I'll refrain from calling it a benefit for now) is rapid weight loss. In the 10 days that I did the MC, I lost 15lbs. Many people do this cleanse solely for the purpose of losing weight fast. It works.
On the cleanse side of things, the concoction contains lemon juice and cayenne, which supposedly act as agents to loosen and scrape your colon clean. The maple syrup is just a simple, digestible form of calories. The MC requires a nightly dose of herbal laxative tea and a morning flush with warm salt water. I sincerely believe that it is arguable whether toxins are actually being flushed since our bodies are already naturally designed to flush toxins. There is contentious debate about whether this actually does anything to aid the process. Some argue that it might have negative effects. Frankly, even the most learned doctors have little information to support either side of this debate.
So the daily routine goes like this..... Wake up and drink the warm salt water flush, about a quart. Wait an hour or so. Waterfall. More waterfall. Get ready for work. More waterfall. First batch of lemon concoction. Note that I preferred to cook my ingredients together and then put it over ice. It was much easier to drink all day, every day - less grainy. Continue about your day, drinking concoction as needed, especially when pangs set in. Dream about food. Before bed, drink a cup of Senna laxative tea. Repeat and repeat and repeat.
The first question people ask: didn't you feel hungry? My answer was a resounding NO. This was the first discovery and insight I gained from performing the cleanse. During the first few days it was somewhat difficult, but I was excited by the experiment and after day three, my whole perspective changed. The biggest revelation I had with the MC is that we have NO IDEA what it means to be hungry. Rather, our bodies are conditioned to a societal ritual of consumption around breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack times. I certainly had cravings every day, especially during the times of the day when my body expected to be fed, but it wasn't hunger. It became very clear that our bodies were designed to endure periods of famine, tapping into fat reserves to provide emergency energy. As a well-fed, often gluttonous, member of modern civilization, I could go a long, long time without feeling true hunger.
Which leads to revelation number two. During my controlled starvation, I've never felt more alert, energetic and inspired. My mind kicked in to overdrive and became more conversational, outgoing, interactive, creative and excited. It was a if a fog had been lifted and was able to experience life as never before. Which lead me to wonder why. While I couldn't answer for certain, I have a feeling about it.....
Humankind has never had the abundance of food that we experience in modern times. As hunter-gatherers our ancestors always lived on the edge of starvation. They needed to be more in touch with their surroundings and alert to the perils of nature. We are simply over-fed, lazy and out of touch with our surroundings. We use food as a false comfort mechanism that actually serves the opposite purpose. A pint of ice cream to someone who is depressed will give an immediate rush but then they will sink into a food coma and find themselves deeper in their funk on the other side. As a long-term habit, over-eating (which isn't only for the morbidly obese, most of us over-eat) creates the fog, under which many of us live, perhaps without even knowing.
At the end of my cleanse I truly had a new perspective on eating and vowed to change my habits, long term. Yes, I lost 15 pounds and perhaps I cleansed my colon (I did lose an undiagnosed, chronic case of IBS I had been toughing out for years). If you're doing the cleanse for only these reasons, you're missing out on the big picture.
Moreover, what I got out of the Master Cleanse was true insight into our propensity to over-eat and how we are conditioned to consume huge portions at regular intervals for no good reason. Living a little closer to the edge of hunger seems to be a good practice and I've read a number of scientific arguments that support this as a more natural state. I've heard that we should try to only eat until we are 80% full (true full, not bloated full). Until you experience the clarity of mind that goes along with this, it's definitely hard to break our habits.
As for me, I've been up and down over the past six months. I definitely have reduced my overall consumption and my weight has remained under my high. But I think I need another dose of the MC to refresh my memory. If there is enough interest, I may document it here on the blog for all to share. I know (sometimes secretly) many of you are interested in the MC yourselves.