February 28, 2017
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The Master Cleanse Needs to Stop
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Michelle Davis and Matt Holloway are Thug Kitchen, the New York Times best-selling authors of Thug Kitchen: Eat Like You Give a F*ck, Thug Kitchen: Party Grub, and Thug Kitchen 101: Fast as F*ck. They write occasionally for TASTE about health, cooking, and fad diets that need to be buried in the f*cking ground.

In the opening months of every year, grocery carts all over 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 Master Cleanse. In case you’ve been living in the back of an abandoned Quiznos and are just hearing about this for the first time, we’ll walk through it real quick.

Cleanses are restrictive diets that you follow for a finite period of time. As they say on every prescription drug commercial ever, results can vary. At best, cleanses can be a helpful way to detect food allergies or digestive illnesses. At 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 1940s but enjoyed renewed popularity in both the late 1970s and early 2000s as the health and diet industries grew. On this cleanse you (the willing participant) can only consume salt water, 6 to 12 glasses of a precisely calibrated lemonade 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 and makes your stomach cramp and your butt leak. Those bullshit detox teas you see all over Instagram 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 the hope of achieving mental clarity, dropping weight, getting skin that glows, and just generally being a superior human being above all those food-eating mortals. While still on the expensive side—a half 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 you know, plant-based. The idea that you could be gaining enough nutrients from the grade B maple syrup in that terrible lemonade to sustain healthy metabolic activity, as the diet’s creator, Stanley Burroughs claimed, is obvious bullshit. If people could live off of maple syrup, WE WOULD ALL BE DOING THAT SHIT BY NOW. That would be science that we and all the other pancake lovers out there would be shouting from the damn rooftops. Unfortunately, like so many cleanses, this one is just a way to try to drop weight fast through a socially accepted version of starvation. When something is called a “cleanse” it’s suddenly dressed up in the trappings of health and wellness and thus shielded from any kind of criticism.

Let’s call this cleanse what it really is: snake oil, but you know, plant-based.

To point out the gaps in logic surrounding the Master Cleanse is to be accused of being “uninformed” or “unsupportive” or to have your own personal willpower called into question, as if you would want to participate in such a dumbfuck restrictive activity but don’t have the wherewithal to hack it.

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 five pounds you’ve been worrying about are the least of your problems. You, friend, have been caught up in the cult of wellness magic, and 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 your body through. This process takes a few days, not weeks, so listen up. When you go back to actually eating, your body wants to store up energy for the next famine. That means you’re much more likely to gain weight even if you consume limited calories.

A six-year study published last year targeting contestants of The Biggest Loser illustrated this very problem, as outlined in The New York Times. So let’s stop this nonsense and start taking care of ourselves like the adults we’re all pretending to be.

Okay, so you still want to lose some weight, but you’re not down with the old-school wellness magic, like the Master Cleanse, because you know it will just fuck you up. We got you. First, don’t overthink it. If there were a secret drink, pill, or powder to make us all lose weight with no terrible side effects, we’d all be thin. So stop looking for consequence-free shortcuts. 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 fake-ass energy that you can do without. Dessert is great, but you can’t call it a party if you do it every day. Eat out less often 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, 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 brown rice is the way to go. 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.

The only lemonade you need is Beyoncé’s while you power through another set or mile at the gym. The year 2017 needs to be the one that we stop letting people we love participate in wellness magic like the Master Cleanse. Our bodies and our buttholes deserve better. Just eat a fucking salad.

Michelle Davis & Matt Holloway

Thug Kitchen blew up the Internet back in 2012, when Michelle Davis and Matt Holloway began blogging. After winning Saveur’s Best New Food Blog of 2013, the team decided to make it official by writing a book. All three of their books, Thug Kitchen: Eat Like You Give a F*ck, Thug Kitchen: Party Grub, and Thug Kitchen 101: Fast as F*ck, became instant New York Times best-sellers and have been translated into more than seven different languages and counting. In short, Thug Kitchen is a certified global phenomenon.

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