The Master Cleanse*
by Duncan Myles McHugh
I've been in a relationship with food for more than 24 years.
It is a relationship grounded in joy, necessity and mutual respect.
Of course, as with most relationships, there have been the good
times and the bad times. Sure, I buy organic produce and take
my vitamins, but I also once consumed eight McDonald's cheeseburgers
in an evening.
Despite my deep love of food, I decided last month that I needed
some time off. I wanted to take myself out of a pattern of eating
that, at times, became unhealthy and expensive. I wanted to
gain some much-needed perspective on the motivations behind
my food intake: why do I eat out so much? Why do I eat when
I'm not hungry? How can I eat in a more healthy way?
I had friends who had tried fasting and I thought that it would
be a good way to challenge my relationship with food. By taking
food out of my life, maybe I could better understand the role
it played when it was playing a part.
In our society, most people do not think going a week without
eating is a good idea. In fact, if you tell most people that
you intend not to eat for a week, they will look at you aghast
and ask many, many questions.
"Can you do you that?" "Won't you die?"
"Why would you want to do something like that?" The
questions are understandable. Undoubtedly, most of us were raised
to believe that three square meals a day are the cornerstone
of a happy, healthy life. But with a little guidance, I was
able to take a break from the routine of breakfast, lunch and
The Master Cleanser was written by Stanley Burroughs in 1976,
although the diet that it describes, the Master Cleanse or lemonade
diet, has been around since the 1940s. The idea is that by fasting
for ten to forty days, with only a lemonade-type concoction
in your system, you can detoxify your body. Further, if you
continue with the plan outlined by Burroughs, "This diet
will prove that no one needs to live with his [or her] diseases.
Lifetime freedom from disease can become a reality."
Burroughs may be a bit optimistic, but the Master Cleanse does
seem to be able to keep people from dying when they fast for
up to 40 days, which is good enough for me. With my girlfriend
Sara out of town for a week and my roommates Shaun and Hywel
leading the Master Cleanse charge, I decide to try the cleanse
for seven days.
SATURDAY: DAY ONE
I begin the cleanse by playing ultimate frisbee for three
hours, which I come to realise is a bit of a mistake. For the
next few days, I can't tell if it's the cleanse or the hours
of physical exertion which leaves my body feeling wonky and
After the game, I have an enormous desire to consume eggs benedict,
though this pales in comparison to the previous night's gluttonous
craving. Arriving at the airport for Sara's flight, I decided
my last meal would be a Burger King Whopper with poutine. As
my sister later points out, that meal alone deserves a seven-day
When I get home from the game, I am shocked at how confused
I am with what to do with my time. Without a break to prepare
and eat a meal, my day started to feel formless and I began
to mope around, unsure of what to do with myself.
This is partly the intent of the cleanse. Those who fast for
spiritual reasons see the removal of energy devoted to food
preparation as a way of clarifying and focusing the mind. For
me, I'm just bored. Not being able to go for coffee or something
to eat proves to be a major hindrance to my social life.
"Food is very social," says Judith Prat, coordinator
of the University of British Columbia (UBC)'s Wellness Centre.
"When we look at research on projects that are done in
communities, the most successful ones were where there was food
involved with a group coming together, whatever the project
was. So eating and food are very social parts of our lives."
Judith points to the potlatches celebrated by British Columbia's
First Nations people. Potlatches are Aboriginal festival in
which whole communities exchange gifts.
"You'll see this across cultures," says Prat. "It's
one of the foundations of a society of any kind. Food brings
As if not sharing food was bad enough,the next morning I learn
true solitude. Because I'm no longer ingesting solids, every
morning I have to chug a gag-inducing litre of warm salt water
to flush out any left over solids still hanging out in my digestive
tract. Apparently, the large amount of salt water overwhelms
my digestive system, therefore not absorbing, just 'flushing'
Thus, I'm left alone, sitting on or in close proximity to a
toilet for over an hour. I repeat this lonely shift for the
next six mornings.
MONDAY: DAY THREE
Day three is the worst. For one thing my tongue has turned
white, which-apparently-is normal, but still disconcerting.
Worse though is that day three falls on a Monday, which is production
day at the newspaper I work for. This means that I'll have to
spend 18 hours in the Student Union Building (SUB), which-most
Mondays-would mean snacking constantly throughout the day.
But my dilemma is not simply a matter of routine. For anyone
who was been hungry, unable to eat and has been forced to walk
through it, the SUB is a repository of grotesque eating, with
mouth after chewing mouth shovelling more food into its face.
WEDNESDAY: DAY FIVE
Day five, tragedy strikes: Hywel caves. The lure of vegan
banana bread, coupled with his fear of losing too much weight,
proves too great. Having my closest comrade drop out is hard,
but not terrible.
"My break of the cleanse was pretty anti-climatic,"
says Hywel. "Something snapped in my head and I bought
a piece of vegan banana bread and sat down in a café
and casually ate while reading the paper. There never was a
more casual surrender. I tried to eat a big plate of greasy
pasta afterwards and blew chunks."
Hywel's cautionary tale only serves to steel my resolve. By
this point, I'm in a zone. The hunger and cravings are now non-existent,
though I do begin to go a bit crazy. I start to feel like I
will never get to eat again, as if-because of some terrible
food-related sin of the past-I have been banished to a life
of non-eating. Shaun is also keeping with the cleanse. He finds
he has more energy than normal, though he has difficulty concentrating.
This may have something to do with his working in a restaurant.
FRIDAY: DAY SEVEN
Day seven is a strange day indeed. With the end of the cleanse
so near, I begin to obsess about tasting and chewing solid food
again. Not that food lust hasn't popped up throughout the week.
On the first day of the cleanse Hywel bought a cookie just to
be able to watch his friend eat it. Shaun began collecting pizza
menus. Hywel and I spent inordinate amounts of time investigeting
Krispy Kreme's website. After a few days, I take to sniffing
a jar of cashews I've selected to end my fast with. Hywel and
I debate whether or not sucking on a nut and then spitting it
out would constitute a breach of the cleanse. On Friday morning
I decide that it isn't.
When the clock finally strikes midnight, I am terrified of food.
My body actually does feel cleansed, almost pure, and I can't
even imagine eating anything other than nuts and fruits. The
thought of eating meat or dairy, or even pasta or bread turns
my stomach. Shaun takes a different approach, ordering a pizza
the night he comes off the cleanse. He generously offers me
a slice, but I turn it down.
An unexpected outcome from the cleanse is the way I feel about
the way my body looks. I did not do the cleanse to lose weight,
though I do drop 20 lbs (five of which I subsequently regain).
For the first time in a few years, I feel comfortable wearing
tighter T-shirts. And while I'm still somewhat overweight, I
feel skinnier and it's a reassuring feeling.
As nice as it feels to fast and then feel skinny, I like eating.
My vacation reminded me of how much fun food and I used to have
together. The relationship is even better post-cleanse. Food
and I haven't fallen back into our old, unhappy habits. I could
get used to this.
has his own headquarters.
* Stanley Burroughs's Master Cleanse
- 2 Tbsp lemon or lime juice (approx. 1/2 lemon)
- 2 Tbsp genuine organic maple syrup, Grade B (the darker the
- 1/10 Tsp cayenne pepper, gradually increase (the more BTUs
- 10-14 oz pure water (water should be chlorine-free, fluoride-free,
Combine juice, maple syrup and cayenne pepper with water. Drink
every 1 to 2 hours. Take no other food, but do drink lots of
water in between lemonade drinks.
Use fresh lemons or limes only, never canned or frozen lemon
juice. Use organic and vine ripened when possible. Also, mix
your lemonade fresh just before drinking. Don't mix it up in
the morning for the whole day. You can, however, squeeze your
lemons in the morning and measure out the 2 Tbsp when needed.
Every morning, you should also drink 2 Tsp of sea salt dissolved
in a litre of warm water. Make sure to stay near a toilet for
the next hour.