Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Why the Master Cleanse Appears to Work and Why it's a Waste of Time

Spring is upon us, and as temperatures rise, clothes come off.

Understandably, you want to look good. Real good. So you're tempted to shed a little bit of weight you might have put on over the long dark winter and you want to do that as fast as possible, so you start googling and come upon the Master Cleanse.

Sounds great! Well, it sounds kinda weird... lemon juice, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper? Ew. But look at all these people who have had such great success* with it!

Stand back, we're going to try science.

Here's the Master Cleanse recipe taken from themastercleanse.org
  • 2 Tablespoons Fresh Lemon Juice
  • 2 Tablespoons Rich Maple Syrup
  • 1/10 Teaspoon of  Cayenne Pepper Powder – or to taste (as much as you can stand)
  • 8 ounces (250 milliliters of Pure Water)
If we get the nutrition information for this mixture, we find that there are 109 calories, 0g fat, 28.6g carb, and 0.2g protein per glass of lemonade. The website I mentioned above recommends you drink six to twelve glasses per day. That's a grand total of 654 calories if you consume six glasses, or a whopping 1308 calories if you can manage to choke down twelve glasses of the stuff.

Here's where we are going to get even more mathematical. If we use the Harris Benedict equation to determine daily calorie needs, you need about 1662 calories per day if you're a sedentary 130lb female who is thirty years old and standing tall at 5'5". The ladies aren't the only ones to find the Master Cleanse an appealing idea. Guys? If you're 5'10" and rockin a sedentary lifestyle at age thirty and 160lb, you need about 2097 calories per day.

These numbers, 1662 and 2097, are the numbers that are necessary to keep your body in maintenance mode. When you eat a total number of calories below maintenance, you lose weight. When you eat a total number of calories above maintenance, you gain weight. There are certain things you can do with the types of food you eat to try and make sure the lion's share of that weight loss/gain is muscle or fat by altering the amount of protein vs carbohydrates vs fat you consume in a day.

Generally, the more protein you eat when losing weight, the more muscle you will preserve. So how much protein are you taking in on the Master Cleanse? Remember, there's 0.2g in a glass. So in our six to twelve range, that's 1.2g protein to 2.4g protein. There's 4 calories per gram of protein which means that you're taking in 4.8 to 9.6 calories from protein out of 654 to 1308 calories total. That's 0.73% calories from protein.

If you think that sounds extremely low, you're right. The Recommended Dietary Allowances state that protein should consist of 10-30% of your total calories consumed. Let's take a moment to ponder 0.73% versus 10%.


Ok. So Master Cleanse has two strikes against it. It prescribes too low a calorie goal for the day and it definitely gets you nowhere near the amount of protein that is recommended by scientists and doctors.

Let's take a look at where that weight loss comes from. It certainly isn't fat, losing fat that quickly is both difficult and unlikely. Some of it could be from muscle, it would be difficult to muster the energy to perform any sort of physical activity while on this starvation plan and your muscles to start to atrophy after mere weeks of inactivity...if you can stick out the Master Cleanse that long. So where the heck to those lost pounds come from?

You know how after you have a glass of lemonade, you have to go to the bathroom rather urgently? Lemons are a diuretic. Diuretics pull water out of your body through your digestive tract. You'll lose almost all the weight through water in your urine and in your stool. Strike three.

Gross? Yes. Unsafe? Yes. Effective? Not really. There will be an initial loss of mass but it will be water and more importantly, it will be temporary. That water loss lasts until you start to eat normally and then it comes right back. Can we issue a strike four for long term ineffectiveness?

If you want to overhaul your diet and move in a healthier direction, you don't need to jump start things with a cleanse that will leave you absolutely miserable. Add vegetables. Add lean meats. Add low fat dairy products if they're your thing. Don't start drinking a disgusting concoction that is going to do nothing good for you.

As for the "detox" claims that Master Cleanse sets forth... please don't take that kind of bullshit. Your body is a detoxifying machine, that is the honest-to-goodness purpose of your liver and kidneys. If you're going to do anything for yourself, increase your fiber intake through fruit and veggies or something like psyllium and increase your water intake to improve your digestive health.

*You know that most before/after shots of weight loss programs are kinda fake and often the results come from smoke & mirrors rather than hard work? http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2408384/From-fat-fit-just-15-MINUTES-Personal-trainer-reveals-tricks-used-fitness-industry-easy-fake-transformation.html

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