What Is the Master Cleanse?

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In This Article

The Master Cleanse, also called the Master Cleanser or the lemonade diet, is a short-term liquid diet that is popular with people who want to lose weight quickly.

Several celebrities have used the diet, including singer and actress Beyoncé Knowles, who told Oprah that she had lost over 20 pounds on the Master Cleanse to prepare for her role in the movie Dreamgirls. Robin Quivers, Howard Stern's co-host, said that she lost a total of 73 pounds on the diet.

What Experts Say

"Anything that uses the term 'cleanse' is likely not the healthiest choice. The Master Cleanse is a gimmicky diet, and while you’ll likely lose weight, a lot of it will be water weight and you’ll lose muscle, too. Plus, it’s just not enjoyable to eat this way and definitely should not be sustained."

Kelly Plowe, MS, RD

Background

The diet was created in the 1940s by self-taught alternative medicine practitioner Stanley Burroughs, who published the book "The Master Cleanser" in 1976.

According to the book, a cleansing diet is a necessary part of the treatment for any health ailment. The Master Cleanse was primarily used by people who wanted to detoxify their bodies of chemicals and toxins. Its popularity for weight loss has grown by word of mouth and Internet testimonials.

How It Works

The Master Cleanse is a liquid diet. It involves drinking a gallon of saltwater and six to 12 glasses of a lemonade concoction a day. The total daily intake is roughly equivalent to the juice of three to six lemons per day and 3/4 to 1 1/2 cups of maple syrup per day.

Other than the lemonade drink, herbal laxative teas are recommended as part of the daily regimen. Colonics and enemas are not typically recommended on the Master Cleanse.

What to Eat

The main focus of the Master Cleanse is a homemade lemonade that contains lemon juice, maple syrup, water, and a little cayenne pepper.

Compliant Foods

  • Special-recipe lemonade

  • Saltwater

  • Senna-based herbal tea

Non-Compliant Foods

  • All other foods

According to the book, lemons and maple syrup are used because they are readily available and are a rich source of vitamins and minerals. Lemons are also considered a cleansing, healing food in alternative medicine.

While lemon juice and maple syrup do contain some vitamins and minerals, many other foods have the same amount or more of vitamins and minerals.

For example, one of the touted benefits of the lemons is potassium, however one banana contains about the same amount of potassium as all of the lemon juice consumed each day on the Master Cleanse. Also, maple syrup is high in sugar.

Recommended Timing

The Master Cleanse recommends starting each day with a salt water flush, then drinking several cups of the lemonade throughout the day, and ending the day by drinking a cup of a laxative, senna-based herbal tea, such as Smooth Move.

The diet is suggested for a minimum of 10 days and a maximum of 40 days. According to the book, people can repeat the Master Cleanse three to four times a year.

After the cleanse is over, a breaking fast protocol is recommended. The first day after the cleanse, only orange juice is allowed. The second day involves more orange juice and possibly vegetable soup. On day three, vegetables, salads, and fruit are allowed. Normal eating is usually resumed on the fourth day.

Resources and Tips

There are two main recipes that are necessary for the Master Cleanse: the lemonade and salt water.

Lemonade

  • 2 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lemon juice (about 1/2 a lemon)
  • 2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
  • 1/10 teaspoon cayenne pepper or more to taste
  • 8 to 12 ounces purified or spring water

Saltwater Flush

  • 2 teaspoons non-iodized salt
  • 1 quart warm water

Pros and Cons

Like most fad diets, the Master Cleanse has a mix of positives and negatives. Since the diet consists only of drinking a specially blended lemonade, it promises fast weight loss. However, no other food is allowed on the plan, which requires a great deal of willpower to fight through hunger.

Pros

  • Quick weight loss

  • A spiritual or psychological lift

Cons

  • Does not provide adequate nutrition

  • No food allowed

  • Weight-loss is not sustained

  • May cause gallstones

Pros

The Master Cleanse is promoted as a quick weight-loss fast, and if you can stick with the plan, it will deliver. According to the book, a weight loss of two pounds per day is typical.

Many testimonials on the internet claim that the Master Cleanse can reduce symptoms of chronic illness and pain, boost energy, and improve mental clarity during and after the cleanse. Some people report an uplifting spiritual or psychological effect, which may have a positive effect on health.

Cons

Most nutritionists and health professionals advise against prolonged fasting (more than several days), particularly as a way to lose weight, due to the possible health risks. One of the most common concerns is the lack of nutrients, protein, and calories in the diet.

Having six glasses of the lemonade beverage provides 650 or so calories a day, resulting in a quick weight loss. One of the potential side effects of rapid weight loss is the formation of gallstones.

In addition, many people report feeling dizzy, faint, or extremely hungry on the Master Cleanse and say the plan is difficult. Loose stools and diarrhea are common due mainly to the herbal laxative and saltwater drink. Frequent bowel movements are encouraged on the diet because they are believed to aid in the elimination of toxins.

How It Compares

As a short-term fast, the Master Cleanse is considered one of the most effective fad diets around. However, it isn't a long-term weight loss solution or a healthy eating plan, nor does it teach skills, like healthy meal planning and preparing, needed for sustained weight loss.

USDA Recommendations

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) dietary guidelines include recommendations and tips for a healthy, balanced diet which should include a variety of vegetables, fruits, grains, lean meats, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, dairy, and oil.

The Master Cleanse does not adhere to USDA guidelines and it is not considered a healthy eating plan.

Similar Diets

The Master Cleanse is more of a fast than a diet. Similar plans include:

  • Cabbage Soup Diet: The main focus of the cabbage soup diet is a homemade soup that is eaten several times a day. The diet also includes other foods that can be eaten on specific days.
  • Juice Cleanse: A three-day fast, the juice cleanse recommends drinking raw, organic juice made from fruits and vegetables several times a day. Food, other than that which is juiced, is not allowed.
  • Grapefruit Diet: Another diet with a promise of quick weight loss, the grapefruit diet is a 10-day plan that encourages eating grapefruit or drinking grapefruit juice with every meal.

A Word From Verywell

Although the book says anyone with an acute or chronic condition can use the Master Cleanse, most medical experts disagree. People with diabetes, cancer, anemia, intestinal obstruction, gallstones, or people who are underweight or who have a history of eating disorders are just some of the people for whom this diet isn't appropriate. If you're considering using the diet to treat a health condition, make sure to consult your physician first. Self-treating a health condition and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences.

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Article Sources

Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  • Burroughs, Stanley. The Master Cleanser. Burroughs Books, 1976.