I’ve gone against common sense many times to lose a few pounds, but I draw the line at drinking a mixture of cayenne pepper, maple syrup, and lemon juice. Yes, the regimen worked for Beyoncé, who says she drank the diuretic and ate only vegetables for a couple of weeks to drop weight fast while filming a movie.
Photos of Beyoncé’s dramatic weight loss spread, and several of my otherwise intelligent friends grabbed onto the diet, known as the Master Cleanse.
But here’s the point that sometimes gets lost: Beyoncé returned to her normal, healthy weight when she resumed eating real food. When it comes to long-term, sustainable weight loss, you have to change your lifestyle permanently. You have to take in fewer calories than you expend. You have to control how much you eat. And you need to exercise. Every dieter knows this, but still many of us often fall victim to the latest promise of a quick fix.
Debunking Detox Myths
The wave of so-called detox diets, including the Master Cleanse and the Martha’s Vineyard Diet Detox, is the latest in a long line of extreme eating plans promising fast weight loss. But what’s more troubling about detox diets than their cabbage-soup predecessors is that detox-labeled diets promote the idea that our bodies need gag-inducing potions to flush out toxins.
And that, says Dr. Lillian Schapiro, an OB/GYN in Atlanta, isn’t true. “That has no basis in science,” she told me. “You want to keep healthy things coming into your body. Your body is programmed to get rid of bad things.”
Dieters on these programs don’t lose fat, even if they lose weight, Schapiro says. “You’re just sweating off water.”
Yes, you might look and feel thinner for a few days, but detox diets can be downright dangerous for some people, including women who may be pregnant. “In pregnancy, you want to keep blood flowing to the uterus,” she says. “If you’re on some detox regime, you’re basically depriving yourself of the fluids your body needs to keep that blood flowing.”
Even if you’re not pregnant, an extreme detox diet could be hard on your heart and other organs if you stick to it for more than a couple of days due to the severe caloric restrictions. Books that promote detox diets encourage dieters to check with their doctor before embarking. How many people actually do that? And how many really think their doctor would sign off on a plan to shun food for ten days or longer?
Real Benefits or Real Bull?
Advocates of detox diets—and there are many—say they don’t do it for rapid weight loss. They say they want to rid their bodies of toxins, presumably remnants of bad stuff they ate. Once rid of the bad stuff, they say they feel lighter and more energetic. Some combine fasting with colonics and enemas. They say science is on their side, if not the mainstream science promoted by traditional doctors. Detox devotees note that fasting has been around since the beginning of time, for religious as well as health purposes.
The Master Cleanse, also known as the Lemonade Diet, is based on a brief 1976 book called The Master Cleanser by Stanley Burroughs. A more recent title, The Complete Master Cleanse, by Tom Woloshyn, expands the concept. Its signature cocktail is the lemon juice-cayenne pepper-maple syrup concoction Beyoncé consumed.
With the Martha’s Vineyard Diet Detox, the best-selling book screams, “Twenty-one pounds in twenty-one days,” making it hard for me to believe dramatic weight loss is not its fans’ main goal. Co-author Roni DeLuz is founder of Martha’s Vineyard Holistic Retreat at the Martha’s Vineyard Inn. DeLuz, a registered nurse, sells products to aid with the detox such as berry drinks, vegetable drinks, and something called the Inner Cleanse. A medical disclaimer urges users to consult a doctor and specifies the diet is not for anyone who is on dialysis, pregnant, or nursing.
The Healthier, Long-Term Approach
The term detox is broad, and for some people it may not mean drinking anything green or giving up the joy of eating good food. For some, detoxing is about giving up fast, fried, fattening, and processed food. It’s about eating more fruits and vegetables, drinking water instead of soda, and getting healthier in a realistic way.
There’s nothing wrong with that approach, as long as it’s meant to be a long-term strategy. As soon as you go back to junk, the pounds will come back on.
Dr. Schapiro, a busy mother of three, stays thin by living an admittedly unglamorous lifestyle. She looks forward to spending thirty minutes on an elliptical trainer five days a week. She limits fatty foods at home, baking potato strips in the oven for a healthy version of French fries her children love. There are no cookies or cakes in her kitchen. She keeps organic baby carrots and hummus on hand for snacking. She also swears by her crock pot, which ensures a healthy meal will be waiting when she comes home after a long day, since fatigue is often an enemy to eating well at home.
In short, she uses common sense. My favorite part of her plan? She gets to eat.