The Master Cleanse: Fasting is the new black, darling
Last week, there was an entire display at Whole Foods in West Hollywood devoted to, well, not eating any food at all. Meanwhile -- on KCRW's radio show "Good Food" -- a heated debate raged over not ingesting an ounce of protein, good or bad. Oh, and don't forget that Gwyneth Paltrow was admitted to a New York hospital for undisclosed reasons in mid-January but reportedly managed to still maintain a fast.
Unbelievably, fasting is no longer the province of West Coast wing nuts, yogis and whippet-sized starlets. And one particular regimen -- the Master Cleanse -- has gone decidedly mainstream. "Master Cleanse" was the most searched recipe in 2007 on Google.com. The "lemonade diet," a variation on this detoxifying program, placed third.
Tired of using utensils? Too lazy to launder those Frette napkins? Sick of wondering what it must be like to dine at Mozza before midnight? Join the growing club of "no-foodies." This 10-day fast in which you survive on fresh-squeezed lemon juice, cayenne pepper, maple syrup and water could be your salvation.
"It's always popular at the beginning of the year because people have resolutions about getting healthy and losing weight," says Sharon Glasser, the "whole body team leader" (no kidding) at the Whole Foods on Fairfax Boulevard. "We get 75 calls a day about the Master Cleanse at this location alone."
What's most amazing about this detoxifying regimen is its enduring popularity. Think of it as the Chanel jacket of diets. The fast was first created in the 1940s by an alternative health practitioner named Stanley Burroughs (right), who was also a nudist and peddler of cancer cures. In 1976, he self-published a 50-page book called "The Master Cleanser" and since then, variations abound. There's the "lemonade diet" and a "master cleanse" CD set devoted to completing this rigorous detox program.
Here in Los Angeles, you're nobody if you haven't starved yourself. Beyonce did the cleanse last year to prepare for her role in "Dream Girls" and lost 20 pounds in 10 days.
I made it through nine days on the Master Cleanse last May, and I can't think of a time in my life that I was more popular at cocktail parties. You would have thought I won the Nobel Peace Prize or gnawed off my left leg at the knee. People approached me to grab my hand and murmur, "I'm so impressed" or "Wow. I could never do that."
"I've done the cleanse more times than I can count," says Anna Getty, the oil heiress, eco-lifestyle guru and prenatal yoga instructor who teaches at Golden Bridge in Los Angeles. "I first heard of it at a yoga class. People in the yoga community are always cleansing."
The weight loss is just part of it. Go online to one of the dozen or so Web communities devoted to the cleanse and you'll find varied reports on wellness -- from "glowing skin" to "mental acuity." People even blog about their copious bowel movements and upload photos of what comes out of their colons. FYI: Be mighty careful before you scroll down on certain sites.
Doctors haven't spoken out en masse against the cleanse, but many of them bristle at the outlandish health claims associated with it. Die-hards insist that all bodily toxins and mucus are purged from the large intestine. Others say the cleanse can cure kidney ailments, arthritis, even athlete's foot. In my opinion, the cleanse is just a way to reboot how you look at food and erase a hard drive of bad eating habits.
Some cleanse enthusiasts take it too far and fast for as long as 40 days, which sounds a lot like a Jesus complex. Me? I lost about 10 pounds in nine days and about $600 in skinny jeans that didn't fit two months later. Come to think of it, gnawing off a few limbs might have made more sense.
Photo: Whole Foods, Los Angeles Times; Beyonce, WireImage
EVER TRIED THE MASTER CLEANSE? HATE IT OR LOVE IT? NO EXPLICIT POOP POSTS, PLEASE.