The Master Cleanse (also known as the Lemonade Diet) is a liquid fast that claims to help people lose weight, restore energy, and “detox” their digestive systems. It consists of three simple ingredients: water, a “spicy” lemonade, and herbal laxative tea, all consumed over a three- to 10-day period.
What Is Master Cleanse?
The Master Cleanse was developed by a dietitian, Stanley Burroughs, in the 1940s. In his book, The Master Cleanser, Burroughs claimed that the cleanse was a healthy and natural way to cure stomach ulcers and rid the body of impurities.
It’s now one of the most popular celebrity-endorsed weight-loss regimens with stars like Beyoncé reportedly using the Master Cleanse Diet to slim down for movie roles.
How the Master Cleanse Works
The Master Cleanse Lemonade Diet is carried out for up to 10 days and can last up to 40 days, depending on how long the person stays on the cleanse. Over the cleanse period, only certain liquids are allowed.
Because the cleanse is a liquid-only fast, it is recommended to ease the body by gradually eliminating solid foods. This typically occurs in three phases:
The first phase involves two to three days of slowly removing foods from your regular diet to “prepare” your digestive system for the Master Cleanse.
- Day 1 involves removing processed foods, caffeine, alcohol, meats, and dairy.
- Day 2 involves liquifying all fruits and vegetables to consume as smoothies, juices, or smoothies.
- Day 3 involves limiting your diet to water and orange juice.
This phase involves drinking six to 18 glasses of liquids every day. These liquids consist of a saltwater flush, six or more glasses of cayenne-infused lemonade during the day, and a laxative herbal tea before bed. Some diet variations may allow peppermint tea throughout the day. Although water is allowed, the water intake should not exceed the lemonade intake.
Add two tablespoons of non-iodized sea salt to a full quart of warm and fresh water to make the saltwater mixture.
To make the lemonade mixture, combine two tablespoons of fresh lemon juice with two tablespoons of grade B maple syrup, one-tenth teaspoon of dash of cayenne pepper, and eight to 10 ounces of fresh spring water into a juicer and blend until smooth.
Easing out of the Master Cleanse Diet is similar to easing into the cleanse with the steps being reversed. This four-day phase prepares your digestive system for more complex foods and prevents it from being overwhelmed. Throughout this phase, it is recommended to maintain water intake consistently.
- Day 1: Drinking only orange juice
- Day 2: Consuming fruits and vegetables in liquid form (e.g., smoothies, broths, soups, juices)
- Day 3: Reintroducing whole fruits and vegetables (solids)
- Day 4: Resuming your regular diet before beginning the Master Cleanse
Refrain from strenuous workouts, weightlifting, or endurance training while on the Master Cleanse. High-intensity exercises may lead to lightheadedness, dizziness, and fatigue.
You would need to purchase the relevant products to get started:
- Lemons or lemon juice
- Grade B maple syrup (can be substituted with molasses or agave nectar for people with diabetes)
- Cayenne pepper
- Sea salt
Dos and Don’ts
Consult a medical professional before starting. Before taking any fast or diet, consult a health professional before making dietary adjustments.
Space out your drinks. Space out your drinks throughout the day to prevent dehydration. Do not wait until you are thirsty, as this is a sign of dehydration.
Use the Master Cleanse Diet for permanent weight loss. Although it may help you lose some weight in the short term, the weight may come back once you start eating normally again.
Restrict all food sources immediately. It is important to slowly ease into the diet as the change to an all-liquid diet is a significant change from a normal diet.
Sample Diet Plan
Diets may differ when easing in and out of the cleanse; however, a sample cleanse may look like the following:
Ease In (One to Three Days)
Day One: Any meal of your choice (only made with fruits and vegetables)
Day Two: Any liquified fruit and vegetable meals (e.g., smoothies, soups, broths, and juices)
Day Three: Orange juice
Master Cleanse (Three to 10 Days)
Breakfast: Saltwater flush
Lunch: Cayenne lemonade
Dinner: Cayenne lemonade and herbal laxative tea
Snack: Water or peppermint tea
Ease Out (One to Four Days)
Day One: Orange juice
Day Two: Orange juice and any liquified fruit and vegetable meals (e.g., smoothies, soups, broths, and juices)
Day Three: Orange juice, fruit, and vegetables (in liquid and solid form)
Day Four: Regular diet before beginning Master Cleanse
Health Benefits and Drawbacks
Short-Term Weight Loss
To date, only one 2015 study has examined the effects of the Master Cleanse. In a group of Korean subjects, the study found that participants who drank the lemonade over a week lost an average of 5.7 pounds (2.6 kg) and had lower body fat.
Not Backed By Science
Health claims are not backed by evidence, and no long-term or follow-up studies have been conducted to examine the long-term effects of the Master Cleanse. Furthermore, no scientific claims support the cleanse’s ability to remove “toxins” from the body.
Increased Risk of Nutritional Deficiencies
Each lemonade serving is about 110 calories, which equates to a minimum of 660 calories per day (six cups of lemonade), only one-third of the average calorie consumption for adults. Combined with the lack of food consumption, this cleanse is unsuitable for people with diabetes, pregnant women, and people with a previous history of eating disorders.
The Bottom Line: Is the Master Cleanse a Healthy Way to Lose Weight?
While the cleanse may result in short-term weight loss, the Master Cleanse Lemonade Diet is not a sustainable nor healthy method for significant weight loss. The changes to your diet are radical, and it does not prepare you for a permanent lifestyle change.
Experts recommend adopting evidence-based weight loss methods (e.g., making healthier food choices, increasing exercise, and reducing junk food consumption) and sticking to them long term will better benefit your overall health and your body’s natural detoxification system.
Meagan Morris is the editor in chief of Celebribody. She's veteran health and wellness editor with over 15 years of experience. Her work has been featured in The Atlantic, Yahoo Health, Cosmopolitan, SELF, and Women's Health, among others. She spends most of her time writing, but her favorite part of the day is spent under a barbell doing squats.