America has developed a fascination with body “cleanses” almost as obsessive as our fascination with the celebrities that make them famous. Thanks to stars like Angelina Jolie and Beyoncé, the Master Cleanse (cayenne pepper, maple syrup, and lemon for a week) is one of the hottest diet fads in Hollywood.
Gwyneth is a fan of juicing, Oprah is blogging about her vegan cleanse, and rumor has it that Ben Affleck, Cindy Crawford, Alicia Silverstone, and Liv Tyler are all regulars at their local colonic-irrigation clinic. Cleansing has driven millions of Americans to starve, detox, and irrigate their bodies, all with the promise of a lighter healthier you. But is it really good for you?
“I can smell baked goods wafting in from the apartment down the hall. I leave my building and immediately notice a cab with a Snickers ad on it. I want to chase it down Fifth Avenue.”
Alex Polier investigates with five days on the Coconut Cleanse, the latest craze in full-body flushing.
DAY 1. SATURDAY.
Why am I doing this to myself? Right, because everyone else is. Yes I am a lemming, and I have taken the plunge. Everyone I know is Master Cleansing or Blueprinting these days, anything to rid themselves of a few pounds and possibly a few small toys they may have swallowed as a child. If you ask these dedicated cleansers, they all speak with such glorious recollection. Listening to my friend Bonnie speak about her Master Cleanse experience—the boundless energy, the instant weight loss, the clarity—you’d think she’d dipped her lower intestine in the Fountain of Youth. I wanted to know that feeling.
But three hours in and I am still waiting for the burst of energy to hit. The glass of water with half a fresh-squeezed lemon for breakfast was almost refreshing, but the energizing colon-cleansing elixir I just whipped up was disgusting, and a lot of effort. Fresh-squeezed carrot, apple and ginger juice blended with heaping tablespoons of forest-green Enerfood powder, coconut milk powder and Meta Cleanse colon declogger (Metamucil for the soul). I gag through the experience.
I have ordered the EnerHealth Coconut Milk Meta Cleanse for $99.99 off the Internet. In four days, it promises to detox my liver, kidneys/bladder, skin, and lungs. It seems like a steal! The co-creator of EnerHealth Botanicals is Darren Craddock, who said his goal was to create a detox that people could incorporate into their normal lives. “We wanted to maximize cleansing with the least psychological and emotional effects.”
Well, it’s 11:07 a.m. and I am not optimistic. I am starving. I have never looked forward to lettuce so much in my life (I can have a little lunch on Day 1). I am already imagining the ritualistic preparation of it; slowly slicing the avocado, mixing up the dark, ripe spinach leaves with the crisp romaine. It is my only meal until Wednesday, so it has to count.
How did this all begin?
In January, the New York Times Style section grabbed my attention with a cover story on the merits of cleansing. But again there were no real conclusions. Some doctors say it can do more harm than good, other say we can’t reach optimum health without it. The jury was out, but everyone was doing it. Americans spend millions of dollars a year on “cleansing and detoxification” products. The organic revolution reminds us each day that we are poisoning our selves. I am sure the sale of lemons has never been so good.
It is a fad. No one denies this. But does it really work? I spoke with cleansing expert Dr. Alejandro Junger, whose book Clean: The Revolutionary Program to Restore the Body's Natural Ability to Heal Itself comes out in May. Junger says absolutely we need to cleanse; that our natural detoxification systems can’t handle the amount of chemicals, pesticides, antibiotics, dyes and preservatives that we put into our bodies each day—it’s the reason we get sick, depressed, and lethargic. Juice cleanses alkalinize the system, removing the toxins and depositing them in the colon for elimination (a word I would get to know quite well).
It turns out coconut-milk powder helps removes bad bacteria from your system and feeds the good bacteria in your intestines. So now I’m convinced. I need this. How did I ever manage to get out of bed last week with all these toxins in my body? I finish my salad and have my third glass of fresh-squeezed juice. I want a coffee. A dull headache begins to form in the base of my cranium.
It’s a Saturday night and I am off to my friend’s apartment in the Dakota for a slumber party. The evening was meant to be filled with wine and pedicures and home-cooked meals. Instead we are knocking back Patron on ice and ordering Thai while I have another heap of MetaCleanser with some more homemade apple/carrot/ginger juice. I am hungry and trying really hard not to be grumpy or bitter. They laugh at me as they pass the pad thai and green curry. My stomach is doing somersaults and not because it’s hungry. I think the LaxElixir is kicking in. Aren’t I the perfect houseguest?
DAY 2. SUNDAY.
From this point on, the cleanse starts to go downhill. I awoke to more green coconut juice this morning. The rich Italian roast filled my nostrils as organic sludge filled my throat. It was so unfair. The MetaCleanse and Skin Renewal Elixir followed, each tasting like tree bark and hemp. I haven’t visited the restroom since Friday. I feel bloated and hungry.
I try distracting myself. I go shopping and find my waist has expanded threefold. This is worse than any PMS I have ever experienced. I am moody, crampy, and fat—and the worst part is I can’t even compensate with ice cream. No, I have to have another unsatisfying green juice. I go to the movies and watch Nicolas Cage get ravaged by aliens. Massive headache. Caffeine withdrawal? Could it be those four to six cups of coffee a day really do affect me? My skin does looks better. Could it be working? Can I really survive for another two days?
I return home and crawl into bed defeated, feeling miserable and still bloated. Bonnie was a liar. There was no fountain of rejuvenation. This is hell.
DAY 3. MONDAY.
Supposedly this is the hump day, at least according to the juice girl at my gym who probably knows better than most. I could barely get through the green coconut chunky delight this morning, but I do feel a bit more energetic and hit the elliptical.
My skin looks like it belongs to a seven-year-old, but my stomach is still not right. I am not “eliminating” anything and I feel like a camel heading into the desert. My stomach is distended. I look pregnant. My jeans are tight, causing more cramping pain. I take some more LaxElixir (supposed to be reserved for bedtime) and head to a lunch meeting.
I pick a table near the door hoping the place will, er, air out as customers pass in and out. My friends arrive and we chat and I patiently watch two people slowly devour grilled octopus, grilled chicken salad, and Moroccan lamb tagine. I sip a cup of mint tea for two hours, afraid to put any more liquid into my body. My colleagues take note of my incredible self-discipline. More like exhaustion. But I haven’t cheated, even when no one was looking.
Life really does revolve around food, especially in New York. It’s all about where to go for brunch, lunch, coffee, dinner, after-dinner drinks… We socialize around food, we do business around food. Usually, we don’t scrutinize what eat. I think about the cheeseburger I planned to eat on Wednesday when this is over, and I think—do I really want to eat a cheeseburger? Will it ever work its way out of my lower intestine?
DAY 4. TUESDAY
It’s day four—D day. I swear I can smell baked goods wafting in from the apartment down the hall. I leave my building and notice a cab with a Snickers ad on it. I immediately have the urge to chase it down Fifth Avenue. All of my senses have heightened, for better or worse. The world is a clearer place. I realize how bad Manhattan smells.
It is supposed to be the final day of the cleanse, but I haven’t “eliminated” anything since Friday and I am starting to worry. I call my friend, a fan of colonics, who recommends that I call Lyt on 34th Street. I know this sounds extreme, but I am in serious pain. I have imbibed four gallons of liquid and ingested a four-pound Bag-O-Fiber. I have crazy energy and I am not hungry, but I am not a happy camper either. I book myself into Lyt, tacking an additional $105 onto this experiment.
This is my first colonic ever. The therapist pushes on my sacrum and I scream in pain. She says this explains my headaches. I believe her. At this moment, I would believe anything she said. She kneads my stomach for 45 minutes as I finally let go of a week. It’s humiliating. All I wanted was to feel thin and focused and refreshed! Instead, I have turned myself into a toxic bubble. They tell me to come back on Friday.
The next morning, I step on the scale. I feel better, finally. I am five pounds lighter and my skin looks great. I make a cup of coffee and it tastes disgusting. I am still not hungry. I sip a cup of tea.
Was it worth it? Maybe, but I realize that one should not embark on such a drastic therapy without guidance. This do-it-yourself attitude was a bad idea. You really need some handholding and some expert advice when trying to reverse the damage you’ve done to your organs. Also, being forced to look at what comes out of one's body really makes you think about what you put in it. To all you detoxers, I salute you. I hope in time I will have forgotten the pain and misery and will have a similar story to tell.
Alexandra Polier has worked for the past five years as a journalist in East Africa, covering everything from war and famine to culture and fashion for such publications as Newsweek, Forbes, Domino, People, Marie Claire, New York magazine and Foreign Policy. She is working as a freelance writer in New York and raising her 2-year-old son Lawrence.