Yes, I'm Master Cleansing (Please Don't Yell)

I'm not making a moral statement about eating food, I'm just doing a trendy thing that gives me a sense of achievement just for peeing a bunch.

Jan 4, 2012 at 11:00am | Leave a comment

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OK, you guys. Don't get mad. But this week, I'm doing a cleanse.

I know, I know. Dieting is antithetical to everything we stand for here, and some of us are resolving not to talk about weight while some of us are still content to yammer on about our large faces. But! This isn't a diet, and it's not really about weight.

As any cleanse naysayer will tell you, they're not an effective form of weight loss, and I agree with them. This is an effort to try to undo some of the horrific damage I did over the holidays, by which I mean Thanksgiving through, oh, let's say 9 PM yesterday. After several weeks of  nigh-on Roman consumption, my pancreas probably looks like a leather renaissance fair bracelet. My liver? Would probably be delicious on brioche.

Obviously, "cleansing" is not something I'm endorsing, because let me say this loud and clear: I firmly believe it is hokey and new-agey and seriously for dummards like me who do it purely for the psychological effects.

In fact, I'm fairly certain the Master Cleanse began as a hazing ritual from a Victorian fratnernity called Phi Beta Huzzah. I realize that subsisting on ass-flavored lemonade for a week or so in the hopes of ridding the body of very Medieval-medicine-sounding "toxins" is the height of idiocy.

("Toxins", along with "core," are probably the two most crazy-making words in use in the vanity health industry. Flush toxins! Tone your core! I am not a dirty river or an apple, you weirdos. Those are my abs! I mean, theoretically.)

The thing is, I like cleansing. It doesn't hurt anybody if I do it, and yet people persist in acting like I'm drunk driving a golf cart full of babies.

It's something I do occasionally, particularly after a long period of seasonally enforced bad eating. I am not a candy person. I don't like chips or soda or fast food. My achilles cankle happens to be alcohol and takeout like pizza and Thai food. But it got to the point this December where I briefly considered pretending to be diabetic so I wouldn't have to consume one more  brownie or gin cocktail.

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I am that weird kind of extroverted-shy where I can be very assertive about somethings but on others, have difficulty saying no forcefully. I don't care if it's a mini taco or a mitten, if you made something and you look sad enough, I will eat it. (Ha ha, my sex life.)

So, alas, I cleanse.

Part of it is having consumed too much while recumbent, but part of it is also just that it actually feels good to me to not have refined sugar or alcohol or one of New York's preferred LP-size of bagel for several days. Sure, maybe it's hunger euphoria, but there's something satisfying about feeling like you've been pipe-snaked.

After a few weeks of abusing my body with bourbon and pumpkin loaf and pad thai, I feel really sluggish and just kind of "off." I've done cleanses in the past (the Master Cleanse, but also raw food and, less successfully, those delivery-service juice fasts, which are uniformly gross and wildly expensive).

Usually, I notice visible improvement in my skin and energy level, which again, may be some kind of Ellen Burstyn in "Requiem for a Dream" hallucination. "I'm somebody now, Harry! Everybody likes me!"

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I'm not extreme about it, aside from the whole not eating regular foods thing, and I stop if I feel really weak or dizzy or think I might throw up on the subway when somebody next to me starts eating a hard-boiled egg. Besides, there's evidence that intermittent fasting is actually good for you, and increasing support for the idea that calorie restriction promotes healthy cell function and increased mitochondrial stress resistance. Don't take my word for it, ask Wikipedia:

"Studies have shown that both calorie restriction and reduced meal frequency or intermittent fasting can suppress the development of various diseases and can increase life span in rodents by 30-40% by mechanisms involving stress resistance and reduced oxidative damage."

Thanks, Hitchhiker's Guide to Lazy Research!

I don't actually mind the cleanse so much, because, yeah, there are one or two really bad days where you walk around in a kind of hungry fog, bumping into things and salivating uncontrollably over that would normally repulse you (White Castle sliders, a personal pan pizza face down on a city sidewalk).

But after the initial separation period, I don't really miss food. Unless, of course, my mom is making pot roast or they're giving out free pretzel dog bites at Auntie Anne's.

After you get through the one or two dark days, you just kind of feel pleasantly emptied out.

I'm not religious or what is euphemistically referred to as "spiritual" (read: criznazy) and while I guess I could make up some yogi-tea approved reason for doing it, it's really just about the high I get from feeling roto-rooted.

Of course, it's important to stay really, really hydrated and to listen to your proverbial gut -- i.e., if you feel horrible instead of good, stop doing it.

I know Not Eating for Health is a very privileged-beige-person thing for me to do. I try as best as possible to keep it to myself and not let it affect other people, but for some reason it's threatening in that way that vegetarians are to people who choose to eat meat.

I'm not making a moral statement about eating food, I'm just doing a trendy thing that gives me a sense of achievement just for peeing a bunch. Let me be!

Some people find the idea of not eating for a few days incomprehensible, but I'd say the worst part  is (as a probably very thin French guy once wrote) other people.

One, because cleansing is inherently antisocial. (Unless you live with a supportive partner who is okay with staying at home every night and eating for one, while you stare intensely at the television, swatting away any residual marinara fumes.)

As my friend Walshie asked on New Year's as we stuffed our faces with two kinds of Trader Joe's ground-beef based dip, "What do you do at night if you can't eat or drink?"

The short answer is that you don't go out, lest you risk annoying and irritating to everybody around you. This makes work life difficult, too, if you have ever explained to your coworkers that you are "not eating this week."

You can't go to birthday parties, dinner parties or God forbid, on dates, without being a total drag. Cleansing makes you sound like a vain loon, because, let's be honest, you are a vain loon.

Which brings me to point number two. For as thin as we're all expected to be, many people can be knee-jerk hostile to any practice even peripherally associated with weight loss.

I can explain that I'm doing this to Liquid Plummr my GI tract, rest my blistered liver, and get crazy looped on endorphins, but the general reaction is usually, "Just take the wine and cheese, you narcissistic piss monster."

My favorite are the friends who keep telling me how it's going to "ruin" my "metabolism." Team, my metabolism has held steady in "desert island fuel storage" mode since puberty. Yes, Sanjay Gupta, I have read all about "starvation mode" and know that anything I lose is "water weight."

(Weirdly,  some of the people who get Really Mad when you cleanse are also the ones who "Oh, you" you when you admit that you often eat a forty and a bowl of dinosaur spaghetti-O's for Sunday night dinner.)

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The "Master Cleanse" is, essentially, fasting. Experts are somewhat divided (the Mayo Clinic admits that periodic fasting is good for your heart, but also warns that it's not a proven method of detoxification or weight loss), but hygienic fasting, as it's known when undertaken for my purposes, is a fairly old practice.

As with everything, you're only supposed to fast under doctor supervision. (Here's where I admit that I have never asked a doctor if it's OK to do anything, like put formadehyde on my hair or take NyQuil and DayQuil together "just to see what it does.")

New York, where I live most of the time, seems especially cleanse-averse. While everybody is expected to be rail thin, they're also expected to be NATURALLY rail-thin. Declining cake balls at your office or a party is on egomaniacal par with taking a Facebook bathroom mirror bikini pic.

New Yorkers do not want to see or hear about how the skinny sausage is made. It's a town of strivers who insist that they are humble populists; everybody wants to be like, "I'm just a rough-and-tumble kid from Sheepshead Bay with a super high metabolism."

Don't get me started on the midwest, where I spent the holidays and "Dressing on the side" will get you a concerned look from your server.

The only place I've ever found solidarity in cleansing was -- wait for it -- LA, a place that on the whole, is much more accepting of a navel-centric theory of the universe. If you order vegan chili from a low-cal delivery place and ask them to hold the brown rice, the phone guy might compliment you on being "hardcore" and suggest a low net-carb steamed cruciferous vegetable to substitute.

Nobody judges you for not eating solid food for a week there! Screwy? Maybe. But at least it owns that saunas and mustache bleach and colonics and vitamin regimens are essentially masturbatory.

Hey, guess what? Masturbation can be great! I mean, if you do it in a way that doesn't dehydrate you or give you a heart murmur.

Sure, the Master Cleanse in particular is not very well-researched and the fact that the majority of its benefits are psychosomatic in nature doesn't make it an ideal form of self-improvement. But it's not Dexadrine or back-alley lipo or riding a bike with no hands with your eyes closed down a hill like in "City of Angels."

Ultimately, if you don't like cleanses, don't do 'em. I promise not to talk about how annoying I'm being if you won't.