Confession of a Mastercleanser • 18 April 2007

Quiz. List your associations for the Master Cleanse:

Hippies. Socially “acceptable” eating disorders. Freaky online support groups for how to subsist—up to 60 days!—on Grade B Maple Syrup and lemons. Trauma to the insides. Persons afflicted with OCD. The “tongue coat.” Analysis of bowel movements.

Let’s stop right there. That’s enough reason to be shy.

Fasting, cleansing, and de-toxing have always struck me as pseudoscientific self-torture programmes, for people who have a big gulf between what food they want with their senses and what they want with their intellects. They were a creepy external self-control structure that traumatizes the body, though what we should really be doing is eating well all the time, without the drama of weird habit-cycles.

That write-off came from experience. In 2000, I moved to Seattle after a year in Managua. My new naturopath, a professor of Chinese medicine, was horrified by the crop of giardia, and “aomebas,” and the tapeworm, in my gut. He supervised an herbal and dietary de-tox that killed the parasites and took out my functional intestines along with them. I learned a lot about nutrition and my body through the process, but it took the digestive system months to recover. I concluded that it was better to choose to love eating what the body said it loved, as a regular thing, and get over inherited baggage about food as a reward or a transgression. (Over the years, I slowly learned to hear and be kinder to that body, which I had never really noticed before the trauma.)

But. That might be a privileged, oversimple, conclusion. Sometimes life does close in on the body and the space we have to dialogue with it. There was some bad drama that went down here last October, and a dissertation defense in December, and three crazy months of yoga training that ended last month. As I’ve mentioned in this space, in the pause and the end of that long exhale, I inclined toward a renewal ritual. Then I got a deep tissue massage, and the therapist let me have it. Quite the worked-out, open set of systems you’ve got there, so what in the hell are you doing to your kidneys?! Why not let them serve you instead of torturing them?

Mmm. Could it be the trailmix habit? There’s also the matter of the espresso and the coffee shop bagel tendency. Maybe this is what happens when you’re sad for two months, and then don’t cook for three. All while avoiding campus to work in cafes. So it goes, sometimes; but the therapist wasn’t shy. He pointed me to a tableau of re-set buttons and lobbied for the herbal method.

I re-did the research, figuring it was outdated from 2000. But what I chose was the no-frills, old-school, hippie ass approach—because it’s cheap and simple (I want a method that restores energy, not takes it), and because the research sample size is huge: thousands of people have done this thing and written out the effects.

I went to the Co-op grocery, found Grade B Maple Syrup on an April-long sale (confirmation that a covert-MC crowd is lurking), and got through the line without a checker hollering out about a Mastercleanser on register 2. And in the past 11 days, I mostly got away with the secret, except for ducking AP’s claim that I’m looking strangely good, and ducking out of a buffet line at a wedding (bad form, that: wedding cake’s important). But this is confessional week; and besides, I broke the fast this morning with an orange juice toasted to another’s coffee.

It’s been mostly uninteresting, interestingly. The MC fora online are full of insanity and trauma, which I guess happens when you go cold turkey on caffeine, meat, wheat, cheese and cigarettes all at once. And they’re full of glow, of the same excited souls 8 on, who see god in the form of a clean stool and a temporary freedom from their cravings and self-afflicting senses of hamburger-entitlement. Most people loose a ton of weight (I lost none), get tired (I did astanga and work as normal), and finish with incredible infusions of empowerment and vitality (um, whatever). Apart from those who are clearly using the MC as training wheels for an eating disorder, they’re completely inspiring.

In my case, it’s just been quiet. No trauma, no victory. But a holiday for the digestive system; a break from shopping and food preparation and asking myself if I’m hungry. Now that I’m edging back in to eating (orange juice today, tomorrow a little vegetable broth), I think I’ll reflect more on why this has been, and the ways in which I really did experience the fast as a ritual renewal. Lent for the semi-hindoo set.

While the quiet of the past 10 days was so nice, I expect this liminal time will be more intense and give me more content on which to reflect. The fast is easy: defined, simple, rigid. But leaving it peacefully, and understanding what the body has to say about it, and what she actually wants, might be hard.

Today, I mauled a bowl of warm steelcut oats with cinnamon and apples and walnuts, experiencing it in every way except for swallowing. Dear GAWD thank you for warm mushy cinnamon foods. And for life, and a body, and for things that grow, and for the workers who bring them. Om Shanti. Amen.