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The Rise (and Fall) of the Master Cleanse Diet

Many diets have come and go, made popular by best-selling books about them or endorsement by public figures, and then dying out after being replaced by a new diet fad. The Master Cleanse diet is a classic example of this trend.

The Master Cleanse was first introduced in the 1940’s by Stanley Burroughs as a body healing and detoxification plan. At the time, it was used by extremely health aware individuals to “cleanse” the body of harmful chemicals and toxin buildup from food and other environmental factors. The diet is meant to last anywhere from 4 to 14 days (depending on how long you can make yourself stay on it), and consists of ingesting nothing except 6 or more cups of the Master Cleanse “elixir” every day. The drink consists of water, lemon juice, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper.

The diet became extremely popular in 2007 after Beyonce announced on the Oprah Winfrey Show that the Master Cleanse helped her lose 20 pounds in 2 weeks in preparation for her movie Dreamgirls. Soon after, other celebrities such as Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore announced their own participation in the diet, and from there began the cascade of the Master Cleanse Diet. Many people tweeted about their progress in the diet, how fast they shed the pounds, even how the diet made them more energetic, lose acne, gain strength, and a variety of other positive effects. A simple Google search on the “Master Cleanse diet” would instantly display a multitude of these testimonials, mixed in with various instructions and tips on creating the concoction. However, the diet soon caught the attention of nutritionists and health experts, who uniformly criticized it by pointing out its negative effects on health (i.e. depleting the body of essential nutrients) and how the weight loss obtained from the diet was often gained back very quickly, with no lasting effects. Most experts concluded that the Master Cleanse diet is essentially equal to fasting. At the end of last year, Beyonce also publicly announced that she does not use the diet anymore, and instead eats healthy and exercises regularly to set a good example for her child. With that, the popularity of the Master Cleanse began to fade. This year it is no longer making its regular appearances in magazines and television as it once did.

So how did the Master Cleanse rise and fall so quickly? This diet had been—and still is—a celebrity favorite to lose weight quickly years before its sudden peak in popularity. The information cascade of the Master Cleanse is an interesting one; it seems that Beyonce’s announcement of her use of the diet was the tipping point in its popularity. Before her appearance on Oprah, there was definitely information regarding this diet circulating the internet as well as positive reviews of its results. However, for a diet as extreme as this one, information shared by strangers on the internet may not be strong enough arguments to overthrow one’s personal skepticisms regarding odd diets and strange elixirs (cayenne peppers with maple syrup?). But when a famous celebrity endorses this diet on a nationally acclaimed television show, the information suddenly becomes much more trustworthy. Because she is a celebrity, her information is more reliable. Additionally, viewers not just see her actions (which in this case are her words) as in a normal information cascade, but can also see what she sees, which in this case is her thin figure. In the popular example of blue and red marbles, this would be analogous to not only hearing what color the person says the marble is, but also directly seeing it. After seeing her example, other celebrities followed her lead and also publicly announced their use of the diet, making it more and more popular.

Although the Master Cleanse is a great example of how fast information cascades can build up, it also shows how easily they can be broken. As soon as negative feedback about the diet began to appear on the internet, the popularity of the diet dropped immensely. This phenomenon is similar to the buying cascades started by marketers for new products. In the beginning, consumers are only able to observe the adoption decisions but not what they think about the product. Most dieters (celebrities included) who announced their diet after Beyonce did not show their results publicly. So when negative information was introduced about the diet, participation quickly dwindled.

This trend is not unique to the Master Cleanse, but instead a phenomenon that occurs to most existing diet fabs. However, the Master Cleanse is definitely a memorable classic. Today it is most often used as a method to be used when one needs to shed pounds quickly, but not necessarily to keep them off.




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