Can you lose weight on the lemonade diet?

The lemonade diet, also known as the Master Cleanse, is a liquid-only diet that involves drinking a lemonade concoction of lemon juice, maple syrup, cayenne pepper and water multiple times per day for up to 2 weeks. It was initially designed as a detox diet that claims to flush toxins from your body, but has also been promoted for quick weight loss.

This article reviews the science behind the lemonade diet and whether it can help you lose weight.

What is the lemonade diet?

The lemonade diet was created in 1940 by Stanley Burroughs and was initially marketed as a detox diet. It involves drinking 6-12 glasses per day of a lemonade-like concoction of:

  • 2 tablespoons (30 ml) of freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons (30 ml) of grade B maple syrup
  • 1/10 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 8 oz (240 ml) of water

No other foods, supplements or calories are allowed on the diet. The maple syrup is supposed to provide calories and nutrients, while the cayenne pepper is thought to boost metabolism and cleanse the body.

The diet claims to stimulate digestion and rid your body of toxins. Detoxification is attributed to the lemon juice, which contains antioxidants that help the liver produce more bile to digest fat and remove waste from your system.

Summary of the lemonade diet

Here is a quick overview of what the lemonade diet involves:

  • Drink 6-12 glasses of lemonade daily
  • Take a laxative tea at night
  • No other foods or calories allowed
  • Continue for up to 2 weeks

Proponents claim it can improve digestion, give you energy and cleanse your body of toxins. However, there is no evidence that detox diets remove toxins, and their severe calorie restriction can be dangerous.

Does the lemonade diet lead to weight loss?

The lemonade diet is a very low-calorie diet, providing fewer than 600 calories per day. For comparison, the average person needs around 2,000 calories per day to maintain their weight.

Following a very low-calorie diet causes your body to burn through glycogen stores and then fat and muscle tissue for energy. This results in quick weight loss, but it is temporary and mostly due to water weight loss.

Weight loss on a juice fast like the lemonade diet consists of:

  • Water loss: The loss of glycogen stores also flushes water out of your body. Most weight lost on this diet is from lower water weight.
  • Fat loss: Your body burns some fat for energy when following a very low-calorie diet. However, muscle loss is likely as well.
  • Muscle loss: Some of the weight lost comes from muscle mass as your body breaks down protein for energy.

Here is a table showing the expected weight loss results from following the lemonade diet:

Type of weight loss Amount lost
Water weight loss 5-10 lbs (2.3-4.5 kg)
Fat loss 3-5 lbs (1.4-2.3 kg)
Muscle loss 2-5 lbs (0.9-2.3 kg)

As you can see, most weight lost on this diet is likely from lower water weight. Some fat loss will occur, but muscle mass will be lost as well.

Additionally, if you go back to your normal eating habits after the fast, you are likely to regain much of this lost weight as your glycogen and water balance restores.

Is the lemonade diet safe?

Detox diets like the lemonade diet are considered safe for most people for a short period of up to 2 weeks. However, there are some people who should not follow a detox diet:

  • Pregnant or nursing women: Detox diets could deprive the baby of nutrients.
  • Children or adolescents: Detox diets can stunt growth.
  • People with gout: Rapid weight loss can trigger symptoms.
  • People with eating disorders: Detox diets may exacerbate eating disorders.
  • People with diabetes: Detox diets can throw off medication dosages.

Additionally, there are several potential side effects from following an extremely low-calorie diet like the lemonade diet:

  • Fatigue and weakness from lack of calories
  • Headaches, irritability and problems concentrating
  • Constipation from lack of fiber
  • Nutrient deficiencies
  • Electrolyte imbalances
  • Gallstone formation

If you experience side effects like nausea, vomiting, chest pain or trouble breathing while on the diet, you should seek medical supervision immediately.

Does the lemonade diet have any health benefits?

Proponents of the lemonade diet claim it provides a number of health benefits beyond weight loss. However, there is limited scientific evidence to support these claims.

Potential benefits include:

  • Toxin removal: No evidence detox diets eliminate toxins. Your liver and kidneys naturally filter waste.
  • Improved digestion: May be due to increased water intake, which improves bowel movements.
  • Boosted immunity: Although lemons contain vitamin C, the diet is lacking in other nutrients.
  • Clearer skin: Lemon juice has antimicrobial properties that may help acne.
  • Reduced inflammation: Animal studies show citric acid has anti-inflammatory effects.

While some benefits are possible, no quality research exists on the lemonade diet specifically. Claims about removing toxins and drastically improving health are not backed by evidence.

How to follow the lemonade diet

If you decide to try the lemonade diet, keep the following guidelines in mind:

  • Drink 6-12 glasses of lemonade daily for up to 14 days.
  • Ease into the diet slowly over 2-3 days. Wean yourself off it slowly too.
  • Take a laxative herbal tea before bed to stimulate bowel movements.
  • Drink plenty of water in addition to the lemonade drink.
  • Use fresh lemon juice and organic maple syrup only.
  • Do not follow this diet long term. 14 days is the maximum timeframe.

Be aware that you will likely get very hungry while following such a restrictive diet. Make sure you take supplements to provide electrolytes, vitamins and minerals since you will not be consuming them through food.

Safety and side effects

Be mindful of the following safety issues before trying the lemonade diet:

  • Consult your doctor first, especially if taking medications or if you have health conditions like diabetes or eating disorders.
  • Do not follow the diet for more than 14 days.
  • Watch for side effects like fatigue, nausea, headaches and electrolyte imbalances.
  • Reintroduce foods slowly after finishing the diet.
  • Be prepared to regain some weight once you resume normal eating.

Rapid weight loss from an extremely low-calorie diet like the lemonade diet causes side effects. Make sure to closely monitor your health while following this diet.

Does the lemonade diet work long-term?

The lemonade diet may cause short-term weight loss, but it is unlikely to produce long-term weight loss.

Once you finish the lemonade diet and resume eating normally, your body weight will likely bounce back up quickly as you regain the water weight and muscle mass lost.

You may have broken some of your previous eating habits during the diet, which could support more mindful eating. However, such an extreme diet is hard to maintain long term.

For sustained weight loss, most health professionals recommend a balanced diet high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean proteins and low-fat dairy. Exercise is also important for maintaining muscle mass and burning calories.

The bottom line

The lemonade diet causes short-term weight loss, but most of this weight is likely from losing water weight and muscle mass, not fat. It’s unlikely to produce long-lasting weight loss.

This diet may cause side effects including nutrient deficiencies, electrolyte imbalances, fatigue, nausea and headaches. It’s not recommended for healthy and sustainable weight loss.

If you want to lose weight, focus on consistent lifestyle changes like eating more vegetables, cooking at home, reducing processed foods and exercising more. These provide modest but sustainable weight loss for the long term.

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