(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times / June 8, 2012)

In an essay for the website Thought Catalog, editor Ryan O'Connell describes his attempt at the Ritual Cleanse. He decided to try the juice fast, he says, after reading another writer's account of it. But O'Connell, 25, harbored no illusions about the health benefits of the cleanse.

"Let's not get it twisted — it's total crap," he said. "It's starvation nation. It was more of a personal goal, like, 'let me see if I can do this.'"

Vogue food critic Jeffrey Steingarten, who embarked on the Master Cleanse and documented his experiences in an article in the magazine's May 2012 issue, had entirely different reasons for trying the cleanse. After picking up a particularly persistent stomach bug while sampling Southern food, he decided to try to flush his system.

He decided on the Master Cleanse, he says, only after realizing that juice fasts consist of more of what he calls "bitter" kale juice than sweet, tropical beverages.

"They encourage you to drink green juice, and it is really awful," he said. "Once I knew I couldn't just drink piles of pineapple juice and apple juice, I decided I would do the Master Cleanse."

The verdict

Both Steingarten, 70, and O'Connell reported being miserable throughout their cleanses. After two days, O'Connell said, he all but gave up.

"I think I had Stockholm syndrome," he says. "I was so hungry, and the next day I had trouble writing — I couldn't do my job. They say it makes you focus, and I'm like, 'Focus on what? Food?'"

Steingarten adds that he lost a certain sense of joy as the days wore on.

"Food kind of accompanies me on my journey through life, especially given my profession, on my journey as a food writer," he says. "One loses that source of happiness."

The experience is in keeping with what Youdim would expect. "The potential side effects include being irritable, having anxiety or insomnia, and some physical discomfort," she said.

But while O'Connell said that he would never go back to it — "I betrayed my body; I took it down a dark path and I would never disrespect it like that again," he says — Steingarten, who has appeared frequently as a judge on shows like "Iron Chef America" and says he lost four pounds on Master Cleanse, felt differently.

"I'm considering doing it again for various professional reasons," he said. "I have some television I have to do, and I wouldn't mind looking skinnier. Talk shows, news shows, panels — they don't like showing fat people."