Nothing Tastes as Good as Skinny Feels

(Corrects Erica Jones' name in first paragraph.)

Zoe Sakoutis and Erica Jones met in 2000, during the unfolding of Manhattan's Carrie Bradshaw decade. Both bartenders at the swank Hudson Hotel, they spent a lot of time hanging out with girlfriends, swilling frilly drinks, and trying to stay skinny. Perplexed by faddish diets (Atkins, South Beach) that allowed weight watchers to nosh while avoiding certain food groups (carbs, saturated fats), Sakoutis had an epiphany: to revitalize another faddish diet involving no solid food at all.

In 2006, Sakoutis began studying the effects of three-to-five-day, juice-only "cleanses" at the Ann Wigmore Natural Health Institute in Puerto Rico. After experiencing increased energy while losing body fat, she says she realized "this was an amazing thing that needed to be brought to the masses!" In January 2007, she and Jones founded BluePrintCleanse and began selling organic juice drinks to friends. Today, the company employs 70 workers in its Long Island City kitchen and Manhattan headquarters. Assistants send support e-mails to fretful first-time cleansers while delivery men drop off juices—costing up to $85 per day—at customers' doorsteps. The company now has "several thousand" clients, including juicers in Canada and Hawaii, who cleanse anywhere from twice a year to once every six weeks.

BluePrint sits atop a burgeoning cleansetocracy that includes New York-based Organic Avenue and the Los Angeles-based duo iZO Cleanze and Cooler Cleanse. This form of power juicing has become the au courant how-to-get-thin-quick scheme of landed urbanites, with boutique cleanses taking up an increasing corner of the diet industry, recently valued at nearly $60 billion by Marketdata Enterprises. "Every company seems to have a line of juices these days, and since it's everywhere, everyone is doing a cleanse," says Dr. Lindsey Duncan, a Los Angeles-based nutritionist with three decades of experience. "It's the typical Western mentality: If two is good, then I'll take 22." Duncan should know. He sells his own line of cleansing juices, Genesis Today, in Wal-Marts (WMT) and Walgreens (WAG) across the country. Duncan suggests that his clients cleanse at the turn of every season. "Your energy is up, your mood is up, your mind is up," he says. "Just like a nice spring cleaning."

In addition to juices, cleansing companies are also selling an ideology. According to the BluePrint bible, after a three-day juice-only regimen, the body will "rid itself of old built-up matter and cleanse the blood." After five days, it will begin "the process of rebuilding and healing the immune system." Ten days? It will "take care of problems before they arise." The company says: "The only potentially severe side effect of this program is finally fitting into your 'skinny' jeans." Though that may depend on one's definition of severe. According to Dr. Michael D. Gershon, the chairman of Columbia University's department of anatomy and cell biology, there's "nothing but danger associated with" cleansing. "It is a practice to be condemned," he says.

Still, many appear willing to endure the potential danger of limiting their diet to 1,000 or so liquid calories per day. And while such luxe asceticism may seem like a shortsighted method of avoiding the gym, it does represent some sort of revolution in crash dieting. After decades of trendy weight-loss schemes, it was only a matter of time before haute fasting became fashionable. Cleansing was started in the 1940s by Stanley Burroughs, the godfather of the master cleanse—a 10-day detoxathon that requires converts to drink nothing but a concoction of water, cayenne pepper, maple syrup, and lemon juice. Newer companies offer riffs on Burroughs' concoction, building on the simple formula with juices made of kale, celery, apples, and other fruits and vegetables—all churned together into a Ghostbusters-like slime—and shipped to soccer moms' doorsteps. None have the definitive proof of science behind them.

BluePrint says its clients are about 80 percent female, typically aged between 26 and 42, educated, healthy, and wealthy enough to spend as much for a week of celery and beet juice as they might on a Marc Jacobs handbag. They're not exactly the masses, and that is the point. BluePrint has transformed home-delivered refrigerator packs of juice into an organic luxury item. While the biggest customers tend to be prospective brides, the fashion crowd, and power moms—"A lot of mommies," Huss Jones emphasizes—the cleansing trade's base remains its celebrity clientele. In 2008, Oprah completed a 21-day cleanse; Beyoncé cleansed to lose weight before shooting Dreamgirls; and perennial cougar Demi Moore admits to cleansing regularly with husband Ashton Kutcher.

Organic Avenue President Doug Evans says his business exploded in 2008 when Gwyneth Paltrow plugged the company on her lifestyle e-newsletter, Goop. Now, he says, Russell Simmons, Eva Mendes, and Naomi Watts are dedicated customers. While Organic Avenue sold about 700 $200 cleanse packages for all of 2006, last December "we sold 700 in one day," says Evans. The company, which has grown to six boutiques in Manhattan and one in Southampton, N.Y., now ships its liquid goods all across the country. Evans says his 2010 sales were around $4 million.

He and other juice companies can expect to face stiff competition from Pressed Juicery, a newly opened store in West Hollywood helmed by former TV producer Hayden Slater and erstwhile publicist Carly Brien. According to Us Weekly, Nicole Richie is already a happy customer. Perhaps more menacing is Cooler Cleanse, actress Salma Hayek's growing premium juice delivery service.

The fan base continues to expand outside Hollywood, too. Kathie Legg, who works in the social media department of the Democratic National Committee in Washington, D.C., began cleansing about a year and a half ago to combat the effects of her unhealthy diet. "I'm not a healthy eater," she concedes. "I eat pizza and burgers, and I was eating every meal out." The 110-pound Legg has cleansed "countless" times since then. She and her fiancé even signed up for BluePrint's Diamond wedding package in preparation for their July nuptials.

BluePrint has also made its way into the province of martinis and steaks. "We've got Wall Street and an incredible corporate clientele that you'd think would have nothing to do with this!" says Huss Jones. Max Haller, a 31-year-old investment analyst at Barclays (BCS) in New York, has completed three BluePrint cleanses. "When I first did it, my buddies at work were like, 'What the hell are you doing?'" he says. "But a couple of them have done it since." Haller says he doesn't cleanse to shed weight from his 6'3", 220-pound frame, although he lost about 12 pounds during a recent five-day program, which, he says, "reset" him. When one of his friends asked him if he was going to gorge on steak and martinis after his last day of juicing, he realized, "I wasn't even interested."

With even bacon-obsessed men jumping on board, the boutique cleansing business is finally transcending its cult status—what Sakoutis calls "this underground place that it has been for so long." BluePrint now offers a line of raw, vegan meals and is testing sales of à la carte juice bottles in Whole Foods. Huss Jones says the company is considering morphing into its own über-healthy lifestyle brand. Perhaps BluePrint-sponsored Pilates retreats and a yoga pant line will be on the horizon. Or a BluePrintCleanse cruise. At least everyone would look good in a bikini.

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