Social media is amazing. It allows people around the world to stay connected and can be a great source of entertainment especially while stuck at home. However, amidst the hilarious videos, beautiful photography, and endless memes, some creators are using social media to spread dangerous messages.
Fixation on weight and body image is nothing new. Americans spend about 60 million dollars on diet and weight loss products annually, so it is no surprise that in our diet-driven culture, entire communities around fitness and weight loss have emerged on social media. However, unlike the weight loss tricks and supplements advertised on TV 20 years ago, the visually driven and fast-paced culture created by the media constantly reminds us of the lifestyles of others, and comparison becomes almost inevitable.
On platforms like YouTube and TikTok, videos by creators highlighting what they eat in a day can wrack up millions of views. They can be extremely entertaining and inspiring when looking for new recipe ideas or creative ways to spice up your meals. However, some “What I Eat in a Day” videos have a darker undertone. Videos titled “What I Eat in a Day to Lose Weight (1200 Calories)” and “What I Eat in a Day to Lose Weight FAST” promote extreme caloric restriction with an emphasis on short-term weight loss solutions. Creators often promote “cleanses” and “detoxes” using a variety of substances from celery juice to apple cider vinegar that they claim help them “debloat” and “lose weight quickly.”
Many companies have seen the rise of social media influencers and popularity of detoxes as a lucrative opportunity. Brands like Teami, Flat Tummy Co, SkinnyFit, and FitTea use influencers to promote their products all over Instagram, Twitter, and other sites. These “teatox” companies often claim that their product will help consumers “lose weight,” “debloat,” and “flatten stomachs.” Seeing influencers like the Kardashians and Cardi B advertising these teatoxes is extremely troubling considering that most of these products are not FDA approved and their claims are not backed by science.
In March of this year, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) launched a complaint against Teami, a teatox previously promoted by Cardi B. According to the FTC complaint, Teami falsely advertised their product as helping consumers lose weight, fight cancer, clear clogged arteries, decrease migraines, treat and prevent flus, and treat colds. “Companies need to back up health claims with credible science and ensure influencers prominently disclose that they’re getting paid to promote a product,” said Andrew Smith, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.
Not only are companies falsely advertising, but they are also putting consumers in danger. Most teatoxes are made from herbal teas which are unregulated by the FDA. In most teatox regimens, the active ingredient in the tea is senna, an herb known for its laxative effect. The side effects from consumption of the herb can range from nausea and headaches to dizziness, abdominal cramping, and severe dehydration. In addition, long-term use of laxative products like senna is associated with damage to the intestinal system. “Long-term, frequent use, or use of high doses has been linked to serious side effects including laxative dependence and liver damage,” warns the National Institute of Health.
The weight loss advertised by teatox companies using senna is a result of fluids lost by the laxative effect on the colon. Essentially, this means that “your lean to fat ratio remains exactly the same” says Health magazine. Research shows that this type of weight loss is ineffective and any weight will be regained after eating a normal meal. Not to mention that the idea of a product or drink “detoxifying” the body is a complete hoax. “Your body has its own built-in detoxification system that works 24/7 — your liver, which dismantles toxins, and your kidneys, which flush out these waste products,” nutritionist Karen Ansel told Self. There is absolutely no evidence to show that consuming teatox products enhances the body’s natural detoxification systems.
Fortunately, some influencers are determined to expose teatox companies and end the perpetuation of harmful weight loss myths on social media. Actress Jameela Jamil has voiced her concerns about teatoxes, calling out influencers who are working with skinny tea brands. “I was the teenager who starved herself for years, who spent all her money on these miracle cures and laxatives and tips from celebrities on how to maintain a weight that was lower than what my body wanted it to be,” Jamil tweeted. “I was sick, I have had digestion and metabolism problems for life.”
Detox teas feed off of a culture of insecurity and fixation on weight and appearance. This toxic culture has been fed by social media. Images of thin, toned celebrities and models are plastered all around us, making comparison far too easy. Teatox companies are selling a shortcut to weight loss. Unfortunately, taking this shortcut can lead to long-term damage to physical and mental health. There is no such thing as the perfect body and we should not support a system that constantly tells women they need to change themselves. Don’t buy into detox culture and boycott the influencers that support these companies. Any product that tells people they need to change themselves will never be worth it.