Why Instagram’s Favorite Diet —
The appeal of detox tea is straightforward and endlessly promising: drink me and be thin. You don’t have to look very far to see detox tea companies equating thinness to health, and then turning around and selling you a thinner version of yourself in the convenient form of a celebrity-endorsed Instagram post and a few dedicated swigs of tea.
The sales model is one that detox tea giants Skinny Mint, SkinnyMe, Flat Tummy Tea, Slendertoxtea, Bootea, and Skinny Teatox have capitalized on.
With promises of weight loss often directly in the company names, it’s clear that “detoxing” has become a convenient euphemism for what these teas really are: glorified, and potentially harmful, weight loss supplements.
The do-nothing-and-be-rewarded mentality is reminiscent of sketchy diet pills Hydroxycut and Lipozin, only this time the message has been diluted through a seemingly innocuous substance. Tea is synonymous with comfort.
It is safe and familiar. There is no way it could ever hurt anyone more than the possibility of a burnt tongue. Now that it also promises the benefit of effortless weight loss, it’s only natural we would want to try a cup.
But when it comes to detoxification, Stella Metsovas, a gut health specialist and California-based certified clinical nutritionist, is quick to warn against placing too much faith in something marketing itself as a quick fix: “The golden rule of creating a healthy digestive tract is to never rely on a product for the relief of ailments constipation, or that believing a supplement is going to detox your gut from harmful bacteria — they should always be considered as ‘in addition to’ a healthy diet,” Metsovas tells Teen Vogue. “Nothing will magically detox your digestive tract — which includes your colon — unless your diet has a large percentage of plant-based fibers.”
Yet the magical promise of weight loss and detoxification through tea seems to be working: to date the #teatox hashtag alone has spawned over 300,000 Instagram posts.
And celebrities Kylie Jenner, Vanessa Hudgens, and Lindsey Lohan have all posted pictures endorsing various brands.
Despite there being no hard evidence backing the claims made by tea companies that detox teas cleanse human cells, the industry has, by all accounts, flourished.
Beyond the inspirational Instagram posts and glamorous celebrity endorsements, the hype behind detox tea doesn’t quite add up: how can tea alone make you lose weight? The answer, it turns out, is that it can’t. At least not in any way you want to experience.
Detox tea programs usually come in two parts: a daytime tea, and a nighttime one. The daytime tea is riddled with caffeine from blends of yerba mate, guarana, and green tea. Caffeine is known to have a diuretic effect.
While some studies have shown a link between caffeine consumption and weight loss, others have also gone on to find a link between caffeine consumption and weight gain, leaving the evidence for weight loss from caffeine consumption in the dark.
But daytime teas don’t stop at caffeine: some also contain dandelion root, another known diuretic. “The weight loss [from detox teas] is primarily, and probably all, water weight,” Dr. Karin Kratina, a nationally recognized nutrition therapist, tells Teen Vogue.
“If true weight loss occurs, it is because a caloric deficit also occurred from a change in eating habits.”
The nighttime tea — billed as the “cleansing and detoxification tea” — is where the real weight loss, or “detoxification,” happens. This is largely due to senna root and leaf. Senna is an FDA-approved laxative used to treat constipation and clear the bowels of patients pre-colonoscopy.
It works by irritating the colon to empty its contents and is known as a “stimulant” laxative. Basically, ingesting senna is going to make you have go to the bathroom… a lot. And afterwards you’re going to feel lighter because you have successfully emptied out the entire contents of your intestines.
While pooping out a pound or two might seem an activity that’s innocent enough, the laxative process isn’t usually quick or painless. As ridiculous as it sounds, trips to the bathroom can take hours to complete after senna use.
It’s why you’ll find warnings “ensure you have ready access to a toilet during the day until you know how your body reacts to the tea” on nighttime detox teas.
A Brief History of Instagram’s Trouble With ‘Weight-Loss Tea’
Do you want a lithe, toned body that absolutely does not take multiple photo-editing apps to achieve? Do you want to be a person whose hair and makeup look red-carpet-ready immediately after leaving the gym? Do you want to eat only photogenic smoothie bowls and be utterly unfazed by the fact that they are cold yogurt soup? Try this tea! The 30-Day Detox Starter Pack is now only $85—just use my promo code below. Oh, by the way: #ad.
On Instagram, gorgeous influencers peddling “fitness” or “detox” teas (along with “hair vitamins,” “appetite suppressant” lollipops, and other supplements) are so common your eyes have probably stopped seeing them.
Everyone on the platform seems to start their day by slurping down some concoction of herbs, mushrooms, or algae powders.
Among the most ubiquitous tea companies claiming to be able to help you lose weight, stop your migraines, unclog your arteries, and cure cancer and the common cold is Teami, whose products have been promoted by celebrities Cardi B.
Naturally, no scientific evidence exists to support the claims, and the influencers who work with Teami routinely fail to disclose that they’re being paid for the posts.
Today they had to answer to the Federal Trade Commission, which has made an official complaint about the company’s misleading marketing tactics. The FTC wants Teami to forfeit $15.2 million, the sum total of its questionable sales.
Neither Teami nor Cardi B immediately responded to request for comment.
Teas promising improbable results—most often related to weight loss—have been a staple of Instagram influencer marketing for at least five years, which constitutes half of the app’s existence.
For whatever reason, tea companies have always been especially successful at attracting celebrity endorsements: Kylie Jenner and several other members of the Kardashian clan, rappers Nicki Minaj and Iggy Azalea, singer Jordin Sparks, and megapopular fitness influencers Katya Elise Henry have all promoted teas claiming to help your lose weight and reduce bloating to achieve an Instagrammably flat stomach. Maybe celebrities really love tea; maybe tea marketing is uncommonly lucrative. Considering that Teami is reportedly unable to pay the $15.2 million the FTC has ordered and has settled with the FTC for a much lower payment of $1 million, they might be paying a little too well.
The widespread backlash against these products has been at least as notable as the ceaseless promotion of them. In 2015, UK-based tea merchant Bootea faced criticism for allegedly causing a rash of unwanted pregnancies (nicknamed “Bootea babies”).
The tea’s ingredients can decrease the effectiveness of birth control pills, and women claimed the company did not make this abundantly clear.
Since then, companies Teami, FitTea, and Flat Tummy Co (along with the celebrities endorsing them) have faced complaints from people who question not only the lack of scientific backing but the diet culture that promotes thinness as wellness and uses celebrities with access to plastic surgeon and personal trainers to promote expensive products that are unly to produce the results customers are looking for. Often, the side effects of these teas include nausea, cramps, and diarrhea. Companies often frame the discomfort as a positive, a sign of “toxins” leaving the body. In reality, nearly all of these teas contain an herb called senna, which is a natural laxative. Any weight lost on a “teatox” is ly to be mostly water—and poop.
In 2018, The Good Place actress Jameela Jamil made headlines by calling out other celebrities, including Khloe Kardashian and Cardi B, for promoting detox teas. “I hope all these celebrities shit their pants in public,” Jamil tweeted.
When the backlash has gotten particularly intense, the Kardashians and other celebrities have been known to delete posts praising these products, but the first real consequences of the detox tea drama didn’t appear until 2019.
Last year, Instagram announced that it would be restricting posts promoting diet teas, shakes, and lollipops, showing them only to users over the age of 18. The policy also made weight-loss profiteering a violation of community guidelines.
If a post included a miraculous weight-loss claim and a commercial offer ( a discount code), it was headed for a ban.
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