I can pinpoint a few moments in my life in which I hit rock bottom. One of them, I was nineteen and the toilet paper and the bottom of the toilet I was sitting on were stained with blood. While that tends to happen every month, that time I wasn’t menstruating.
Maybe that was quite a gory introduction. Let’s take a step back.
The latest celebrity trend seems to be “cleanse” or “detox” programmes which are supposed to help with weight loss through the consumption of specific types of tea. Kylie Jenner advertised LyfeTea, for instance; Vanessa Hudgens took a cheeky selfie showing off her dose of FitTea; Ashley Tisdale did the same with Bootea. The claim is that these teas ‘detoxify’ your body from all the toxins, boost up your metabolism rate, and ultimately help you lose weight.
LyfeTea’s ‘morning tea’ contains yerba mate, moringa, green tea, guarana, ginger and lemon peel, while its ‘detox’ tea contains senna leaf and pods, dandelion leaf, chamomile and nettle leaf. FlatTummy’s “Activate Tea” contains peppermint, lemon balm, liquorice, dandelion leaf and root, cleavers, fennel, green Tea, caraway, Cardamom; its “Cleanse Tea”, instead, senna, peppermint, cassia chamaecrista, liquorice, caraway, dandelion, rhubarb.
Whilst their ingredients are natural, behind their glamorous advertisement and celebrity endorsement there is a mix of stimulants, diuretics and laxatives which, even though they can make you lose water weight, won’t make you lose fat. “Detox teas that combine caffeine with diuretics can trigger the loss of water weight. Just two cups of water weighs one pound on a scale, so shedding fluid can make you look and feel lighter—even if you haven’t lost an ounce of body fat,” explains dietician Cynthia Sass on health.com. “Detox teas can also trigger a laxative effect, which causes your body to eliminate waste from your GI tract, another result that can make your stomach flatter, and allow you to feel lighter, even if your lean-to-fat ratio remains exactly the same.”
Here’s the word: laxative. Their ingredients can have side-effects that are bad for your body. The website Diet Pills Watchdog, for instance, “rejected” Bootea’s two/four-week detox program Teatox, that comes in the form of a Daytime Tea and Nighttime Cleanse. (For the record, Flat Tummy Tea, Fit Tea and LyfeTea were also rejected.) While the pros were limited to a ‘fun’ social media presence and a “good” website, which also offers a free diet plan, the cons included negative side effects, inaccurate advertising (“Unlikely to work in the way advertised,”) and the criticism of the medical community, which is skeptic of the effectivity of cleanse teas.
The Daytime detox contains natural stimulants (maté and gotu kola leaves, ginseng roots), diuretics (fennel seeds, dandelion leaf, nettle leaves) and sources of antioxidants (Chinese Oolong tea). While none of the aforementioned ingredients is scientifically proved to cause weight loss, they will make you urinate more frequently – causing dehydration, unless you drink a lot more to compensate.
Meanwhile, the Nighttime Cleans contains: senna leaves, peppermint leaves, fenugreek seems, licorice roots, burdock root, hawthorn leaves, valerian root, psyllium seeds. Aside from valerian, a well-known remedy against insomnia, all of the above are either natural diuretics or laxatives.
Long story short, in all these cases, the possible prospect is to spend quite some time on your toilet seat.
Senna, for instance, is an FDA-approved nonprescription laxative used to treat constipation. The National Library of Medicine labels it as ‘possibly unsafe’ when taken long-term. “Don’t use senna for more than two weeks. Longer use can cause the bowels to stop functioning normally and might cause dependence on laxatives,” it reads. “Long-term use can also change the amount or balance of some chemicals in the blood (electrolytes) that can cause heart function disorders, muscle weakness, liver damage, and other harmful effects.”
Detox teas are often four-week programmes and are a combination of laxatives and diuretics.
This is what happens with senna: its chemicals, called sennossides, irritate the lining of the bowel, which causes a laxative effect while also affecting electrolytes balance. Slowly, your bowel becomes reliant on their stimulation to work. That’s when the addiction begins.
“My advice with there products is to stay away,” Lucy from “Lucy Locket Loves”, a personal trainer and nutrition coach from Sheffield, tells CelebMix. She suggests a “healthy and balanced diet and exercise,” rather than “dehydrating” your body. “[Which] is unhealthy and not a sustainable weight loss. You’ll only put it back on as soon as you stop.”
“Plus,” she adds, “long term use of senna can cause your bowels to stop working properly and could cause dependance on laxatives. You shouldn’t take them for more than 5-7 days consecutively without being under prescription.”
So, here’s the thing: you might think, “A cup of tea won’t harm me,” and you’ll drink it. Then, the next day, you might make yourself another one, because why not?, and you’ll pour it down again. And again, and again, and again. Then, slowly, after a few weeks or months, you might notice that your body can’t quite function without help – you feel too full, bottled up, last night’s food still stuck and heavy in your belly. Rationally, you know that your digestive apparate might be getting lazy. It makes sense, doesn’t it, that your body might be getting unable to function properly without help? Irrationally, however, the number on your scale was going down, and now that you can’t have your two (three, four) daily visits to the bathroom, that number is stalling. And we can’t have that, can we? So, you keep drinking. But the easiest paths are rarely the right ones.
Believe me, I know that. Been there, done that.
The first time I remember taking laxatives, I was eighteen. After I had starved myself until my mother had dragged me to a doctor and blackmailed me into eating one year prior, my fresh new diet was a two-week cycle in which I starved myself for one, restricting my intake to 500 calories a day while sweating my ass off at the gym, and then binge-ate my way through the next. I was able to cyclically lose and gain more than six pounds a week. My tactic during the ‘fasting’ week was to drink as much tea as I could until I felt no longer hungry. Not only I drank a lot, but I drank a lot of – surprise, surprise – detox and digestive teas.
Then, slowly, they stopped working. My body was so reliant on natural laxatives that not only my bowel wouldn’t function without, but their effect was very bland, basically nonexistent, unless I drank huge quantities. In one word: addicted. That’s what I was. So, one day, I decided that it was time to move onto actual laxatives.
One year later, I had taken so many that I was bleeding, and I was alone, and I was panicking.
You want to lose weight, and that’s understandable. You don’t want to be forced to stay at home because you don’t know when the laxative will kick in. You don’t want to spend NYE glued to the toilet because you preventively drank a laxative tea before NYE’s dinner when all of your family is upstairs celebrating. You don’t want to take a spoonful of granulate laxatives and swallow them down with a glass of water even though you’re nauseated by their colour. You don’t want to cry alone, in your bathroom, and think, ‘I’m pathetic.”
I am by no means saying that following a cleanse programme will irremediably compromise your bowel function, cause all the mentioned side-effects and make you develop an eating disorder in one month, because it won’t. According to the National Library of Medicine, with senna, the time to onset of liver injury in several clinical cases was usually “after 3 to 5 months of use,” and “the liver injury was usually mild-to-moderate in severity and resolved rapidly with discontinuation.” In short, it takes months, if not years, to develop an addiction to laxatives and affect permanently your bowel function. It takes a while before you’re sitting on a toilet, bleeding out of your bum. In regards to eating disorders, well – clearly, that was a problem I had whether I purged or starved myself.
What I am saying is that it’s a very addictive slippery slope. You will find that they do work for a while, because they will literally make you flush your weight away, but it’s not a weight loss plan that works in the long run – meanwhile, instagram stars and celebrities are making money off your insecurities, at the possible expense of your wellbeing. Ask yourself: is it worth it? Losing weight – is it worth my money? Is it worth my health?
It’s not worth it. It never is. All those instagram models are lying to you. If you want to lose weight, go for it: go to the gym, exercise, see a doctor, come up with a healthy and balanced diet plan. But do it for yourself and do it safely. You need to be happy and be healthy, and that doesn’t come with a number on a scale or with a laxative-induced flat stomach. You’re always, always, worth more than that.
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