Though it seems to be growing in popularity, the "teatox" isn't all it's cracked up to be, with consequences for both physical and mental health. The concept of the "teatox" started in Australia -- drink herbal tea blends throughout the day and then a different one before bed to purge the colon, reduce bloating, and flush "toxins" to look thinner.
Sounds good in theory. I mean, don't we all want to be regular, have a flat belly, and look good in skinny jeans and a bikini?
And, as I've written about before, both tea and herbs can offer a lot of wellness benefits, when taken in the right amount and the right context.
But as with any easy weight loss scheme or quick fix, the consequences come later.
When Regular Becomes Too Much
Most teatoxes are sold as a "cleanse," or a way to purge toxins, and the easiest way to do that is through the colon; that's why many contain strong laxatives.
The most commonly used laxative is Senna, and like all laxatives, the U.S. FDA has issued a warning to consumers about the use of laxatives. One of the concerns with Senna is that it is habit-forming, which means that the more you take it, the more reliant you become on it to go, or constipation sets in because the bowels become sluggish and lazy.
When going to the bathroom that much with consuming laxative and diuretic (water-flushing) herbs, it's easy to become dehydrated. Reports of teatox consumers include dizziness, fainting, and weakness, which medical tests showed to be dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, and undernourishment due to vitamins and minerals not be absorbed. Reports even tell the story of a 17-year-old girl who ended up in the hospital with severe cramps, extreme pain, and mild shock from the "cleansing action."
Other teatox drinkers have had yet stranger consequences: failure of their birth control pill. Because of the laxative action, a birth control pill taken with the tea is flushed out without being metabolized and made effective.
A Quick Fix is Not a Fix
As we've seen, Senna and other laxatives should not be taken long term. Therefore, the teatox is not a sustainable approach to weight loss or weight loss maintenance.
Any good health, nutrition, or weight loss coach teaches that long-term weight loss is about changing habits, eating a reasonable diet, and getting moderate exercise. Relying on cleanses, detox teas, laxatives, and excess stimulants to be skinny may seem effective for a few days, but upon returning to previous diet and habits, the weight rebounds, and oftentimes the scale is higher than before.
A teatox doesn't change body composition (the ratio of fat to lean mass), especially since the body can't absorb nutrients to build muscle (from the laxative effect). In the long-term this likely results in the decrease of muscle and strength, both of which are necessary to maintain metabolism. Not only is a teatox not sustainable, without habit and nutrition changes, the (supposed) results of the teatox won't last either.
Yo-Yo Now, Yo-Yo Later
Since the teatox is sold as a easy way to get thin fast, it teaches a binge-restrict mentality. "Eat whatever you want now because later you'll do a teatox and get cleansed." A healthy body and weight doesn't come from gorging now, and then starving the body nutritionally with a teatox program. This notion primes consumers, especially women, for disordered eating patterns.
What's worse is this binge-to-detox template leads to severely fluctuating weight, which for so many who subscribe to the teatox, is often linked to their body confidence and self-esteem. Now both the weight and emotions are on a constant roller coaster -- good for teatox companies trying to sell more, bad for otherwise healthy, happy women.
The feast-famine mindset, along with the (often unattainable) super-skinny look promoted by teatox companies, easily sets up young women for a lifetime of body and weight hate, yo-yo dieting, and metabolic derailment, which can take years to overcome.
Investing in good habits, opting for portion-controlled nutrient-dense foods, and cultivating practices that support good digestion will achieve the same look as a teatox, but is a much healthier approach that's sustainable for the long-term, and results in a happier, more confident person.