You've probably spotted weight-loss teas and "teatoxes" on social media. But are they actually good for you? Celebrity nutritionist, Ayurveda expert, and Well+Good Council member Kimberly Snyder has some thoughts.
There’s a good chance that at some point while scrolling through your Instagram feed, you’ve seen someone touting the miracle of weight-loss teas. And it’s easy to buy into all the hype, especially when the model praising the benefits of her “flat tummy tea” weighs 100 pounds. But if this quick fix sounds almost too good to be true, that’s because it is. Sipping on tea may seem a lot easier than making focused efforts in your fitness routine and diet, but this shortcut strategy isn’t sustainable in the long run. Moreover, some of these teas can actually do some damage to your body over time.
Tempted to try to sip your way to a fitter bod? There’s a lot you should know. Here's my comprehensive guide to weight-loss teas.
How they work
If you take a peek at the ingredients list on weight-loss teas, you’re like to see senna, aloe, dandelion leaf, buckthorn, prunella, burdock, cascara, or rhubarb root. What do these herbs have in common? They all function as laxatives or diuretics. Laxatives force your body to make more frequent bowel movements (often by triggering the GI tract muscles to contract). Diuretics, meanwhile, boost urine production. In other words, both allow you to lose weight—but it’s simply water weight.
Instagram stars touting the amazing benefits of weight-loss teas probably don’t mention the fact that laxatives are habit-forming, weaken your natural peristalsis over time (so that long-term healthy digestion actually becomes harder to achieve), and come with a bevy of health risks.
First of all, it’s important to understand that laxatives cause your stool to absorb more water (in order to add bulk and make it easier for the bowels to pass it). As a result, your body is left dehydrated. And when you’re dehydrated, your body isn’t able to absorb essential nutrients as effectively.
Now, here’s the kicker: When you aren’t absorbing those nutrients, you’re going to feel hungrier, leading you to then eat more than you would have or need to. Not the mention, diuretics and laxatives can throw your electrolytes off balance. And since these minerals play a major role in everything from your heart to your muscles, a disturbance in their levels can cause some unpleasant symptoms such as weakness, vomiting, UTIs, confusion, muscle spasms, irregular heartbeat, and even seizures.
Still not fazed? Gastroenterologist Lauretta Ihonor was so worried about the long-term effects of using herbs like senna for weight loss that she launched a change.org petition for the brand Bootea to remove senna from its detox tea ingredients. Again, using laxatives regularly creates dependency to have regular bowel movements, and as a result, you can struggle with constipation after you stop taking them. So what we are talking about is a yo-yo effect in your GI tract, which is so not a good thing.
In addition, many of these teas claim to help you shed pounds by boosting your metabolism via caffeine-packed ingredients like garcinia cambogia and ginseng. However, there’s extremely limited research on how effective these ingredients are with regard to fueling your metabolism. You may have heard that caffeine can stimulate your body to burn energy more effectively, but recent research has shown that your body builds up a tolerance to caffeine, thereby canceling out any potential benefits. Besides, with prolonged consumption, these ingredients can overstimulate your system and actually sabotage your efforts to slim down. Here’s how it works: Research has proven that caffeine dramatically increases the production of cortisol (known as the stress hormone). And as studies have shown, stress can lead to weight gain over time.
The bottom line is this: Diet teas may help you drop a couple pounds temporarily—but that’s only water and fecal weight, so you’ll probably gain that weight back once you stop drinking it. Moreover, these products come with a slew of potential health risks.
For your body to be healthy, you’re going to have to go back to basics—as in, good old-fashioned exercise, and a balanced diet consisting mainly of whole plant foods. After all, why would you want to strip your body of electrolytes, water, and other essential nutrients? Our bodies should be nourished, not punished. Most importantly, I’m a big proponent of making adjustments to your lifestyle that you can realistically adhere to long-term rather than settling for a quick fix. And since the dangers that can come with consuming weight loss teas long term simply aren’t worth the risk, you’ll need to seek out healthy habits you can stick to. You may not see instant changes, but that’s fine. It’s all about progress, not perfection.
That’s not to say I don’t recognize that real tea (read: not weight-loss tea) comes with some perks. For example, green tea is known for being chock full of antioxidants, and chamomile tea is known for helping with digestion. Studies have even shown that green tea extract can be slightly beneficial in terms of weight loss efforts, likely because it’s high in catechins (antioxidants that fuel your metabolism).
However, you should never replace a meal with a tea for weight loss. If you’re looking for a healthy breakfast or snack you can whip up quickly, my Green Tea Blueberry Smoothie is full of essential vitamins and minerals. Dharma’s Kale Salad makes a satisfying lunch in a pinch and has detoxifying benefits to boot. Instead of reaching for potentially harmful weight loss teas, try a De-Bloating Digestive Distress Elixir instead. With ginger, lemon, and fiber-packed chia seeds, it’s the perfect nutrient-dense beverage for digestive support.
Kimberly Snyder, CN, is a member of the Well+Good Council and the New York Times best‐selling author of The Beauty Detox Solution, The Beauty Detox Foods and The Beauty Detox Power, and co-author of Radical Beauty, with Deepak Chopra. Her popular beauty blog, KimberlySnyder.com, features Ayurveda-inspired recipes and products.
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