The social media teatox

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teatox, social media, culture, health, May Loonam, Kettle Mag
Image: E Von Zita/Flickr
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After just a quick Google search, and in a matter of seconds, I'm presented with over 200 different 'teatox' or diet tea products, all with similar names and even more similar branding. It's a trend that's impossible to avoid on Instagram as everyone and their mum in the reality show sector is promoting them online.

Over the past year, the market is booming and a lot of people are well and truly getting on the social media bandwagon.

Detox teas really do seem like too much to be true. Perhaps I haven’t bought into the trend as I’m quite cynical as a person. But these brands are growing in numbers, and their presence online is rapidly expanding. They claim to aid weight loss and slimming, and usually within a time frame of 14-28 days. To get such effective results just through drinking tea is surely a dream come true - but also surely not realistic. 

So why do so many people buy into these brands?

'People want to believe it'

Stephanie Chivers, pschyologist and author of There is no magic button, thinks that the answer lies in the promise of a fast-track solution.

"People want a quick fix," Chivers said. "It’s the look in the mirror ‘god, I need to lose weight, eight stone by Saturday’ mentality. They want to lose weight, they just want something to do it for them, and so they drink the tea. I call it the ‘magic button’ mentality."

In this ever-changing digital environment, businesses need to keep up to date with all of the latest social media platforms, and seemingly Instagram in particular is being used heavily to drive the sales of these detox products. 

"I don’t think this idea is new, before social media there were women’s magazines doing the same thing, it’s just another way to sell us something," Chivers said. "People want to believe it, because they want it to work. They think ‘wouldn't it be amazing if I drank the tea and lost weight whilst not changing anything else.’"

One technique being adopted by bigger brands is the use of celebrity endorsements. Reality stars in particular can be seen posing and posting with these products in hand. 

"I think we are fascinated by people’s lives," Chivers said. "Celebrities are in our faces and we are naturally voyeuristic. We are nosey, we want to know about people, hear about people lives, so we can make sense of our own. We like to hear about people’s struggles, but also triumphs. When we see a celebrity have a hard time and then get better, it tells us that we can also improve our lives, but that also things go wrong with everyone."

"Also we build relationships with these people, so we trust them, this is all subconscious, because obviously we don’t know them and it is all controlled by the media. So if a product is endorsed by a celebrity who is popular we automatically trust it."

Companies have whole departments in control of managing various social media accounts, and in terms of brand reputation this is crucial. Lucy Stevens, Content Marketing Executive at Datify, sees the effectiveness of social media as advertising every day.

"Social media, without a doubt, is now a more effective advertising than any other, including television," Stevens said. "With TV we have become accustomed to turning off to advertisements due to catch-up and on-demand TV. It's no longer a sure-fire way to reach an audience. We spend so much time on our phone and social media these days, that it's become a natural way to influence an audience. Instagram ads are so well integrated into our feeds that they have become hard to spot as advertising at all. 

“I think with a product which is perhaps seen as taboo by certain publications, they have had to turn to different forms of marketing which have less restrictions in terms of the content they post. So while a health magazine may not feature such a product, there will be someone on social media who will. 

“There are so many fitness influencers on social media who have gained credibility simply through sharing content on social media that they have become respected industry experts themselves. Brands such as Bootea and Juice Plus have seen an opportunity to tap into this market and reach an audience through a more native from of advertising. After all, if someone we trust is endorsing a product, we all automatically buy into it.”

“I think the rise of reality TV is certainly part of why celebrities sell products. You only have to look at the Made in Chelsea stars to see evidence of this - one day they are promoting a detox tea, the next a tooth whitening kit, then maybe a hotel in the Maldives the next. It comes down to a lifestyle we as consumers aspire to live. So, while we may not have the Chelsea budget, we can at least gain a slice of this lifestyle by buying a certain product they use - or at least claim to use or endorse.

“Personally I think brands are heading to be totally based on social media, but I think that they will just continue to adapt to whatever new development is headed their way. In today's every changing digital world, brands have got to be ready to change strategy at a moment's notice. Consumers have driven this trend for brands to be online pure plays and now to social media. The change is really in their hands as to what they see as the best way to shop and engage with content.”

What is the reality?

Although the famous names and health bloggers who promote these products appear to be the vision of health, often in reality this isn’t the case. Once carefully selected, photos online go through the stages of editing and filters, and are in no way an accurate representation of real life. As a young women, every day on social media you are presented with these snapshots of someone's life, with no real grasp on what is real and what isn't.

Kirsten Davies, nutritionist, consultant in the field of eating psychology and founder of The Food Remedy, has seen the real life consequences of buying into this false reality.

"Social media is very influential, you only have to look at the rise in fame of bloggers and vloggers to see that," Davies said. "People love to buy into what they believe is real life. Social media however isn't representative of real life, it's a snap-shot moment in time that may or may not be representative of someone’s way of life. 

“I know food bloggers with eating disorders for example, however to their 120k fans on social media they are the picture of health. We all want the ‘ideal’ life, body or whatever it is that we believe will make us happy. Marketers have been marketing with celebrity brand ambassadors for years. Social media is slightly more dangerous because we are more likely to believe it will work for us as well as it has them, as we can falsely believe in our similarities. That's what good bloggers and social media starts do they hook people.

“I have seen first-hand the consequences both physically, emotionally and biochemically that these quick fix "health" products can have. They can interfere with metabolism as well as deplete any remaining self-esteem and self-belief. They can leave people feeling they or their willpower are the problem, when in fact they have just been sold a product with clever marketing and psychology triggers that was designed to fail from the start, or at least was never sustainable long term.

“People are left feeling like a failure when in-fact it's the diet industry that has sustained myths on our collective consciousness that has lead us to believe that the power to attaining our own health can be obtained by these products or anything man-made.”

Are they dangerous?

Dr Adam Simon, Chief Medical Officer at Push Doctor, points out that losing weight with laxatives is not only ineffective, but also dangerous.

"Whichever way you look at it, losing weight with laxatives is not a good idea," Simon said. "You’re actually losing water, not fat. This puts you in danger of dehydration and in any case, it’s not sustainable weight loss as you’ll quickly put it back on when you return to your regular diet. Furthermore, the laxative effect means they cause your colon to contract more than normal. However, the calories from your food are absorbed into your body earlier in the digestive process. Knowing this, any notion of weight loss goes out of the window."

Looking at the ingredients list for the various, similarly marketed, detox teas shows a pattern. There’s one ingredient that seems to crop up each time – Senna. This herbal laxative is arguably the most controversial ingredient in so-called ‘detox teas.’

“While some detox teas recommend a cycle of 28 days in order to feel the benefit, if Senna is used for more than a couple of weeks, it can cause diarrhoea and dehydration, which will put your health in danger,” Simon said.

Nutritionist Will Hawkins, also from Push Doctor, thinks that education and caution on what and why you would take supplements has become extremely important.

“Detox teas are one of the many products that have achieved a huge amount of popularity amongst the general public for a ‘quick summer-body fix.’

“There is currently no supplement on the market that has been proven to significantly reduce fat mass and promote weight loss alone. So it’s safe to say there are some very good marketing and advertising teams out there.”

It's an addiction

Not only are these ‘detox teas’ ineffective, but that common ingredient Senna is proving to be very dangerous. 

“The dangers with some of the detox tea products is that they contain a compound called Senna – a chemical which produces sennosides, known to have a laxative effect on the body by causing irritation in the bowel lining.

“Additionally, detox teas that combine caffeine with diuretics can trigger the loss of water weight. Just two cups of water weighs 0.5kg on a scale, so shedding fluid can make you look and feel lighter—even if you haven’t lost any body fat. 

“So, it seems the results from detox teas are more of a short-term/short-lived change in body composition, as opposed to the long-term/permanent change that can be achieved through a healthy energy-controlled diet and exercise.”

There are much cheaper, safer ways out there to lose weight in a steady way. Not only will you actually keep the weight off, but you also won’t be bed-bound with stomach ‘issues.’

“Your age, genes and gender primarily determine your metabolic rate. However, exercise and increasing muscle mass are the best way to boost fat metabolism.

“A well-structured diet and key meal timings are also important. Try to increase your protein intake and always eat breakfast. Whilst there are certain foods/supplements that may be useful in providing shifts in metabolism, these are minimal by comparison to the above. 

“Save your money on investing in glorified ‘teatox’ products and opt for a natural green tea. Amongst many other nutritional benefits of green tea, this may also help increase thermogenesis and help avoid any risks if ingesting any potentially dangerous ingredients to your body.”

Not only do quick-fix diet products have dangerous physical consequences, they can encourage dangerous habits. Social media brands in particular are hard to avoid and easier than ever to access – with just a scroll and a tap of a finger. Marg Oaten, from SEED Eating Disorder Service has seen the effects of drastic weight loss techniques first hand.

"People buy into these things when there could be anything in diet products from the internet," Oaten said. "People with eating disorders are in the mind-set that they will try anything and everything. It’s a dangerous and scary place. People have no idea what is in these products, but they are not prepared to give up that way of controlling their weight."

With the rise of the ‘vlogging’ culture, more and more young people are active on social media. 

"Younger people have now got more access to disposable income," Oaten said. "Now youngsters who get money from family members, are getting real amounts of money. The disposable income is there and, if they are that way inclined, they’re going to search for these products and buy into the market. They put their trust in these brands. Companies are asking famous names to promote these products to thousands of people. The number of people posts like these can reach is ridiculous.”

“People will stop at nothing if it’s working for them, it’s an addiction.”

Social media use is now integrated into society, and even more so for younger people. So-called 'health' brands and their diet products are moving with the times and using these platforms, arguably very effectively, to promote and sell products. The most worrying thing is that these young people may not be aware of these marketing techniques, and the health consequences of trying these 'detox' teas. 

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Journalism Studies graduate from The University of Sheffield