With large investment and shameless celebrity advertising ‘detox teas’ have rapidly become one of the biggest fads in the fitness and wellness industry in an attempt to get that beach bikini body, beach body ready and such like. Detox companies claiming that they can help you lose up to a stone in 14 days without exercise or calorie restriction- it all sounds too good to be true. So is it?
How do Detox Teas Claim to Work?
Most of the ‘teatox’ websites that we visited claimed that their teas work synergistically with exercise and healthy eating to reduce weight and cleanse the body of nasty toxins. Just have a cup of secret blend day time tea every morning and a cup of night time tea every other night for 14 days, sit back and watch the weight fall off.
What is the Difference between the Teas?
Most claim to improve energy levels, increase metabolism (burn more calories) and suppress appetite. Common ingredients amongst these teas are; green tea, yerba mate, guarana extract and dandelion extract, providing you with around 80mg caffeine (similar to a small cup of coffee).
Most claim to reduce bloating and cleanse the body of toxins. Common ingredients are peppermint, senna leaves and psyllium husk.
What Effect do they have on the Body?
Caffeine in the morning tea will give you a boost at the start of the day.
Pros: Caffeine will temporarily make you feel more alert and awake, great if you are not a morning person. It also increases lipolysis- the conversion of body fat to free fatty acids.
Cons: The same effects from caffeine (if not more) can be achieved with a regular cup of tea or coffee. Although it increases lipolysis of fat, this does not mean your body will use it to create energy- fat metabolism is a complex process with other limiting factors. Without exercise and a caloric deficit a diet supplementing caffeine will have virtually no effect on your body composition.
Senna leaves and psyllium husk both have a laxative effect, moving food and waste through your digestive tract.
Pros: If your diet does not include enough fibre you may find that you bowl movements are irregular. The mild laxative effect will help you to pass stool 3-8 hours after taking it.
Cons: Gut health is incredibly important and if you do not have regular bowl movements or struggle to pass stool be sure you are eating at least 20-40g of fibre and drinking 2-3 litres of water daily. The laxative effect will stop proper absorption of any food (or medication) ingested around 3 hours either side of drinking the tea- meaning you may not properly digest and absorb the nutrients/medication. This is dangerous if you are already on a low calorie diet or on important medication- laxative teas have already been linked with unexpected pregnancies by women on the pill.
So it seems the teas don’t seem to have much direct effect on weight loss or metabolism, but many companies make claims that they will detox your body- ‘flushing out’ nasty toxins and chemicals built up from eating food- so are they worth it for this affect alone?
We asked UoB Lecturer Scott Robinson MSc CISSN Performance Nutritionist & Exercise Physiologist for his opinion on the body’s ability to detoxify itself and whether detox teas are needed, or would have any effect:
“Teatox diets have taken to the nation with whipping speed and haste in recent months. These diets offer a new alternative to the infamous detox diets and involve consuming flavonoid-rich tea in an attempt to detoxify the body (whatever that means!), lose weight and boost energy.
Although there are an overwhelming number of bold claims that emphasise the effectiveness of Teatox diets for such outcomes, I would like to stress that these claims are not supported by any published research (none, zilch, ZERO!). The reason companies are allowed to place a list of unsubstantiated claims on their products is because they are considered dietary supplements as oppose to foods, which unfortunately means that they do not need to prove any of the claims listed.
The sheer lack of evidence behind Teatox means that we, Guru Performance Ltd, would never recommend these diet types to any of our clients. Instead, we believe that focus should be placed upon eating well (enjoying real food) and exercising regularly (using forms of exercise that the client enjoys and can adhere to in the long-term). Whilst perhaps not as snazzy as ‘Teatox’, this is unequivocally the mainstay for improving health / well-being, body composition and energy.”
Suggested Low Calorie Diets and Training while on a Teatox:
Most of the companies encourage you to follow a ‘healthy’ eating plan and training programme while on your ‘teatox.’ They are happy to provide them to you (usually at an additional cost), and state you should/can abide by them over the 2-4 week duration of said detox for the best results.
We input a few daily combinations of the allowed meals and snacks in to the Myfitnesspal app, with each website suggesting an average of around 700-900 calories per day while exercising. These were generally low in protein, very low in fats and low/moderate for carbohydrates (but relatively high in fibre) in our view.
We also found that some of the eating plans didn’t differentiate between individuals! No increase in calories for heavier individuals was mentioned, just that you could have a further 100-150 calories of snacks if you were really hungry. Even the high end of the spectrum here would be a dangerously low food intake in our opinion- wildly restrictive for even the smallest, most petite women!
Imagine if an active, 80-90kg man tried to eat <1000 calories for at least 14 days. Now imagine if an average man combined this diet with a mildly laxative tea. Once calorie expenditure from exercise and the unabsorbed calories due to the laxative are taken into account, you are realistically left with around 500 calories a day. This is just not enough for someone training 3-6 days a week with family/work commitments on top of that.
Most diet plans also ban you from eating meat due to its harmful toxins. Although these toxins are not stated, or cuts and types of meat detailed as to their toxicity.
The Dangers of a Low Calorie Diet:
Restricting calories over a long period can cause your metabolic rate to slow according to multiple studies and masses of anecdotal evidence from respected dieticians, coaches and nutritionists. The theory being that prolonged low calorie intake causes downregulation and slowing of your metabolism- which can potentially affect your thyroid gland leading to hypothyroidism: a condition that causes you to gain fat much faster (when in a calorie surplus) as you metabolic rate slows right down. This is more commonly known as the ‘metabolic damage theory’.
During periods of prolonged calorie restriction your thyroid stops producing the hormones at the quantity needed to maintain a healthy metabolic rate. It does this because when you are consuming a very small amount of calories (energy), it slows down all the body’s chemical reactions in order to survive on this lower average energy availability. Ultimately, the body adapts to survive on such a low energy amount- going in to ‘survival mode’- and attempting not to lose any more tissue (fat or muscle). For this reason, when you revert from a prolonged period of very low calories back to normal eating, you gain weight (mainly body fat) quickly as the body tries to store the excess energy during this period of caloric surplus.
Apart from leaving you with no energy, a down-regulated metabolic rate and constantly craving food, there are other negative effects of an extreme low calorie diet over a prolonged period. These could be one or more of the following:
- Hair, skin and nail damage/weakness
- Menstrual cycle stopping
- Atrophy of vital organs (in extreme cases)
- Osteoporosis (weakened bones)
- Eating disorders
- A reduced immune system
- Chronic fatigue
- Irregular/disrupted sleeping pattern
- Mood swings and irritability increased
- Hormonal irregularities/imbalances
- Micronutrient deficiencies
- Reduces physical/athletic performance
- Reduced libido
- Loss of motivation
- Reduced mental performance
Given ‘teatoxes’ seem to be 14-30 days long and suggest you should chop your energy intake by anywhere up to 80%- you will lose weight. Although this won’t just be fat as your body will be forced to break down muscle too.
Assuming you return to normal eating after said detox your metabolism should not be terribly depressed- although you should expect to gain back most of the weight you lost (as fat) due to the calorie surplus you are now in.
Hypocritically most ‘teatox’ websites mention you should not look for quick fixes, while pushing you to buy 14 days’ worth of teabags. They also team this with imagery suggesting their herbal teas will get you the body of your dreams- arguably insinuating that the tea will get you where you want to be quickly, with no mention of training or diet on these advertisements of scantily clad individuals.
Training During a ‘Teatox’?
If you were on an extreme low calorie diet our advice would be not to train. Burning 300-500 additional calories from an already restricted diet will just push you further in to said deficit.
We purchased a ‘workout plan’ from a leading Detox Tea company to see what training they advised whilst on a detox. Perhaps unsurprisingly these were very high rep/volume workouts of high impact, dynamic movements coupled with short rest periods. On the high end of the scale it was nearing 500 reps with another 5 or so minutes of static holding exercises with <30 second rests. At the easier end of the spectrum workouts were around 300-400 reps in total.
We would never suggest high volume workouts on such a large calorie deficit, for trained or untrained individuals. We feel this is counter-productive in the long run, and may actually endanger the health of the participant. We would also advise new or overweight individuals to avoid explosive/plyometric (especially in high volume) while in a large calorie deficit due to the higher risk of an injury.
These workout plans also state that you should try to make the workouts harder each time, by using their limited progression examples or by adding more reps. They also didn’t seem to state how many times to complete this per week. Again we feel this is lazy and dangerous advice as it could lead to someone completing a 500+ rep workout 7 times per week, whilst in a large caloric deficit.
In our opinion, adding detox teas to your diet will not change your health or physique. We asked several respected scientists who work within sports science and nutrition based fields for their views on Detox Teas and if they would recommend them:
Most teatox companies openly shun ‘quick fixes’ on their websites- but surely a 2-4 week regime of slashed calories and a hastily devised fitness plan (with some non-effective, unproven herbal teas thrown in) is the height of quick fixes?!
If you are serious about changing your long term health for the better, check out the results from our Bikini and Cutting Guides. Our sustainable plans produce amazing results whilst eating over 2000 calories a day- getting beach body ready the right way!