TW: This post contains discussion of disordered eating and bulimia.
We all know that ‘diet’ or ‘skinny’ teas are bad. They’re bad because they promise something impossible, because they encourage an obsession with weight loss, and because, yes, they make you shit yourself.
It’s become common for people who disapprove of these products to post pictures or videos making fun of them, pointing out the laxative effects.
But the thing is, these videos and memes, however well-intentioned they are, spectacularly miss the point. When you’re using products like these, you don’t care if they give you diarrhea for hours and hours. In fact, that’s what you want.
At university, I spent a large chunk of my weekly budget on a special tea from a high-street health store that promised to speed weight loss. I knew exactly what it was going to do, and I knew exactly how painful and embarrassing it would be. I didn’t care. I stayed in all evening so I was near a bathroom and each time I ran for the loo I felt a swell of excitement about how thin I was going to feel when I woke up the next morning.
When you’re in the grip of disordered eating, you want to sit on the loo until you’re entirely empty, even if it’s painful and time consuming and humiliating. Even if it stops you from going out or seeing friends or spending time with your family. The more that comes out of your body, the thinner you are going to be. And when you’re in that place, that’s all that matters.
I struggled with bulimia as a teenager, and while I tended towards the fingers-down-throat method, I found laxatives a welcome break from the taste of vomit and burning throat.
Did I care that it was undignified? Of course not. The stomach cramps were deliciously painful and half an hour in the bathroom was just part of the deal. I would have put up with ten times the pain and indignity to lose weight.
While the intention of these joking posts might be to de-glamorise a product which is promoted by some of the world’s most glamorous women, the reality is that it alienates the people who are desperate enough to buy and consume them.
You might think that talking about the laxative effect of a tea would put people off, but to a certain type of person – someone like me a few years ago – it’s actually just adding to the appeal.
Disordered eating is a mental illness, and it makes you act in completely illogical ways. Waking up at the crack of dawn to work out until you’re dizzy, worrying that there are calories in toothpaste, refusing to enter a McDonalds in case there are calories in the air and yes, drinking shit-yourself tea.
Telling people that these teas will give you a stomach upset will do nothing to prevent their popularity. Talking about the fact that a tea cannot shed fat from your body, that the weight you ‘lose’ is entirely water – that might actually work.
The anti-diet tea memes and videos come from a place of support. But what they actually do is treat anyone who buys these products like they’re stupid. They invite anyone who isn’t desperate enough to lose weight to opt for diarrhea to laugh at those who are.
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