I'm running late for a fitness class. They tell you to arrive at the gym 10 minutes early, and I had, but that wasn't nearly enough time. In the short walk over from my office, I'd already defied fate. I am now in the women's locker room—specifically, in a bathroom stall in the women's locker room—cursing Kourtney Kardashian's name. This is day three of a 14-day Lyfe Tea detox, which will teach me (over and over again) that shit happens.
Last summer, Kourtney Kardashian reportedly credited her post-baby weight loss to Lyfe Tea, a product she's also posted about on Instagram. Her sisters Khloe Kardashian and Kylie Jenner, too, have shared photos of themselves posing with the detox tea company's wares. But this phenomenon isn't unique to reality TV's First Family: In April, Racked investigated the social media sponsorship empire that has found stars of all magnitudes shilling for various teatox brands for payouts of several thousand to a quarter million dollars. Lyfe Tea* in particular has enjoyed no shortage of celebrity endorsements, including Amber Rose, Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi, Jenni "JWoww" Farley, Nicky Rothschild (née Hilton), Lea Michele, Tori Spelling, Hilary Duff, Christina Milian, Holly Madison, and Kandi Burruss. (Please take a moment, as I have, to meditate on the image of any one of these glamorous, put-together public figures strenuously defecating.)
Does this stuff actually work, or is it simply society's latest form of enforcing unrealistic beauty standards via cruel and unusual punishment? To find out, I ordered Lyfe Tea's 14-Day Teatox, which consists of two bags of loose-leaf tea, a Morning Tea and an Evening Detox Tea. This two-week supply retails for $34.95, although a subscription option is also available, which strikes fear into my heart on behalf of anyone foolhardy enough to select it.
A Lyfe Tea pamphlet, included with the teas, welcomes me to this "all-natural detox and weight management program designed to provide results and kick start [sic] a healthier you." Their online FAQ elaborates, "The natural ingredients in Lyfe Tea aim to cleanse and detoxify, increase metabolism, assist in the digestion of food, suppress appetite and much more." The teatox also "boosts energy" while helping you achieve your "weight loss goals."
The pamphlet instructs me to steep the morning tea—which contains Moringa Complex, guarana, green tea, yerba mate, ginger, and lemon—for at least five to 10 minutes. The aroma of the morning tea is medicinal, herbaceous, and smoky, not unlike a campfire in the parking lot behind a health food store. The taste is less intense than the scent would lead you to believe, with notes of citrus. I wouldn't say I dislike it.
The evening tea—which contains senna leaf, senna pods, nettle leaf, dandelion leaf, chamomile leaf, and senna fruit—steeps for two to five minutes according to the pamphlet, and one minute according to the package itself (your guess is as good as mine). It makes a pleasant, clean-tasting cup of tea, heavy on the chamomile.
Like any good scientist slash fad dieter, I went into this experiment with a hypothesis: I actually expected that nothing would happen—that the teatox was pure snake oil. I was wrong. It took a day or two for the effects to really take hold, and when they did, I at first naively assumed that I must have come down with some kind of virus.
It's taken me a long time to write about my experience with the teatox, in large part because I am not excited by the prospect of talking to you about my bowels. It does not give me any pleasure or any satisfaction. But you simply can't talk about a teatox without talking about poop. Based on my experience, a teatox is a self-inflicted stomach flu. Once you feel that soon-familiar twitch in your midsection, you must be prepared to stop whatever it is you're doing. You will be late for work, for appointments, for drinks, because you will find yourself making a number of emergency bathroom stops that you did not budget time for. (And to be clear, nothing about this situation—consistency, frequency, you name it—screamed "normal" or "healthy." Jamie Lee Curtis would not try to sell you on this experience in an Activia commercial.)
Prepare to become deeply acquainted with your bathroom to an extent you never thought possible. You will spot dust in nooks and crannies where you hadn't realized it could collect. You will deplete your phone battery and exhaust any physical reading material within arm's reach. In lieu of more conventional descriptions, I will leave these word pictures here for you to consider:
- A magician pulling scarves out of a hat. The scarves are endless. There shouldn’t be any scarves left, but he keeps pulling more and more. Surely there is not enough room for all these scarves in that hat. Where are they coming from? Is this actual magic?
- The poop emoji, but frowning. If the poop emoji had seen the things I have seen, it would smile no more. 💩
- A toothpaste tube that you're determined to use to its fullest extent, methodically squeezing it from bottom to top to make sure every last minty atom within sees the fluorescent light of your bathroom.
- An exorcism, but this time, Satan wins.
Lyfe Tea acknowledges that the evening tea's "laxative effect" may have side effects including "an increased frequency of visiting the bathroom" (I'm not sure that should count as a side effect, really, if the laxative properties are intentional), but in case of diarrhea, vomiting, or other severe symptoms, users are advised to adjust the strength of their evening tea, stop the teatox altogether, or consult a physician. I admittedly took neither of the latter two suggestions, but I did try steeping the tea for shorter periods of time. My symptoms improved some, but not much.
Many teatox users don't report these same complaints—at least not to the same degree, at least not publicly. On Lyfe Tea's own site, the 14-Day Teatox boasts a five-star rating with more than 2,700 reviews. The vast majority of these are glowing (one- and two-star reviews account for less than 2% of the total), with shoppers professing how good they look and feel thanks to Lyfe Tea. (That said, it's worth noting that half of the eight five-star reviews posted in the last week are actually confused-seeming buyers writing that they had not yet received the product.)
The Amazon reviews are mostly positive, with a respectable three-and-a-half-star average, but there, one- and two-star ratings together account for a more considerable 39% of all reviews. Here's what Amazon user Alkaia wrote in a two-star review on the third day of their detox:
I have such terrible stomach cramps and run to the bathroom every 15-20 minutes. I feel as if I have a group of tiny dwarves mining my intestines while whistling happily as my body is wrenched with pain. Sure I'm purging whatever is in my stomach, and sure I'm losing weight. I'm not as bloated either, but is this discomfort and pain really worth this? I'm not sure.
Let's talk ingredients. The promised energy boost seemingly comes from caffeine, which the morning tea certainly doesn't lack. Guarana is very high in caffeine (these seeds typically contain more than twice as much of the stimulant as you'd find in comparably sized coffee beans), as is yerba mate, a cup of which contains about half as much caffeine as a cup of coffee. The green tea, too, likely packs at least a small caffeine punch. I refused to stop drinking coffee while on the teatox, because, come on. Between a single cup of coffee and my morning tea, my heart rate would stay uncomfortably elevated through lunchtime. (Lest you think this high-caffeine cocktail was irresponsible on my part, it's worth noting that I once received a promotional email from Lyfe Tea touting "The Best Coffee to Drink on a Tea Tox.")
The lemon and ginger are perhaps added for flavor, although ginger has also been traditionally used as a remedy for upset stomachs. Then there's Moringa.
The Lyfe Tea pamphlet praises this ingredient for "[continuing] to amaze the scientific world with its amazing balance of antioxidants, minerals and amino acids." The morning tea packaging states that the so-called "Miracle Tree" both "increases the Natural Defenses of the body" and "promotes the Cell structure of the body" [capitalization theirs].
While Moringa oleifera is indeed known as a "Miracle Tree," that's not in reference to its medicinal value, but to its hardiness and nutritional value as a food crop. "The enthusiasm for the health benefits of M. oleifera is in dire contrast with the scarcity of strong experimental and clinical evidence supporting them," wrote Majambu Mbikay in a 2012 article published in Frontiers of Pharmacology. That said, the herbal supplement appears to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
The morning tea might get you going, but it's the evening tea that gets you, well, going. With several parts of its plant found in the evening tea, senna is an FDA-approved laxative recommended to treat constipation. In fact, it's the active ingredient in Ex-Lax. The National Institute of Health warns against taking senna for more than two weeks, after which point the user's bowels may become dependent on the laxative. Dandelion leaf, like caffeine, has diuretic properties. Nettle leaf was used by the ancient Greeks as both a laxative and a diuretic. Chamomile is a familiar component of bedtime teas, traditionally used to soothe upset stomachs and reduce anxiety.
Although I spent the two weeks in consistent discomfort, I can't say the teatox made me any less hungry. In the end, I lost two pounds, which is a fluctuation of the needle that's hardly anything to write home about. I gained the weight back in about as much time.
While it's easy to laugh at my tale of woe, I can't overstate how truly (bear with me) shitty my experience was. I wouldn't wish it on anyone. More importantly, this is not how bodies naturally function: Just because your large intestine is aflame doesn't mean you're doing yourself any favors. In fact, you may very well be doing the opposite. The teatox was not only deeply, deeply unpleasant for me, but quite possibly dangerous.
"To my knowledge, there is little data to suggest that these teatoxes are a safe or effective weight loss method," registered dietitian nutritionist Elisa Zied told me an email. "If the company cannot show proof that their product works, why even take the chance?"
While drinking tea in general has been linked to good health, any benefits of teatoxes specifically have yet to be demonstrated. Without randomized controlled clinical trials and research published in peer-reviewed journals, any claims about teatoxes—which are regulated as supplements, Zied noted—are suspect. Best case scenario, teatoxes don't have solid evidence behind them. Worst case scenario, their untested ingredients "may even be downright harmful." Ask a registered dietitian, nutritionist, or medical professional to review any supplement before you incorporate it into your diet, Zied warns—it's possible that some ingredients could affect your medications or other supplements you may be taking.
Zied says she wouldn't recommend teatoxes to anyone: "Buyer beware." Want to lose weight? She suggests eating "reasonable portions" of food in a balanced diet, cutting back on added sugars, exercising, and getting plenty of sleep. "That’s a far better strategy to lose weight and keep it off and boost your nutrient intake and keep your body healthy than any teatox," she said.
When it comes to "detoxing," you can rest assured that your body naturally cleanses itself of toxins, which Lyfe Tea's evening tea package defines as "anything that can potentially harm body tissue, including waste products that result from normal cell activity." (It's unclear which specific toxins these people are most concerned about: Drugs? Pesticides? Lead? Thetans?) Your kidneys and liver do just fine on their own, thank you, and there's been no compelling evidence that consuming a tea, or a juice, or even a magic potion will make a difference.
And what about laxatives? Could they be the foundation of an healthy weight loss strategy? In short: No. No, no, no, no. "Laxatives are not something people should ever use for weight loss. They should only be used for specific medical conditions under the guidance of a physician," Zied said.
On their site, Lyfe Tea advises that the Evening Detox Tea "should only be used for the short term," but doesn't specify a time limit. "Laxative overuse can contribute to excess loss of body water, minerals, electrolytes, fiber, and waste," Zied told me. "This can dehydrate you and that can tax the organs and in some cases lead to severe dehydration and even death." As for my personal "weight loss goals," neither death nor severe dehydration number among them.
For what it's worth, I survived that fitness class with my dignity intact, but only barely. Although Lyfe Tea will gladly sell you a $19.95 meal plan and workout guide to accompany your teatox, which theoretically provides an activity-boosting burst of energy, I can tell you from personal experience that cardio, like most things that aren't lying down and moaning, is not compatible with acute intestinal distress.
*For what it's worth, I reached out to Lyfe Tea for comment on this story, explaining in an email that I had tried Lyfe Tea and sharing a list of relevant questions. This is the response I received (and, even after following up again, the only one would ever receive):
We are happy to hear that you want to do a story on Lyfe Tea. Have you ordered Lyfe Tea before? Talk soon!
Molly Fitzpatrick is senior editor of Fusion's Pop & Culture section. Her interests include movies about movies, TV shows about TV shows, and movies about TV shows, but not so much TV shows about movies.