Demi Lovato has made a name for herself as a body-positive activist. The singer-actress, who has been open about battling bipolar disorder and bulimia, regularly posts photos and messages to fans on social media about the importance of loving one’s body.
That’s why so many of her fans are upset about a recent Instagram post in which Lovato promotes a “detox” tea.
“This year is all about #selflove,” Lovato wrote in the post. “Truly taking care of myself and exercising has changed everything for me. @teamiblends has #sponsored my 30 day detox challenge to help get rid of toxins and my bloating for summer. I’m on Day 7 right now & it’s so easy! I just drink their tea every single day in my favorite purple tumbler. I love taking it to shoots and the studio with me.” She also offered up a promo code so that fans could save 20 percent off the product.
Reaction from fans was swift, and it wasn’t positive. Many pointed out that Teami Colon, a tea made by the company, contains senna leaf, a laxative that has been cited by health officials for its potential to irritate the colon. Teami also sells a tea called Teami Skinny that promises to help users lose weight quickly. Overall, fans expressed disappointment that someone who promotes a healthy body image would plug a product by a company that sells a weight-loss product, especially one that’s unregulated.
Under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, dietary supplements — including weight-loss and detox teas — do not need approval from the Food and Drug Administration before they’re marketed or put on shelves. “It is the company’s responsibility to make sure its products are safe and that any claims made about such products are true,” the FDA says on its website. Meaning, just because you can buy a product doesn’t mean it’s safe or healthy.
“Wow and you claim to be someone who [is] an advocate against eating disorders and someone who promotes body acceptance? This is disgusting,” one follower wrote. “There’s a SKINNY version of this tea, and for someone who’s had an [eating disorder] to be promoting this is unacceptable,” another said.
Eating-disorder experts agree that it’s not great for people who are already struggling with body image and their relationship with food to hear confusing messages from those they look up to. Trish Lieberman, RD, LDN, director of nutrition at the Renfrew Center of Philadelphia, an eating-disorders facility, tells Yahoo Beauty that people constantly hear mixed messages about food and weight in the media, and something like this just “adds fuel to the fire.” “Celebrities have an important opportunity to positively influence how we experience body image, [and] when celebrities promote health products of any kind, they are having an influence on millions of people,” she says. “There is also the risk that people may assume a product is healthful when it’s promoted by a body-positive activist and not realize the potentially dangerous side effects.”
Ashley Solomon, Psy.D., executive clinical director of Eating Recovery Center in Ohio, tells Yahoo Beauty that staying body positive is “challenging,” which is why it’s so important for celebrities and activists to promote a body positive message. “We need examples in our culture of people who celebrate body diversity and treat their bodies kindly,” she says. “When we see that those who we thought had a really healthy relationship with food and their bodies not demonstrating that ideal, it can be a hard blow [and] a lot of people will question if it’s even possible to live free of the pressures of our culture.”
Solomon points out that even body positive activists feel societal pressure to look a certain way and, just like everyone else, they may stumble, too. “It’s a reminder of the need to not only look to activists and celebrities for inspiration, but to find that strength inside ourselves and to create our body-positive communities,” she says.
Those who struggle with body acceptance, yo-yo dieting, and eating disorders are more vulnerable to messages promoted by detox teas and more likely to try them, Lieberman says. But there’s a big risk in using these products. “The use of detox teas can be a slippery slope leading to more extreme behaviors and negative side effects,” she says. And, she points out, use of laxatives (even so-called natural ones like senna leaf) may cause dehydration, weakness, kidney damage, chronic constipation, and electrolyte imbalances affecting the heart.
New York-based registered dietitian Jessica Cording affirms to Yahoo Beauty that detox teas are potentially dangerous, from both healthful-eating and health-safety perspectives. “There’s always that risk that you’re getting stuff in them that’s potentially not safe,” she says. “That’s kind of scary.” Detox teas and detoxes in general aren’t even necessary, she says. “Your liver does a great job of processing things that you take in,” Cording says. “You don’t need to detox — your body does a great job for you.”
Heather Senior Monroe, director of program development at Newport Academy, tells Yahoo Beauty that detox teas can also be harmful because they can trigger disordered eating behaviors and body dysmorphia, especially in people who are already susceptible to them. “Getting into a weight-loss mindset can lead back toward self-destructive habits, such as excessive dieting, over-exercising, anorexic tendencies, and/or bulimic patterns,” she says.
Cording says she’s especially upset that this promotion is coming from Lovato. “She’s been really outspoken about her history with eating disorders and body challenges, and it bums me out to see her posting about a detox challenge,” she says.
Lovato hasn’t yet responded to the criticism.
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