‘My Teatox Habit Turned Into A Laxative Abuse Problem’

'I’d binge on the teas when I had weekend plans, taking two a day every day that week so I could be slimmer in my outfit'.

'My Teatox Habit Turned Into A Laxative Abuse Problem'

by India Benjamin |
Published on

If you were on Instagram in 2013, you are probably aware of the ‘teatox’ trend. It comprises of two and four week programmes which allegedly use the ‘power of herbal teas to help you lose weight’, by supposedly ‘ridding the body of toxins’, and so on.

I had previously suffered from recurring bouts of anorexia, body dysmorphia, binge-eating, disordered eating and low self-esteem. Thanks to the accumulation of these, I have been every size between a size 6 and a 16. I discovered teatoxes at university, where binge drinking and regular takeaways meant I was extremely uncomfortable with my weight. At the time, they felt like a god send.

I bought a four week Bootea programme and from then, despite some negative side effects (like the time I nearly shit myself on the bus to my part-time job), I was hooked. The teas made me feel less bloated, they made me feel slimmer and all without the need to exercise or eat healthily. The only downside, as I saw it then, was the cost: a month programme set me back around £30, and as a student at the time, I couldn’t commit to regular purchases.

Due to my lack of money and a love of Googling all things diet-related, I found out that the active ingredient in the teatox ‘night’ teas was senna (a herb which produces a laxative effect). This, I quickly discovered, could be bought in tea form for around £2. I started taking it once a week, on a Sunday, to flush out weekend toxins and calories in preparation for the week ahead. This jumped up over the course of a few months - twice a week, three times a week, eventually four to five times a week regularly, with some weeks seeing me drink take it every night. I even started to double up on the tea bags when I found they were becoming less effective. I didn’t see it as a problem, it was just tea, right?

I’m not the only person to disregard this kind of laxative abuse as innocent. According to BEAT, the UK’s Eating Disorder Charity, ‘downplaying the side effects of teatoxing normalises the use of laxatives as a behavioural choice rather than taking them for a medical need.’ I spoke to Counselling Directory Member, Stella Stathi, who explained why people are more likely to abuse teatoxes than they are laxatives.

‘Labelling [teatoxes] as healthy can encourage their use, and make it harder for people to recognise and appreciate the dangers that their use involves, since this healthy guise provides justification for the choice to use them, as something that is beneficial’, she explains.

Therapist and co-author of How to Feel Differently About Food Sally Bakeralso weighed in on this. ‘Some people may be lulled into a false sense of security with a teatox, as drinking tea feels very familiar and even comforting. They might well dismiss a regime based on consuming obscure sounding powders or pills or having to drink odd tasting juices in favour of a familiar cuppa’ she tells The Debrief. It is our familiarity with tea she says that ‘blindside people to the fact that some of the detox ingredients can have potentially uncomfortable digestive effects and even make a person feel quite ill’.

I saw the senna tea in the same way as I saw green tea. To me it was healthy, and a helping hand in the never-ending battle to be skinny. After a while I became reliant on the tea to feel good about myself. Anything and everything became an excuse to have a tea. Accidentally ate carbs? Take a tea, it will cleanse out any bad side effects, I would say to myself. Feeling fat? Double tea, you’ll lose weight and bloat in one go! Bad day? Damn, well… Nothing a tea can’t solve.

I’d binge on the teas when I had weekend plans, taking two a day every day that week so I could be slimmer in my outfit. Last minute plans made me anxious, in case I hadn’t had chance to take a tea. I’d make a drink up and leave it on my bedside for after nights out, so I could drunk drink the tea when I got in, in a bid to try and prevent the alcohol bloat and calories.

This went on for nearly a year. During that time, I was both mentally and physically dependant on the teas. They made me feel smaller and better looking. But it was more than just that - I felt anxious when I hadn’t had a tea and having one soothed this uncomfortable mental itch I couldn’t quite get rid of otherwise. Days where I hadn’t had a tea were not only spent obsessing over my waist, my face, anywhere where I might be fat or bloated, but would also see me question my worth in other aspects of life. Not having a tea became a scape goat for anything that was shaky in my life. This was familiar, it was exactly what I used to do with calories when I was suffering with anorexia.

According to Stella, it’s not uncommon for those who have suffered eating disorders in the past to become addicted to these supposed ‘health and fitness’ trends. ‘Teatoxes work by causing a “flush-out” of the digestive track, which can make one feel instantly lighter or less bloated’ she tells The Debrief. What follows, she says is an ‘immediate sense of lightness that gets perceived as having lost weight’. It goes without saying, she points out, that this ‘can be particularly triggering and addictive for anyone who is prone to disordered eating and/or eating disorders’.

And, it’s not just a psychological addiction, either. Sally Baker explains that ‘prolonged exposure to laxatives can have long-term medical implications. It can cause the colon to require increasing amounts of laxatives to function to produce bowel movements’. With extended use, she says, ‘the colon can become “lazy” in its ability to remove waste and, ultimately, ineffective. This can lead to many digestive disorders including severe constipation, colon infection, IBS, and, even contribute to the risk of colon cancer’.

At the peak of my tea abuse, I definitely found this to be the case. I’d struggle to go to the toilet without having had a tea the night before, and even days post-tea I would still sometimes suffer from constipation. The days where I couldn’t poo, I was bloated, my stomach swollen, and I’d experience really severe cramps. Half the week, I’d go to the toilet four or five times before it was even lunch. The other half, nothing. My solution? Of course, it was to up the number of teas I consumed, as well as the frequency that I had them.

At the back of my mind, I knew that laxative abuse was probably the cause of my stomach problems, but the allure of feeling lighter, flatter, and emptier was enough for me to quell these thoughts. Instead, I told myself I had IBS. Doesn’t everyone have IBS? It’s 2018, EVERYONE has IBS. I managed to convince myself that until I physically went to a pharmacy, and bought real life laxatives, I didn’t have a problem.

It was only when I was sitting in work, on the toilet for the fourth time before 10am, that I realised maybe I did have a problem. It was a slow journey to acceptance, but I was tired of the negative side effects, and the abuse had started to have a really big toll on my mental wellbeing. I’ve always tried to keep an eye on my eating behaviour to prevent any ED relapses but this had slipped through my net because of its ‘healthy’ mask. Indeed, with celebrities like the Kim Kardashian and Kendall Jenner promoting these products they aren’t treated with the skepticism they ought to be.

This is not uncommon, says Sally Baker. ‘For those vulnerable to disordered eating, or someone who has experienced an eating disorder in the past, the purchasing of detox products can be a way to legitimise their unhealthy eating patterns. It can also be used as their excuse to obscure what is really happening with themselves and food’. The same has been said of veganism or clean eating, hence the rise of orthorexia.

Luckily for me, I managed to identify the abuse and come off the teatoxes before I did (touch wood) any long-lasting damage to my body. I took the teas at least four times a week for nearly a year, but some people abuse laxatives for years before getting help. That said, it took a few months for my body to start to function ‘normally’, and I was constantly fighting temptation to just take a tea while my body adjusted.

Even now, I find myself having to religiously ensure I eat high amounts of fibre and drink plenty of water to have regular bowel movements. Mentally, I’m still getting there. I miss feeling empty and light, and the temptation to buy and take a tea whenever I’m feeling bloated or fat is all too real. I go on holiday soon, and the fear of being in public in a bikini has had me bargaining with myself about whether or not it’s okay to have one, or a couple, in the run up to going. So far, I’ve resisted, and hopefully, I’ll never go back.

If you think you might have a laxative abuse problem, Stella Stathisuggests consulting a medical practitioner as well as a mental health practitioner, as their support will help make the process of quitting easier and safer.

BEAT’s helplinealso offers support for anyone suffering from an eating disorder.

Follow India on Twitter@IndiaBenjamin

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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