Advertisements for weight loss tea are all over Instagram, and my teen patients have noticed. They’ve started asking me (a dietitian at the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center) whether it works, and a few have already tried it. I understand the curiosity—promises of losing weight quickly are alluring to people of all ages, not just teens—but the truth is that these claims are too good to be true.

With some variations, these ads for weight loss tea (also known as detox tea) promise to flatten your tummy, make you lose weight, and flush out toxins. Other claims include boosting your metabolism, aiding in digestion and suppressing your appetite.

In reality, weight loss teas:

  • Are not a sustainable tool for long-term, healthy weight loss.
  • Can cause diarrhea, which can ultimately result in dehydration, fatigue, cramping, muscle weakness, electrolyte imbalances and (with long-term use) digestive issues.
  • Do not actually “detox” your body—your liver and kidneys already have detoxification covered!
  • Sometimes include ingredients that can disrupt your sleep cycle – lack of sleep can actually increase your appetite.

Here’s everything you need to know.

What’s in weight loss tea?

While it depends on the brand and type, there are some ingredients that are common among weight loss teas. Common ingredients include: stimulants like caffeine (sometimes in very high doses), and a variety of herbs, such as dandelion leaf (a diuretic, which makes you pee a lot), and senna (a laxative, which causes bowel movements/diarrhea).

Although there are common ingredients, the truth is that we can’t be sure about what’s really in these teas, or in what amounts. That’s because detox teas are classified as supplements, not medicine. Therefore, they’re not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). They may contain ingredients that aren’t listed on the packaging, and they aren’t safety tested before they’re sold to the public.

What will happen if I drink weight loss tea?

  • You might find yourself running to the bathroom way more than you were before, which isn’t fun at all!  This is from the laxative effect (which causes bowel movements/diarrhea) or the diuretic effect (think of needing to pee, a lot).
  • Going to the bathroom more often means your body will lose more water and electrolytes than normal.
  • This increases your risk of becoming dehydrated and having electrolyte imbalances.

Though losing water may make the number on the scale decrease temporarily, hydration (water) is quite important for your health. Your brain is mostly water, and your body needs water to function. Being dehydrated can make you feel fatigued and give you muscle cramps and aches.

Electrolytes (minerals in your body) are important for muscle function.  For example, potassium is an electrolyte that helps keep your heart functioning at its best. (Your heart is a muscle!)  When the balance of potassium is disrupted, it can create trouble for your heart. This is one of the reasons that doctors don’t recommend using laxatives long-term.

Using some laxatives (like senna) long-term can cause dependency. Your body gets so used to the laxative helping with bowel movements (pooping) that you have difficulty doing it on your own.  In other words, you’ll need higher and higher amounts of the laxative to have an effect. Once you stop taking the laxative you can actually develop constipation. No one wants to spend extra time on the toilet, bloated and in pain!

But will I lose weight?

Remember, weight is a number that does not differentiate water, fat, muscle or bone. You might lose a few pounds when you start, but that’s all water weight—NOT fat. Once you stop drinking the tea and return to your previous beverages of choice, you’ll gain the water weight back.

You might see the number on the scale go down over time if you’re using weight loss tea to replace sugar-filled drinks like soda, juice, sweetened tea, or sugary coffee drinks. But this isn’t because you’ve started drinking the tea—it’s because you’ve stopped drinking sugar. You would see similar results (and be way more hydrated) if you switched to water.

Laxatives are not an effective or healthy way to lose weight.  They act on your colon, which is at the end of your digestive tract and responsible for reabsorbing water and electrolytes (not food/“calories”).

If you were already constipated and bloated, your tummy may get slightly flatter. Again, this is not because you’re losing fat, but because of the relief from the constipation.

So what DOES work?

If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Think about it—if there was a quick, easy way to lose weight, the United States wouldn’t be in the middle of an obesity epidemic, and diets wouldn’t be so popular.

The truth is that getting fit and staying healthy takes time and effort. Taking care of yourself isn’t about one magical solution, but your overall lifestyle.  It might not sound as appealing as a quick fix, but building healthy eating habits and regularly exercising will do way more for your body and long-term health.

Weight loss is a process, not an event.

If you want to lose weight, talk to your health care provider. They can help you come up with a plan to do so in a healthy way. They can also help you understand any other wellness or dieting tips you may have seen on Instagram. Keep in mind that weight alone is not necessarily an indicator of overall health. As you begin to practice healthier habits, also pay attention to other changes, like your energy levels and mood.

If you find yourself obsessing over your weight, your body or what you eat, talk to someone you trust (like a parent or health care provider) about what’s going on. This could be a sign that you’re struggling with your body image or relationship to food.

If you’re 10-22 years old in NYC and have questions about how to be your healthiest self, stop by the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center for free, confidential, comprehensive health care, including a session with a dietitian!

Brittney Parris, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian at the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center.  She completed her dietetic internship at Duke University Hospital, after receiving her bachelor’s in biology and master’s in clinical nutrition from New York University.  Brittney is committed to empowering youth with the knowledge and skills needed to make healthy choices and maintain a healthy relationship with food.