Tiktok and Metabolism Drops: The Road To Eating Disorders

Illustration by Felice Tang

By Ellis Loh
Published on January 3rd, 2021

To many, TikTok is the new, hot breeding ground for self-expression. A home that has stolen millions of youngsters’ hearts, and where the silly, loud, and authentic are welcomed with open arms. It is a smash hit in international nations, particularly European countries and the United States, attracting renowned celebrities, social influencers and businesses. To many users, they are charmed by TikTok’s authentic goofiness and genuine fun, where many encounter barrages of funny videos from strangers made just for them.

Yet TikTok is not all rainbows and unicorns. Beginning in late February, a serum — ‘the wellness solution’ — founded by Rae Wellness was newly introduced. This product circulated around the platform, kickstarting the foundation of the viral TikTok trend, metabolism drops, giving young teens something to rave over. Trending hashtags such as #RaeWellness and #MetabolismDrops seized the internet. Videos tagged with #RaeWellness have received over 134,000 views, and #Rae has received a striking 11.4 million views. Unfortunately, videos concerning these drops were also tagged with #WeightLoss, #LoseWeightChallenge, #Diet, #LetsGetSkinny, and the like. The corresponding captions often related to summer bodies — that many teens desperately desire — and losing weight.

Rae Wellness’s ingestible drops, promoted on the brand’s website as supporting and boosting a person’s natural metabolism, are specifically designed for young adults above the age of 18. Wellbeing brands have been heavily criticized for the importance of labelling products specifically formulated for women over certain ages, which Rae has done, but not under strict controls. It has been reported that most consumers of these ‘metabolism drops’ were under the minimum age. These ‘metabolism drops’ have been used by young women as appetite suppressants and weight-loss stimulants, and love is spread for these products through the commercialization of TikTok. They report that they genuinely ‘didn’t crave sweets’ and ‘felt less bloated after meals’ after taking the drops. The results seem commendable — but are they scientifically giving results or just a placebo?

Active ingredients listed in Rae’s metabolism dropped bombs of controversy on the efficacy and safety of the product. The company added: ‘There is no risk in taking our Metabolism drops as directed. We’re committed to supporting women with evidence-based holistic wellness solutions that promote self-love that help them radiate from within.’ However, David Ludwig, a registered nutrition researcher, rebutted the company’s statement, commenting that he would not advise teenagers to be using it for metabolism boosting purposes. Research shows that caffeine actually speeds up metabolic rate in the short term, but has no long-term effect on weight loss. If these metabolism drops are taken in big surges, anxiety could be exacerbated, especially in adolescents. Additionally, with this short-term weight loss, a mere glimpse of these positive results could easily exacerbate and promote unhealthy, unconventional dietary patterns and eating disorders. Regrettably, caffeine is one of many ingredients in the serum skeptical for metabolism boosting. The use of these products evidently do not promote a long-term view of health — including a regular and healthy diet — as they should.

Another troubling issue that concerns these ‘over the counter’ metabolism drops: they have not had any proper legislation process from the Food and Drug Administration approving the efficacy and safety of these supplements. Despite its skepticism, this should not translate to being unsafe to consume— but if consumed in big proportions, the narrative changes. The brand has allegedly followed the FDA’s regulations for dietary supplements under the current Good Manufacturing Practice from 2007, testing their goods for ‘gluten, microbes, allergens, and other contaminants’. So, in theory, the drops are harmless. However,the conversations centred around their reasoning are not.

TikTok is a potentially dangerous platform for those seeking economic opportunities. 41% of TikTok’s 800 million users are between ages of 16-24—an age group already at a heightened risk of eating disorders. To encourage them further into diet would be detrimental, particularly to their long-term mental and physical health. This reveals a bigger snowball effect. The greater issue is the instillation and incentivisation of weight loss through usage of these products, and, indeed, by whatever means possible. The app exposes teens to weight loss messages constantly, and videos tagged with variations of #weightloss rack up over 56 million views. Many of these viewers watch these videos, comparing themselves to the bodies in them — potentially resulting in unhealthy behaviours and misuse, almost abusive, almost disordered, of products. The idea of stepping outside of our culture’s weight-centric dieting paradigm is ultimately unthinkable — mindsets centralise around the importance of dieting, and teens become unaware of health risks associated with their decisions. And it is all because of this ‘diet culture’ that young adults, particularly women, are young women, enthralled by this surreality of ‘hourglass figures’. Soon enough, the lines between realism and surrealism of the ideal body are blurred and suppressed. TikTok, being a platform with an extremely young and susceptible demographic, is also a platform where maintaining a healthy wellbeing and mindset is difficult. And, despite living in a celebrative, body-positive era, there is still societal pressure around the physical appearance of women (particularly younger women) — the need to be skinnier, to be prettier, to be just like their role models.

The fact is that wellness brands, such as Flat Tummy Tea, have come under fiery assault for promoting diet culture. Rae Wellness further demonstrates the challenge that many wellness brands combat in the face of social media. Is this fire valid? It is evident that, with the excessive reports of misuses of the ‘Wellness solution’, the company's message is becoming lost in translation to teenage girls, who have the same access to wellbeing products as their older counterparts. These drops and diet products are marketed with the message that metabolism is an important thing; so important that money should be spent on it. However, rather than educating young adults on the proper usage of these products, and spurring healthy conversations on body image, these products encourage a quick fix — the ‘buy a pill’ approach, claiming the pedestal of panacea. Wellness brands began a trend and resulted in the victimization of young adults to diet culture.

‘TikTok reminds me not to eat’. This was the caption of a video in which a model wandered into a room with potato chips and sat down. This is but one example of the many videos that potentially result from the dangerous habits, attitudes, and behaviors depicted in diet culture. This is a culture that welcomes fear and vulnerability, exposing scars of insecurities, whilst TikTok remains silent and turns a blind eye to these trends — despite outlining a no-tolerance policy for such content in their community guidelines. This is a culture that self-deprecatingly views thinness as a mark of health, a moral virtue, demonizing certain foods and oppressing non-conformers.

These videos highlight the fixation on a swallowed narrative: thin = wellness and happiness; fatness = illness and misery; losing weight = accomplishment; gaining weight= laziness. It follows, then, that the ultimate ideal is thinness, with the opposite ridiculed, stigmatized, and deplored. Many such videos — particularly those on TikTok — promote unsafe weight-loss methods to an impressionable audience. Thus, as an increasing number of teens are stigmatized for their weight, a corresponding number of these teens are going on weight-loss diets and losing their prandial connection. In no way is this a wholesome stage of development.

Many are indoctrinated into weight loss as a result of fatphobia from society. Tragically, TikTok is infiltrated with many such messages. The reality is, everyone is born into different body shapes; it may be the case that you want a perfect body shape, but intention is the fundamental factor here: are you doing it from the pressure of society? For your fear of societal expectations? Or for yourself? The problem isn’t whether you can make it to the end of the race and win, the problem that lies here is the mindset that if you are skinny or fit the ideal body of society then you win the golden medal, and that’s all that matters. This needs to be torn apart. Luckily it has — just not enough. Body positivity and intuitive eating have become increasingly mainstream over the past few years; but this picture-perfect body narrative still stands, firmly entrenched. Unfortunately, there isn’t a simple solution. The best we can do is understand that no one is in this journey alone, and that it is okay to have different shapes and sizes.

After much controversy, Rae Wellness has recalled their metabolism drops, but this is not to say that it won’t happen again. This is a message to wellbeing brands, of the harm their product can bring to a platform as boundless as TikTok. Going forward, brands will gain a greater understanding of how to market their goods, propelling them to “virality” and granting them control over consumer habits. This can be harmful and dangerous. Therefore, brands must be attentive in the networks and worlds they enter and the primarily teenage stakeholders at risk, to ensure that the products are age-appropriate and the way the product’s benefits are being marketed are not being manipulated.

This is just one prime example of TikTok’s toxicity. Teamwork and effort is the key to the lock to this harmful issue. The sooner, the better.

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