In Grim News, TikTok Is Pushing White Chocolate Flavoured Water as a Meal Replacement

Flavoured water, or

Warning: This article deals with an account of an eating disorder that could be triggering for some readers.

“Good morning, let’s make our water of the day,” says Taylor Pullan in a video with 16.k views on TikTok. The surreal video seems to be an undisclosed ad for a brand “drink” called “Jordan Skinny Syrups”. 

“Mmmmm, that’s so refreshing”, Taylor exclaims, saying she’s been “sucking these down” every hour. 

WaterTok is a hashtag with 94.6 million views on TikTok. It’s a viral trend about adults — usually white women — drinking vast volumes of heavily iced and sugar-free cordial-saturated water. These water additives come in a range of disturbing flavours like glazed donut, “Nerds”, birthday cake, treacle, white chocolate, and the mysteriously named “Unicorn Dreams”. WaterTokers are evangelical about the benefits of these “cocktails”, although they don’t specify what those benefits actually are. 

@taytayymarie #water #watertok #jordanskinnysyrups #skinnysyrups #hydrationtiktok #hydrationtiktok #drinkpackets #watertiktok #funwater ♬ pastel skies – Rook1e

Why #WaterTok Is Drawing Heat

We all know staying hydrated is healthy and essential to life, so what’s the issue? First, almost every post is accompanied by the hashtag #skinnysyrups. 

Yes, they appear to be undisclosed ads for Skinny Mixes, a brand of sugar-free flavoured mixers that come in saccharine flavours.

The second? The WaterTok trend is undeniably all about being skinny.

Creators are already experiencing backlash for pushing the trend — although many don’t understand where the criticism is coming from. One #WaterTok influencer named Tonya, who operates under the handle @taknigmylifebackat42 and documents her 220-pound weight loss journey, complained: “You guys will not stop commenting on my videos, and they’re all negative…” 

@takingmylifebackat42 💚💚💚💚#WATERTOK ♬ original sound – 🖤Tonya

She’s referring to comments that slam her “recipes” as “far from water” and criticise her for promoting products that contain aspartame. She says the detractors should mind their own business. Tonya shrugs the critique off, saying at 42 she shouldn’t be teaching zoomers that they can avoid seeing her videos by not commenting.

Tonya is right about the algorithm, but she’s missing the point. 

The History of Water and Weight Loss 

In 2021, Lucy Huber tweeted: “If any Gen Z is wondering why every Millennial woman has an eating disorder, it’s because in the 2000s a normal thing to say to a teenage girl was ‘when you think you feel hungry, your actually thirsty so just drink water, and you’ll be fine’.”

I can attest that this was the vibe. At the time, it seemed like every celebrity, from Oprah to Britney Spears, attributed a tight and toned body to drinking 3L of water a day.

When I was 14, I read that drinking ice water could boost your metabolism, keep you full and make you lose weight. As a teenager who chowed down Vogue magazines like it was my job and had ‘90s Kate Moss Calvin Klein ads sticky taped (much to my mother’s horror) all over my bedroom walls, I started drinking 5 or 6L of 70 percent frozen water a day. This was accompanied by several litres of aspartame-rich Diet Coke. Yes, I spent most of my early high school years in the bathroom. 

It was no fun, it saw me marched to a dietician and a psychologist by my parents,  but it wasn’t uncommon at a Catholic girls’ school full of Tumblr-tuned-in millennials

What Is Aspartame?

Aspartame is a chemical sweetener currently approved for use in Australia and New Zealand — but a re-evaluation has been proposed.

@beccers_gordonn Do you guys still consider this water? #watertok #water #skinnysyrups #oceanwater #watertok2023 ♬ COLLIDE X HOLD YUH BY ALTÉGO – ALTÉGO

Aspartame has been linked to health issues like type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, some types of cancer, and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. It’s also known to aggravate mental health conditions like anxiety.

The jury is also out on whether aspartame is safe to consume at the volume WaterTokers are suggesting. While aspartame is considered safe when consumed at 40mg, per kilo of body mass. Given an eating disorder can cause obsessive behaviour, it’s possible WaterTok followers are exceeding this.

I know that if my 7L of frozen water and 3L diet coke-chugging 14-year-old self had been on TikTok today, I’d be full of “Unicorn Dream.” (I’ve checked, and it’s one of the least weird, most fun-sounding options.)

Related: 12 Foods Experts Say to Avoid If You Have Anxiety

Ozempic, Tumblr-core and The Return of Diet Culture

It’s hard to see TikTok’s enthusiasm for flavoured water as separate from trending treatments like Ozempic. WaterTok isn’t the only troubling trend saturating the platform, its massive popularity does place it in the spotlight. Sure, Tonya is furious with young people criticising her, but the anger is part of a bigger context.

Eating disorders are on the rise in children aged 5-13 in Australia. There has also been a reported 25 percent global spike in emergency hospitalisations of adolescents suffering eating disorders. TikTok is a youth platform, so trends like WaterTok can’t be seen as separate from this phenomenon.

Other TikTokers are mocking the trend. TikToker Loislanea has drawn parallels between the WaterTok trend and a “Parks and Recreation” joke — “The ‘zero’ refers to the amount of water in Water Zero. If you want less calories, try Diet Water Zero Lite. It only has 60 calories.” Meanwhile, a perplexed Kaleigh wondered, “If you’re 45 and can’t drink plain water without two packs of nerds flavouring and 3 squirts of strawberry icicle WATER SYRUP??? I don’t think it’s the water that’s the root problem.”

I hate to be the one to tell you, but if your meal replacement drink was also a punchline in a sitcom, it’s not the vibe.

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If this article brings up any issues for you or anyone you know or you need help and support for eating disorders, please contact the Butterfly Foundation National Support Line and online service 1800 ED HOPE (1800 33 4673) or email [email protected].

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