What is WaterTok and why should we care?

A new TikTok trend known as "Watertok" has made a splash recently, as users experiment with flavoured water "cocktails." But the trend has raised many questions, including a debate over whether the drinks are still technically "water" and whether there are health risks associated with the latest viral craze.

A new TikTok trend known as “Watertok” has made a splash recently, as users experiment with flavoured water “cocktails.” But the trend has raised many questions, including a debate over whether the drinks are still technically “water” and whether there are health risks associated with the latest viral craze.

These so-called WaterTok videos often feature women filling large cups or water bottles with ice and water. They then create what is described as a cocktail by adding different water flavourings. Their goal – is to drink more water throughout the day.

The most infamous “water recipes” include birthday cake water, peach ring water and piña colada water. The creators use powdered flavourings from brands like Skittles, Sonic, Crush and Jolly Ranchers and syrups by Jordan’s Skinny MixesDaVinci and MiO to create the drinks.

While the flavourings are typically zero-calorie and zero sugar, the trend’s popularity has health experts concerned. This has primarily come about from the vibrant colours and sweetness of the drinks. It has seen people question where to draw the line between water, juice and cordial.

Others have resorted to mocking the trend, like this TikTok video with over 330,000 likes and 2.5 million views. The creator pretends to make a water recipe, but makes a pitcher of Kool-aid instead.

How did WaterTok start?

WaterTok originated from bariatric patients who needed to spice up their water intake while on pre- and postoperative liquid diets that last no more than five daysaccording to popular WaterTok creator Tonya Spanglo.

“In a perfect world, [people] would be drinking just regular water. But we know some people just don’t like it or don’t drink enough,” obesity medicine specialist and medical director of diabetes reversal company Virta Health Jeff Stanley said. “Adding a bit of [flavouring] can be helpful.”

Stanley said the liquid diet is for “people to lose a little bit of weight before the surgery… and shrink the liver a little, which makes the surgery easier.”

According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, there are three common types of bariatric surgeries. They are gastric bypass, sleeve gastrectomy (or the gastric sleeve) and adjustable gastric banding (or the lap band). During the gastric sleeve, 85 per cent of the patient’s is removed, creating a narrow tube that resembles a sleeve. During gastric bypass, the surgeon removes part of the stomach to create a pouch. The lap band involves an adjustable band placed at the top of the stomach and a port under the skin to tighten the band.

Spanglo, known on TikTok as takingmylifeback42, is a bariatric patient with almost 800,000 TikTok followers. In a recent video addressing the hate she’s received, she made it clear her “dietician and surgeon approved [flavoured water].” Spanglo is no longer on a liquid diet as she got her surgery three years ago, so she drinks flavoured water to meet her water intake goal of at least 1.89 litres a day.

The WaterTok trend has picked up steam on TikTok. It has caused some health experts to praise increased water consumption. At the same time, others have warned that replacing meals with water could lead to disordered eating.

At last count, the hashtag #WaterTok has accumulated over 130 million views on TikTok.

Are there benefits to WaterTok?

The main reason people drink flavoured water is to up their water intake.

TikToker Haley Staggs told NBC’s Today Show that WaterTok has helped her drink more water, and she now consumes nearly 3 litres of water a day.

Stanley said water recipes help his diabetic patients curb their sweet tooth. He found flavoured water was a good alternative to juice and soda because most flavourings use sugar substitutes. For the most part, Stanley believes the WaterTok trend is harmless and a way to “keep things interesting” while having fun. He considers it water “for all intents and purposes.”

Dietician Frances Largeman-Roth told Today, “It’s a fun thing to make and drink.” She loves how people level up their water intake but advised against using artificially coloured and flavoured syrups.

What are the risks of this WaterTok trend?

Like any trend, WaterTok has become popular among people who were not originally the target audience. Some WaterTok videos are also hashtagged as weight loss videos on TikTok. This is despite the trend not being overtly related to weight loss outside the bariatric surgery requirements.

However, the chief strategy officer for the eating disorder treatment organization the Emily Program and Veritas Collaborative, Jillian Lampert, told Rolling Stone flavoured water is a recipe for a potential eating disorder. Lampert labels people drinking water instead of food as “long-term, old-school eating disorder behaviour.”

Around 28.8 million Americans will have an eating disorder in their lifetimes, the Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders reported.

Abdul Matin Azizi is the principal dentist at Harley Private Dental. He warned The Independent about the dangers the trend can pose for dental health. Azizi said the additives, artificial sugars and citric acid in the flavourings can “erode tooth enamel and cause tooth decay” and recommended rinsing the mouth after consumption.

Most flavourings, like Skinny Mixes syrup, are sweetened with stevia and erythritol, both sugar alternatives used in the diabetic community. A recent study linked erythritol with an increased risk of heart disease. However, that study only featured participants with heart problems.

Are there alternatives if you want to drink more water?

Jessica Danaher, an accredited practising dietitian and senior lecturer at RMIT University, says while there’s no real harm in consuming candy-flavoured water from time to time, it’s also not benefiting you.

“When water comes in bright colours … that have added sugars or artificial colourings, it’s generally a gimmick,” she said. “You don’t need all those things in your water.”

But Dr Danaher says adding flavour could be helpful if you’d otherwise struggle to drink enough water throughout the day.

“So, particularly if … [the flavours] don’t have sugars, even if they do have artificial sweeteners, they should still be a healthier option than being dehydrated,” she says.

Dr Danaher suggests adding fresh fruit to your water bottle or jug for a healthier flavouring option.

“Ifou’re looking for something with a bit of an extra taste, you could infuse water yourself by adding some different fruits,” she said.

Lemons, watermelons, berries, cucumber and mint should do the trick. They could be cheaper and create less waste than their packaged counterparts.

While many of the videos feature low-calorie flavourings, Dr Danaher says if you’re adding syrups or powders with sugars, you’re also adding a lot of extra energy you mightn’t need.

“There’s no reason we need to pick them over the wide range of water that’s already available on the market. Tap water is just as healthy, safe and convenient as all other water available.”

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