Is all the hype about tea and weight loss true?

There is a long-standing belief that true tea, Camellia sinensis, can help with weight loss and weight management. Ancient medical practices, as well as modern research with humans, animals, and laboratory studies with cells spanning decades, support this belief. It is so widely accepted that it becomes even easier for companies to hype tea in their marketing to sell products that may not actually be beneficial. This abuse is a problem. As the hype becomes too-good-to-be-true but the experience doesn’t live up to the promise, people are understandably skeptical in the future. For example, when a diet pill that features tea extract as the miracle component in their product doesn’t strip away the unwanted pounds, then other aspects of tea drinking for healthy weight management are doubted.

Hundreds of articles have been published explaining the studies. Science puts tea to the test under the microscope and publishes good results. But this way of thinking equates sipping cups of tea with swallowing a diet pill. While science may produce evidence that tea extracts can be helpful when included in weight-loss supplements and that daily tea consumption has benefits, we do not see vast evidence that tea drinkers are thin simply because of their daily practice. In other words, not all tea drinkers are living at their optimal weight.

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Weight loss vs. Weight management

The real strength of using tea as part of a program to achieve or maintain a healthy weight is how we use it in our daily consumption, creating a tea habit or practice that satisfies many different issues that affect our weight. My preference in this article is to narrow the focus to drinking tea as weight management in part of an overall healthy lifestyle. It is possible then, to consider tea as weight management vs. a full-on weight loss program.

We know that there are medical conditions that cause obesity that should be treated by a physician. There are also genetic traits that can be an issue. Even though some medical scientists are exploring the benefits of tea to treat these, we are not considering those in this article. Rather, the two most obvious contributors to obesity are lifestyle choices that can be changed. These are consuming too many calories without getting enough exercise. How can drinking tea help address these? Additionally, there are hidden causes of obesity that can be helped by a daily tea habit. These include things like stress, emotional issues, low self-esteem, insomnia, fad diets, and some ingredients in packaged food – even low-fat and diet foods.

Ten ways that drinking tea can help you achieve your weight management goals.

It has been studied and widely accepted to be true that fad diets tend to produce a yo-yo effect that can actually contribute to obesity. Weight management is a much healthier goal that can be achieved by healthy dietary and exercise habits. While there are many different tools and resources that can be used to accomplish this goal. Along with a good diet that is rich in vegetables and low in sugar and carbohydrates plus a regular exercise routine, weight management need not be a struggle unless there are other health issues. Here are a few suggestions. 

  1. Replace less healthy beverages.  Because tea can be enjoyed without adding sweeteners. While there are about 2 calories in an 8-ounce cup of tea, adding sweeteners can add 100 calories. Discovering some of the naturally sweet herbs, flowers and spices can make the unsweetened beverage very satisfying without sugar, honey, or any of the other culprits. Additionally, we now know the dangers of artificial sweeteners that do not add calories up-front but have other serious consequences that can actually add pounds. 
  2. Stave off snacking. Even though tea has a history of being served with high-calorie pastries, toppings, and sweets, the reality is that tea alone without the carb-loaded treat can take the edge off the afternoon’s sinking feeling and help you get through the wait until the next meal.
  3. Alternative to stress eating. The need for between-meal-snacks is not always triggered by hunger. For many, the end of an argument or the way to deal with fear is to load up with something sweet and yummy. Consider swapping a 2 calorie cup of calming tea for a 200 calorie dish of ice cream.  
  4. Creates a daily practice that triggers calm.  Setting aside a time of day to pause with a tea break creates a habit that can prove useful when you face unexpected stress or anxiety. The act of making tea is calming and doing it daily gives you a tool that can help when you’re looking for ways to manage stress without relying on food.
  5. Boost your mood. Even if you’re not feeling stress or anxiety, a simple sinking into the “blaaaaahs” can trigger a trip to the snack shelf for food comforts that we know will add pounds. But tea, Camellia sinensis, and also many different herbal teas actually brighten the moment. And you feel better about yourself for making the healthier choice. 
  6. Give you more energy. The caffeine in tea gives you an energy boost to shave off extra calories. This might inspire you to go for a walk vs. slumping into a favorite comfy chair. Or walk farther than usual. Or extend your yoga routine. Or add a few more reps to your exercise routine. 
  7. Mental focus and clarity. At that moment when you need to power through a project but your brain and attention span seems to be shutting down, the powerhouse combo of caffeine and L-Theanine can help you recharge vs. the candy bar that you might be considering as a distraction from the frustration. This supports mindfulness meditation that has also proven to be helpful at managing stress and anxiety. 
  8. Distraction from boredom. We also overeat when we are bored. Having tea as a rewarding activity in your day can help you shift from chewing to sipping. This is the perfect time to try a new tea, create a new blend, read a new article on T Ching, or even invite a friend to share a tea break with you.
  9. Social interaction sharing with family and friends. Tea can be a healthy alternative to family gatherings. The menu doesn’t have to include excessive calories. There are many wonderful low-calorie, healthy and delicious foods to serve at your tea party. 
  10. Feeling of elegance. Feel good about yourself. With tea, you have the option to be fancy. A special occasion teacup. An especially nice tea. Teatime can be the time when you treat yourself well. It might not cure major depression but it can certainly serve as a reminder that you’re worth a bit of special attention. 

The science of tea and weight loss

In addition to the benefits of fewer calories and the way, it enhances daily life, oolong, black and green teas have all been studied for their potential benefits to weight loss in a laboratory environment.

One assumption is that tea, Camellia sinensis, improves lipid metabolism and inhibits fat absorption. This is attributed mainly to the bioactive compounds; caffeine, catechins, and polymerized polyphenols. As we have discussed in other articles of this series, these same components contribute to other aspects of health and well-being. Additionally, laboratory use of tea extracts is something that is much more difficult to interpret in daily life in a useful way. But the media attention to the success of some of their reports has led to green tea extracts being included in many supplements, food, and beauty products. And some of these may not have the legitimate health benefits they tout. 

In one of the most extensive and respected publications on the science of tea and health research, “Tea in Health and Disease Prevention” by Victor Preedy, published an article, “Review of the Clinical Evidence on Tea Consumption and Weight Loss by Selena Ahmed, Department of Biology, Tufts University.

Her review compares 38 different studies. And her conclusion is that;

While the evidence on tea consumption and weight loss shows the discrepancy between studies, over 80% of the studies reviewed demonstrate that tea consumption beneficially effected outcome parameters. Additionally, tea offers a promising choice in weight management strategies.

The importance of reviews like this one by Selma Ahmed is the way in which it brings together some of the best minds working with tea and health science but gives weight to the daily practice of drinking tea rather than what happens on the cellular level.