Content warning: This post discusses themes of eating disorders and mental illness some readers may find triggering.
On Wednesday, Kim Kardashian posted a picture of herself sucking on a harmless lollipop to her 111 million Instagram followers.
Only, it wasn’t harmless. It was an appetite suppressant lollipop.
“#ad You guys… @flattummyco just dropped a new product. They’re Appetite Suppressant Lollipops and they’re literally unreal. They’re giving the first 500 people on their website 15 percent OFF so if you want to get your hands on some… you need to do it quick! #suckit,” the 37-year-old captioned the image.
The backlash was fierce and swift. Why would someone with the reach and influence of Kim’s advertise a questionable product?
Look at the post’s comment section and you’ll find it riddled with words like “toxic”, “disgusting”, “dangerous”, “extremely harmful” and “horrific”.
“How do you sleep at night?” one commenter asked.
Regardless of Kim’s business or personal intentions, the fact remains – this ad is still live on the reality star turned businesswoman’s Instagram account. Millions more will see her sucking on an appetite suppressant lollipop.
But what actually is this product? What ingredients does it contain and would someone genuinely consume it?
We asked experts in nutrition, psychology and eating disorders to explain, in detail, exactly what appetite suppressant lollipops are, what is in them, and why sucking on one is terrible for your health.
What are appetite suppressant lollipops and how do they work?
The product Kim is advertising is called Flat Tummy Lollipops. According to the product’s description, the 35 calorie lollipops claim to kick cravings and suppress appetites, and contain natural colours and flavours.
But what exactly is in these lollipops and how do they really work?
The answer – an active ingredient called Satiereal.
“Satiereal is a product which is made up of saffron and a select number of synthetic additives,” Accredited and Practising Dietitian Rachel Scoular told Mamamia.
“Supposedly, this combination of additives and saffron activates a neurotransmitter in your brain which controls and suppresses your appetite.”
The product’s ingredients as listed on the Flat Tummy Co FAQ page also include: Cane Sugar, Brown Rice Syrup, Beet Juice (Beet Juice, Water, Citric Acid) and Turmeric.
Turmeric – specifically, one of its components Curcumin – is widely believed to have anti-inflammatory and weight loss properties. This has been proven in pre-clinical studies, however we don’t yet have sufficient scientific evidence into human consumption to support these claims.
But as Anna Debenham and Alex Parker, Accredited Practising Dietitians and The Biting Truth co-founders pointed out, cane and brown rice sugars are just others words for ‘added sugars’.
As for how appetite suppressant lollipops work, none of our dietitians could confirm that they act in the way described on the product’s website. They also would never recommend them to a patient.
“Flat Tummy Co claim ‘one to two lollipops per day [will] have your hunger under control and cravings in-check’, and if you snack on them ‘when you’re feeling hungry, it’ll suppress your appetite for a few hours’. But relying on candy and sugars to control your natural hunger cues would require an unsustainable amount of restraint and willpower,” Rachel said.
“Let’s set the record straight, there’s not enough evidence to support the use of satiereal for appetite control. Looking more broader, even the use of saffron for weight loss isn’t clinically proven.”
Anna and Alex added, “Keep in mind that these lollipops are considered supplements which means they are not regulated as strictly as prescription medications and therefore can be both ineffective and potentially unsafe to consume.”
Are appetite suppressant lollipops safe?
Determining whether the product Kim is endorsing is safe isn’t a matter of a straight ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. From a purely nutritional perspective, these appetite suppressants are safe to consume. They don’t contain any harmful chemicals and eating them in conjunction with a healthy diet won’t have a long-term impact on your physical health.
The more worrying concern is the dangerous impact using this product as a weight loss tool or way to curb cravings can have on your mental health.
“Any product that suppresses your appetite is purely another short-term, ineffective diet strategy which will ultimately further disrupt your relationship with food,” Rachel explained.
“Our appetite is a natural process, a healthy signal from your body indicating you require nutrients to function and thrive as a healthy individual. Ignoring or diluting those signals is a form of starvation, relying on such a suppressant and synthetic alternative to food is not an effective or long term solution for weight control.
“Deprivation sets you up for failure, more often then not, it can result in a larger, bigger binge than just eating something when you first realised you were hungry. A balanced diet and active lifestyle will always win in the long run. Choosing a diet rich in fibrous fruit and vegetables and a moderate intake of protein is a more effective strategy. Dietary fibre and protein are both known to promote satiety, meaning you’ll feel fuller for longer.”
Another danger of using appetite suppressants is masking your body’s natural hunger cues, which makes it harder to distinguish genuine hunger from emotional hunger. Rachel advised putting strategies in place so you’re mentally equipped to deal with this confusion long-term, rather than falling back on short-term quick fixes.
“Hunger is a natural sensation, but sometimes it’s hard to recognise our hunger signals and distinguish these from our emotional cues. One good place to start is determining when you’re hungry and when you’re not,” she said.
“Keeping a food diary for a week will help you to track your hunger levels and emotions. Eating regular, smaller meals more frequently can assist to stabilise your blood sugar levels and appetite. Every three to four hours is a nice time frame because that’s when your blood glucose starts to drop and you might be thinking of food again.”
Anna and Alex also stressed there are no quick fixes or silver bullets when it comes to nutrition.
“These lollipops promise a whole range of benefits, most of which are not backed by good science, and are likely to cause more harm than good. You are much better off focusing on consuming a variety of wholesome produce as this is a long term approach and encourages a positive relationship with food,” they said.
“Diets or pills or even lollipops that encourage people to ignore hunger actually work to reduce metabolism and make it much more difficult for your body to recognise when it is hungry and when it isn’t.
“Bottom line is that while they might not be physically harmful, appetite suppressant lollipops are not a healthy part of any diet, and there are definitely better ways to reduce cravings that are actually backed for science.”
Appetite suppressants and eating disorders
We contacted The Butterfly Foundation for comment in response to Kim’s Instagram post and the implications for mental health sufferers and those vulnerable to or living with an eating disorder.
“Any product that glamorises appetite suppressants or extreme dieting of any kind is dangerous and unsafe, particularly for those who are vulnerable to these types of messages,” a spokesperson for The Butterfly Foundation told Mamamia.
“It is also very concerning that dieting advice is being given on social media to a wide audience of people, from someone who may not have the qualifications to provide such advice.
“We know that dieting is one of the leading risk factors for the development of disordered eating and eating disorders. We often receive calls on our National Helpline from people who have started a diet, and as a result experience high levels of anxiety and stress around food and eating. What we can say is that encouraging people to count calories, have rules, rigid structures and ‘good and bad’ foods are definitely triggers for disordered eating and may potentially lead to an eating disorder because such diets are generally not sustainable.
“We know that engaging in a diet resulting in rapid weight loss usually results in regaining the weight when returning to regular eating. This in itself highlights that the diets are not realistic.”
Paula Kotowicz is a mental health councillor specialising in eating disorders and body image issues. Through her experience having worked with The Butterfly Foundation and The Eating Disorders Foundation on NSW, and her adolescence as a professional ballet dancer who suffered from an eating disorder, Paula knows first-hand the damage quick-fix diet fads can have on your mental health.
“[These lollipops] totally perpetuate unhealthy and dangerous behaviours and products, and present them as being normal and acceptable. Young people that are fans of hers on Instagram are going to see this and think this is totally fine, even if they had reservations, seeing Kim endorse this product ‘makes it OK’,” she told Mamamia.
“It’s seriously worrying that over 12 million people have engaged with her post, it’s a huge scope of vulnerable people and it’s very concerning.”
Infantalising practices commonly used by patients living with eating disorders to restrict and control their appetite and consumption provides vulnerable people with an opening into something which could become harmful down the track, she added.
“This advertising makes these lollipops seem harmless, that’s the trouble. 13, 14, 15-year-old kids are looking at this and thinking ‘it’s just a lolly’. It’s transgressing over into this dark place – we’ve all seen skinny tea and gummie products beautiful people use on Instagram – but when it’s in a lollipop, it’s even more dangerous because the product is trying to appear as innocuous when the opposite is true.”
“The other concern is the message these products send – they claim if you pop a few lollipops, it’ll get your appetite under control, but under control from what? When you’re hungry, you’re hungry, your body needs fuel, why is this a bad thing?”
Why Kim Kardashian’s Instagram post puts women and girls at risk
Not everyone who scrolls across Kim’s face seductively sucking on a lollipop will stop. Some will and are able to come to a logical, rational conclusion on their own.
Then there are those who aren’t. These are the people this kind of Instagram advertising targets and who are most vulnerable to being negatively influenced.
Social media is a powerful and profitable marketing tool – Kardashians are known to make up to $1 million per post to an audience of over 100 million.
This becomes a problem when something dangerous like fad dieting is packaged up as being glamorous or harmless, like sucking on a lollipop.
“Why are some people vulnerable and susceptible to this stuff and others are able to say what the hell, this isn’t right? A lot of that comes down to personality traits. Those who are concerned with conforming and looking a certain way or perfectionism are the people that are at risk,” Paula said.
“To those people, a post like Kim’s sends the message that ‘OK, sucking on appetite suppressant lollipops is what I’ve got to do now’ to gain the figure out there in Instagram land. People like that are a lot more engaged and are actively trying to do what they think is necessary to look a certain way and feel better about themselves, which is a strong motivator.”
The Butterfly Foundation reports around one million Australians are currently living with an eating disorder – many of the people at risk are pre-teens and teenagers. The same demographic that are more active on social media platforms like Instagram than ever before.
Then there’s how Kim’s public profile amplifies and lends credibility to the endorsed product, Paula pointed out.
“There’s also the perception that someone like Kim who has children is responsible. As well as her being attractive and famous, her endorsement says ‘Oh, I can trust her, she wouldn’t do anything irresponsible like that.'”
How can we protect ourselves from dangerous social media advertising?
In Paula’s experience, the antidote to Instagram advertising like Kim’s is developing self-worth. And no, it’s not easy.
“For a lot of people, we need to step back and give context. Remember, Kim is famous, her world is a different world. It’s not ours,” she said.
“Understand that we can and need to think for ourselves, to blindly follow fads and celebrities isn’t smart. Yes, that requires courage and self-worth. It’s easier to go with the crows when you don’t have that structure of self-worth in place, but always question what you see on social media.”
All the experts we spoke agreed anything that’s extreme, very restrictive, they’re never going to work long term.
“To achieve a long-term benefit, you need a long term strategy,” Paula said.
“Taking a pill or sucking on a lollipop is never going to work. It will give short term results because suddenly you’re not eating, but the long-term effects will only take you further away from getting the result you want.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, body image issues or mental illness, please seek professional help and contact The Butterfly Foundation National Helpline on 1800 334 673 or through email support via [email protected]
Do you think Kim Kardashian made the righ choice to advertise this product? Would you buy something if an Instagram influencer endorsed it?