Getting ready for Spring Break is no day at the beach.
Taylor Light, a 22-year-old exercise science major at the University of Toledo, is heading to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in two weeks. She says she’s pumped for six days of partying on the sand with her friends — and feels like she’s earned it, after three grueling months of workouts and dieting.
“I’ve lost 12 pounds so far,” Light tells The Post.
The 5-foot-5-inch college senior, who weighed 150 in December, has been working out five days a week for two hours at a clip and following a $35 online fitness plan she found on Instagram called “Get Lean, Stay Healthy.” She also uses her FitBit to ensure she maintains a calorie deficit — meaning, burning more calories than she’s taking in — and has “been drinking more coffee to get my metabolism going.” Her ultimate goal? To shed 15 pounds — and to look good in the new bikinis she’s bought for the trip.
For high school and college students, the pressure to look bikini-ready for Spring Break has never been stronger. Blame apps like Instagram and TikTok, which inundate young users with punishing workout plans, unregulated diet supplements and fitspo — “motivational” pictures and quotes about working out.
These digitally driven obsessions can lead to serious real-world consequences: Experts say that bouts of restrictive dieting can have unwanted side effects, and could potentially give way to long-term eating disorders.
“Teens and young girls don’t eat, and then they’ll binge drink,” says Dana Suchow, an NYC-based expert on eating disorders. “Yo-yo dieting and weight cycling put a lot of stress on a person’s body.”
Praise — and coercion — from classmates can be huge drivers of disordered eating, according to Jordana Turkel, a dietician at Park Avenue Endocrinology & Nutrition on the Upper East Side. She says that crash diets and supplements are particularly “dangerous,” and is especially worried about younger girls getting caught up in them. “You have results but they aren’t prolonged and they can have real negative effects,” says Turkel.
Andrea Castillo, a 20-year-old studying at American University, is well aware of those dangers. When she was in high school, she struggled with anorexia and binge eating.
“For prom, we would all make sure we weren’t eating,” says Castillo, who says she’s experimented with apple cider vinegar pills, Slim Fast shakes, detox teas, an 800-calorie-a-day diet and intermittent fasting to lose weight.
“For example, if my friend wanted a cookie we’d say, ‘No, don’t eat that, you need to fit into your dress.’ ”
But even those painful memories haven’t deterred Castillo from the Spring Break slimdown. The sophomore, who is taking classes online from her home in Miami, says she is looking to drop weight to “help me feel confident in a bikini” before her DC friends come visit her for a long weekend.
While she acknowledges the stress to stay trim is “toxic,” she’s been downing a homemade concoction of water, cinnamon and lemon juice in the morning and before bed. She’s lost 10 pounds off of her 155-pound frame so far and says the drink allows her to eat less “without getting obsessive about food.”
Castillo, who found the recipe online and hopes to lose 15 more pounds, posts about its effectiveness on TikTok, a social-media platform. The video-sharing app has become a popular place for young people to extol weight loss methods — including some dubious ones.
Take Rae Wellness’ Metabolism Drops, which combine caffeine, raspberry ketones and taurine, an amino acid found in energy drinks such as Monster and Red Bull.
“When one thing blows up on TikTok, everybody sees it and wants to try it,” says Olivia Notarangelo, an 18-year-old freshman at University of Rhode Island. That’s what inspired her to buy the metabolism drops. “I’ve only been using it for about a week, and my roommates are telling me that my face looks thinner.”
Emma Lohnes, a 5-foot-7 high school senior in Pepperell, Massachusetts, lost 10 pounds in the past two weeks taking Rae’s drops, which she bought at Target and says “have become almost a meme.”
“I found them on TikTok. I saw it everywhere and it was easy to get . . . the first time I took them, I got a boost of energy,” says Lohnes, 18, who is trying to lose five more pounds before a trip to Aruba with her family and best friend next month.
“It helps me not eat as much, and when I take the drops, food goes through me faster than normal,” says Lohnes. “A couple of people have given me compliments about my weight . . . I gave the drops to one of my friends to try.”
That’s concerning, as Rae Wellness pulled its metabolism drops — which had been back-ordered until May — from stores and its website in February.
“We became aware of a disturbing trend on TikTok where teenage girls were misusing our metabolism drops. While there is no risk in taking this product as directed, we proactively paused the sale of these drops,” Angie Tebbe, Rae’s representative, says in a statement.
That hasn’t stopped teens and twentysomethings from trying to score whatever’s left on the shelves — and documenting their trips on TikTok.
Nor does it reassure experts like Turkel, who worries about the effects of such products on young women.
“I worry about the caffeine content in over-the-counter weight-loss medications, in terms of cardiac health,” she says. The caffeine may “boost metabolism momentarily,” but it also “raises your blood sugar, and you will crash lower if you aren’t eating and drinking properly.”
Plus, she’s not so convinced they even work. “There’s minimal evidence that adding ketones to your diet” can trigger the fat-burning state known as ketosis, she says.
Since Light is studying exercise science, she acknowledges that some of these dieting measures — and the body ideals driving them — aren’t exactly healthy.
“I have a few friends that, for a few days, won’t eat anything but celery or [a few] pieces of bread, and that’s all they give themselves for the day,” says Light. “I’ve heard a lot of people cutting out carbs completely.”
But with Spring Break looming, she doesn’t exactly feel well-positioned to lead the revolution on body positivity.
“A ton of people will be down there from my school,” says Light. “We’re probably going to get pictures, and I want to lose the weight before I’m walking around in a bikini that whole time.”
If you or someone you love is struggling with an eating disorder, you can get help. Call the National Eating Disorder Association helpline at (800) 931-2237 or visit nationaleatingdisorders.org.
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