An upbeat woman takes to TikTok to bring users along for her mid-morning hydration hit. She rummages through a caddy full of flavor packets, screaming “crushed pineapple” once she picks one. She grabs her cup of ice and water, then moves toward her “water bar,” which is stocked with Jordan’s Skinny Mixes brand syrups.
“Dragon fruit açai? Nah. Coconut, let’s do that,” Tonya Spanglo, who goes by @takingmylifebackat42, says to her 764,000 followers while sorting through the containers. “Two pumps of the coconut syrup, mama’s trying to have a piña colada.” She pauses. “Let’s do three.”
Welcome to “WaterTok,” one of the latest trends taking over timelines. People are creating cocktails of flavored syrups, powder packets, ice, and, obviously, water (traditionally in their large Stanley cups) in an effort to boost their daily water intake.
Much of the trend’s success is owed to its contentiousness. People fight in the comments on whether at this point it’s actually water, soda, or juice; of course, the TikTokers don’t care for the criticism. “Call it what you want but we are hydrated and happy,” one creator, who goes by @jess_on_mainstreet, says in a caption to her post where she’s holding her syrups and flavor packets and lip-synching to Leona Lewis’ “Bleeding Love.”
Since last week, the hashtag “flavored water” has garnered hundreds of millions of views on TikTok; likewise, “water recipe” has seen been seen by tens of millions. People are sharing recipes for everything from “peach ring water” (Crush orange drink powder, two pumps of sugar-free Torani peach syrup) to “ocean water” (Sonic’s ocean water packet, a couple of splashes of sugar-free Torani coconut syrup), and “pink wedding cake water” (two pumps each of Skinny Syrups’s sugar-free vanilla almond and coconut flavors, and Starburst’s all pink strawberry drink mix powder).
The creators, sometimes to the ire of commenters, all come to the common consensus: The flavored water creations are getting them to drink more water. For some, they say that’s helpful in their efforts to cut down on soda, while others are looking to lose or maintain weight.
Spanglo has been making her flavored water for years now, starting after she struggled to meet her daily water goal following weight-loss surgery. “I just I have never been a water drinker, ever,” she tells Fast Company. “The protein goal I didn’t have a problem with. Vitamins, the exercise daily, no problem. The water, I could not meet my water goal.”
Her post-surgery handbook recommended ways to get more water in, including adding squeezes of lemon or lime and sugar-free syrups or powders. That’s when it clicked: She added a fruity flavored syrup she found in T.J. Maxx to her drink and has met her goal every day since.
“It’s just taken off and it is crazy,” says Spanglo, who favors the birthday cake and banana flavors.
The water recipes mostly rely on sugar-free syrups and sugar-free or low-sugar powder packets, so the TikTokers can point to the drinks being sugar and calorie free. (To be sure, sugar alternatives don’t necessarily equate to “healthy,” just as real sugar isn’t automatically “unhealthy.”)
Some health experts are reportedly concerned about the amount of artificial sweeteners people are consuming and how it can impact their gut health or teeth, as well as potential risks of disordered eating. “Anything in moderation is fine,” Dr. Uma Naidoo, a Harvard trained nutritional psychiatrist, told CNBC. “But I do want people to be aware that just because it’s zero calories does not make it a healthy food. Your body may be getting hydrated, but it may be affecting you in a bad way somewhere else.”
Spanglo stresses that she follows the advice of her dietician, nutritionist, and surgeon. She has been deleting thousands of comments that are extremely negative or laced with profanity. Sometimes, she says, people will attack her followers who make Spanglo’s drinks and tag her in their posts. “It’s just a little water recipe,” she says. “I respect your opinion, respectfully, as long as you respect mine.”
WaterTok has been a boon to Skinny Mixes, the 14-year-old company Spanglo partners with and often features in her recipes. Each bottle retails between $7.99 and $9.99. “We can’t keep the products in stock,” founder and president Jordan Engelhardt tells Fast Company. “We can’t keep them at retail. We can’t keep them on our website. So, it’s been obviously wonderful for our company.”