A number of individuals with eating disorders often resort to laxative abuse under the mistaken impression that they will quickly purge their bodies of surplus calories and successfully shed unwanted pounds. They believe that the empty sensation provided by the laxative effect on the large intestine is a sign that they have successfully managed to rush food and calories out of the digestive system before they can be absorbed by the body.
The sensation of being thin from having voided one’s bowels due to the ingestion of laxatives gives but a temporary illusion of thinness. In reality the loss of weight experienced comprises primarily water and indigestible fiber. Instead of actually losing weight, the laxative abuser depletes his or her body of essential minerals and vital electrolytes. The consequences of laxative abuse can lead to a number of physical health problems which ultimately may be life-threatening.
Most people are familiar with the expression “the scale doesn’t lie,” but in the case of laxative abuse, and with eating disorders in general, the scale can be a deceptive and deadly enemy. Although one’s overall weight appears to have dropped following the removal of waste from the colon emptying of the large intestine, as noted above, this is merely water weight. Individuals essentially experience a degree of dehydration in the aftermath of the artificial stimulation of laxatives. The moment they consume any fluids the “lost” weight returns.
Chronic laxative abusers are familiar with the “off again, on again” aspect of laxative-induced “weight-loss,” and frequently respond by denying themselves much-needed hydration. Since a large percentage of the human body is composed of water, any level of dehydration is injurious to its healthy functioning. Mild dehydration may often be handled by simply drinking liquids fortified with necessary salts and electrolytes but severe dehydration is not so easily remedied. The laxative abuser that has foregone liquids in a desperate attempt to feel thin is in serious danger of taxing his or her body and to the point of organ failure, loss of consciousness and even death.
The evident dangers of laxative abuse are further compounded by the fact that many eating disordered individuals develop a laxative dependency. The colon develops a “tolerance” to laxatives and a larger-and-large dose is required for the bowels to excrete waste. The long term effects can permanently damage the colon.
It is essential that anyone abusing laxatives seek treatment from health professionals experienced in caring for individuals suffering with eating disorders. An effective course of therapy is comprehensive in that it should address the underlying psychological issues of eating disorders while managing the physical well-being and general health of the afflicted individual. Lasting recovery is possible with a dedicated team of therapists and clinicians and the eating disordered individual’s commitment to getting better.