Authored by H. Clare Callow in Weight Issues
Published on 08-25-2009
Laxatives are often taken by those wishing to lose weight, but are a misguided and sometimes dangerous path to take for weight loss. Experts on eating disorders often consider laxative use a sign of an eating disorder, although diet inventors often include laxatives as a valid approach.
The use of laxatives to lose weight tends along two lines, the physical and the psychological. Dieters often take them after food in the hope that the calories they’ve just consumed will not be absorbed. Eating disorder sufferers also take laxatives as a way of purging their bodies of perceived impurities. Both are unhealthy.
The main difficulty when it comes to laxatives for weight loss is that laxatives do not cancel calorie intake. Laxatives work lower in the digestive system, after calories have been absorbed in the stomach. As C. Laird Birmingham and Pierre Beumont note, “Abuse of laxatives is not an effective method of weight loss because the weight loss occurs predominantly due to transient loss of fluids or stool rather than prevent calorie absorption.” (’Medical management of eating disorders: a practical handbook for health care’.) Most of the benefit is psychological, as users observe an initially smaller stomach, although this changes as side-effects take hold.
There are a few types of laxatives available, and each of them works differently. Hyperosmotic and stimulant laxatives draw water into the bowels to help move waste along. Stool softeners and lubricants each have an obvious function. Bulk producing agents contain fibre which builds up the bulk of stools, resulting in smoother digestion.
Laxatives are often thought to be safe because of their wide distribution. It’s a very easy thing to go and buy a packet of laxatives from any chemist or even a supermarket. A frightening trend has been growing of young women taking laxatives after eating particularly fatty or sugary meals. Recent research conducted on behalf of the Eating Disorders Association in the UK showed that, for women, one in five take laxatives for weight loss, and female students are particularly prone to laxative abuse.
The side effects of taking laxatives can be highly unpleasant. On top of stomach cramps, there’s nausea, gas, and of course diarrhea. Laxatives also cause loss of potassium and other electrolytes in the system, which can lead to heart attacks. More than that, laxatives used over a long period can permanently change the way the digestive system works.
The body can become dependant on laxatives when they are used for a long time. The system becomes reliant on laxatives for proper function. As with other abused substances, withdrawal symptoms usually occur if a user stops taking laxatives, and it is advised for long-term users to slowly decrease their intake over a number of weeks instead of going cold turkey.