Laxative abuse is a purging behavior, in which a person attempts to rid their body of unwanted calories by quickly flushing undigested food through their intestines. People often report feeling “lighter” or “emptier” after using laxatives, which they mistakenly relate to weight loss. However, by the time food reaches the large intestine, the only components that have not been absorbed are water, fiber, minerals, many essential vitamins and electrolytes, and waste. Therefore, the “weight” that is lost is essentially water weight, and is comprised of many critical elements that the body needs to function. Laxative abuse causes dehydration and electrolyte imbalances that can affect the heart, and other organs in the body. The colon becomes dependent on laxatives with continued use, and also requires larger and larger doses over time.
The treatment for laxative abuse involves a team approach, as it is characterized by both physical and psychological components. As with all eating disorder treatment, a physician, a knowledgeable therapist and a dietitian are essential. A physician can help develop a withdrawal plan in order to discontinue laxative use. Therapy is essential in order to deal with the psychological dependence on laxatives, body image issues, emotional issues and distorted thoughts. Here at the Eating Disorders Treatment Center, we have worked successfully with many clients suffering from laxative abuse.