Using laxatives to lose weight is a bad idea – this is why

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Laxatives are a dangerous and ineffective way to lose weight.
Laxatives are a dangerous and ineffective way to lose weight.
Peter Dazeley/Getty

It brings back the worst childhood memories for some of us – being forced to swallow a chocolate-shaped or oily laxative in order to purge inyongo (gall).

As kids, many of us would be put off the idea of eating chocolate for a long, long time after that experience.

For some teens, though, laxatives are useful for a purpose completely different to what our parents intended, even with the questionable science behind removing inyongo. 

“Since I was in high school, I have been using laxatives every day,” a reader who’s in her 30s wrote to us, saying she feels she cannot go a day without taking them.

“I used to be a fat child, and these helped me to slim down as a teen. The problem is, I’m now in my early 30s and still use them.”

“I feel like I must have them every day or I will just pick up weight. I have a new man in my life who says it is a problem. He says it’s not normal and that I should not be taking the tablets as much as I do. Is he right?”

Although this reader’s case may seem extreme, there are many people starting from a young age, who take laxatives for the purposes of slimming down for a particular event or after binge eating.

“Laxatives are a type of medication used to relieve constipation. People without constipation sometimes take laxatives thinking that passing more stools will lead to weight loss. This method of losing weight is not healthy at all, as it interferes with normal bowel action and can cause a lot of health complications,” according to Gladys Pule, a life coach and registered professional nurse based in Johannesburg.

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Not only is it a harmful way to try to lose weight quickly or try to minimise the effects of binge eating, but it’s ineffective for any other use than what it’s intended to do – treat constipation. “Laxatives don’t stop your body from absorbing calories or from gaining weight,” Dr Dan Brennan tells WebMD.

“The food you eat goes through lots of processes before it reaches your bowel and becomes stool. Your body absorbs calories, fat, and most nutrients before they get to the large intestine. What’s left of your food is waste that your body doesn’t need and that is mostly full of water and some minerals. The waste moves into your large intestine, where your body absorbs some of the water, minerals, and any other healthful substances that remain.”

Misuse of laxatives for weight loss can actually have the effect of teaching your body not to pass bowel movement normally then you end up being constantly constipated.

“Your body basically stops trying to remove stool on its own, and you’re stuck with constipation that can be extremely difficult to reverse,” Dr Neilanjan Nandi, a gastroenterologist at Drexel Medicine tells Women’s Health.

“It’s an age-old myth that never seems to go away. Laxatives are a terrible idea for weight loss. They’re neither effective nor safe.”

Yes, you may look slimmer or weigh less after constantly running back and forth to the loo for a few days, but that’s not actually as a result of actual fat lost or calories burnt. 

Many laxatives make your body lose water as the water your drink goes to softening your stool, but very little to no fat can be lost with laxatives, women’s health expert Dr Jennifer Wider tells Self magazine.

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Nurse Gladys’ advise to anyone resorting to this dangerous weight loss method is, “Stop fighting with your body, eat healthily, exercise and enjoy your life. “When we love ourselves, we accept ourselves as we are and other people learn to accept us as we are as well.

“If possible, see a weight management specialist who will take your weight, height and fat percentage and give you accurate recordings so you’ll know if there is any reason to worry. You will then be advised on the right action to take.”

Additional sources: Women’s Health; self.com, Move!

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