Sunday, 17 January 2010

OverRated: Laxatives for Anorexics and Bulimics

It was in the news a few weeks ago that moves were afoot to stop laxatives from being available off the shelf in pharmacies and, presumably, supermarkets.

Apparently, as with paracetamol-based products and cough medicines, we need to be protected from ourselves and our addictions.

I fail to see how taking it off the shelf and making it dispensary-only is really going to stop people from using them for nefarious purposes, specifically those suffering with eating disorders.

What we really need is for more information to be available on the subject. For those of us who have trodden this well worn path over many years to educate those who follow in our footsteps. And, hopefully, to prevent them from making the same mistakes and suffering the same long term health consequences.

For anyone who thinks that laxatives are a good idea for dieting, the many years of intestinal difficulty that I suffered as a result of taking that route to facilitate my own eating disorder should provide a stark warning.

In my late teens and early twenties, I was both bulimic and anorexic. Mostly, I would eat nothing and use the laxatives to lose more weight but, if I did binge, I went through purging myself by putting my fingers into my mouth and activating the gag reflex until I vomited.

This is a totally disgusting process, which rots your teeth and just makes you feel permanently nauseous.

After several months of this, I could bear it no longer and moved onto laxatives to do the job more discreetly.

As a result, my poor bowels never really knew where they were.

Sure, it seemed to work for a while but then my system just became totally confused.

I was either completely constipated, with the waste building back up through my system and causing terrible bloating which only added to my distorted perception of my own body.

Alternatively, my stools were so loose that I was terrified to go out for fear of soiling myself.

However, my body dysmorphia meant that I persisted in this ridiculous routine of starving and purging myself.

Then followed the worst symptoms. The acute stomach cramps every time I did try to eat something. These were so painful that I couldn't walk. My gut would go into spasm, causing my belly to distend. I wanted to be sick and to defecate to ease the painful swelling but was unable to do either.

Although I only used the laxatives regularly for a year or so, these problems continued for decades afterwards, even during the time periods when I thought my anorexia was under control.

IBS and Crohns Disease were all suspected at various times, but now I know that a lot of it was triggered by my reliance on laxatives.

The damage this did to my intestinal walls was exacerbated by my predominantly bread-based diet and stressful lifestyle. The candida (gut bacteria) proliferated and leeched through into other parts of my body, causing thrush and other yeast infections.

After suffering with this for many years, I have chosen to try the anti-candida diet for the last few months and start making my gut more healthy by taking probiotics.

I haven't used a laxative for over twenty years, but only now that my diet has improved have I actually started to recover from the damage that my prolific use of them caused.

For more information on how to treat thrush, candida and yeast infections, click here



Transylvanian Miss said...

Bravo to you hun, you're totally right in what you say here!!!

The side effects really are horrific, I'm trying really hard to control it at the moment.

I went on a diet during the summer which promised wonderful results, (you take three satchets of milkshake stuff a day and fibre and under no circumstances can you touch food) and it was monitored which I was happy with. However, because I suffer from bullimia and I quite easily become addicted to the whole dieting process, I naturally took it to extremes and one day I would have no milkshake and the next day I would have one milkshake and that was it. I started taking laxatives again even though I wasn't eating. I was only on it for six weeks after which my mother insisted I stop, I lost three stone in the six weeks. However following that my hair started to fall out, I couldn't eat properly because my stomach had shrunk so much and then my periods stopped. Scary time. That was in August and only now my system is starting to right itself. I still get the urge though to diet like that and to take laxatives.

I don' think I will ever really understand why as humans we put so much stress and worry on attaining physical perfection. How come we can't be happy with simply being healthy.

AlwaysArousedGirl said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tempo said...

Very sad tale Joanna, and very sobering. I had no idea that laxatives are misused this way. Thankfully I've never suffered thus, though as most people do, I occasionally have tummy troubles. (especially after a course of antibiotics) I find that a little plain natural Yoghurt each evening after dinner for a week or so helps restore normal intestinal activity. Your probiotics are of course the same thing but more concentrated.

Gypsy said...

You should be very proud of yourself for overcoming such a vicious cycle. It couldn't have been easy and it's very brave of you to get the message out there for people who suffer from the same condition. I hope your body continues to heal.

Gorilla Bananas said...

I never realised that shitting frequently could make you lose weight. Is the stuff that comes out only partly digested?

Joanna Cake said...

TM/B - Please, please look after yourself. You ARE beautiful and you dont need to punish yourself in this way.

You need to start looking within to try to ascertain what it is that makes you want to hurt yourself so that you can feel in control. Have you tried to see a Counsellor? I know from bitter experience that if you dont work out the cause, then the mindset can proliferate and take over your life for years and years.

Start learning to love yourself x

Tempo - Live yoghurt is great stuff, although I have to take the soya version as I dont do dairy any more because of my problems with candida.

Gypsy - Thank you x I finally worked out some of the causes of this mindset and I am so much happier about everything these days :)

MrB - I never examined it that closely but once you've upset the balance, it goes from solid as a rock to gravy at a whim.

There are some dieting products on the market at the moment where the side effects seem to be upset stomach and diarrhoea. They were discussing it on another blog recently. I will see if I can find a link.

Doom said...

I guess I am totally in the dark about what goes on regarding some of these issues. It is difficult to read, to a degree.

Though I really regret you felt the need to do these things, I am pleased to see you write about it openly and honestly, hoping that someone who might be considering following your path reconsiders her actions.

On a related note, the US Census Bureau indicated that vegetarians and other "health food" devotees use laxatives at a much higher rate, say 4 to 10 times as much of the stuff (can't remember exactly, but it's in there). I have to assume that those diets are not healthy for humans just from that data. Just an added warning, or at least thought on the topic.

Oh, but I really do agree on another issue... The government really needs to stop playing in people's lives. I sort of suspect that they initiated much of this through their various wars (such as on obesity). They can never keep ahead of unintended consequences. Dolts that they are.

phallatio said...

I hate the 'diet industry' with a passion! What an evil, manipulative group of people they are!
I hate them almost as much as I hate the fashion industry, who give women a completely warped view of what the female body should look like.
These two industries make millions for themselves and bring misery to millions of women, who struggle with their eating habits in a vein attempt to look like one of those stick insects we see on the catwalk.

Joanna Cake said...

Hey Doom - I have to say I cant work out those figures for the vegetarians. Ruf is a vegan and he eats so many pulses that he empties his bowels at least two or three times a day! For myself, I found that eating less meat is much better for my system as well.

phallatio - I second that!

Transylvanian Miss said...

Thank you for your lovely words. I understand why I have the issues that I do and I think it is going to take me a very very long time to work through everything but perhaps one day I will get where I am going to.
I did try the counsellor route not long after my dad died and well to quote her exactly "You will be fine, you don't have problems. Why are you here. I feel as though you are just attention seeking." I never went back after that and since then I have my own ways of dealing with problems. I don't like burdening people and as long as one doesn't draw too much attention or think to hard it's all grand.
Wow, I read back over that and I sound a bit crazy :) awh well. I admire what you are doing and I would love to one day be able to achieve it. Goodluck hun!