Bowel Function in Eating Disorders

Adolescents with bulimia—the binge-purge syndrome—frequently abuse laxatives to provoke diarrhea and purge unwanted calories. Constipation, by contrast, is a recognized complication of anorexia. Apart from a diet that is woefully deficient in nutrients and bulk, an anorexic teenager has weakening of the intestinal muscles and an overall slowing of body metabolism, both of which are directly due to starvation.

In addition, adolescents with this serious eating disorder typically drink very little for fear of becoming bloated. The weight of stool retained in the intestines can make it difficult to judge whether treatment is progressing. Finally, constipation may be worsened by medications used to treat anorexia.

Specialists treating adolescents with anorexia manage constipation through a diet that includes adequate fiber and fluids. They also encourage moderate exercise and may recommend stool softeners and other medications if necessary.

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