Laxatives for Weight Loss: Is it The Right Move?

Laxatives for Weight Loss: Understanding the Dangers of Laxative Abuse

Laxatives for Weight Loss: Is it The Right Move?

Table of Contents

Written By:
Gaby McPherson MS, RDN, LDN

Key Takeaways

Laxatives are medications used to relieve constipation, making going #2 much more comfortable and less of a strain.  For 2000 years, laxatives have been the go-to source for keeping things regular and smooth moving.1 

Laxatives have one job: removing bowel blockages; however, they also moonlight as weight loss aids. This article will unpack everything you should know about using laxatives for weight loss, laxative abuse, side effects of overuse, and more sustainable weight management tips.

How do laxatives work?

Many types of laxatives are widely available over-the-counter, and their ease of purchasing makes them accessible to everyone. Often, laxatives are taken orally in chewable tablets, capsules, powders, and liquids, while others are taken as suppositories which enter through the rectum.

Laxative types are grouped by the way they affect your body. Here are five common types of laxatives and how they influence bowel movements:2

  • Bulk-forming laxatives: Draw water into the stool and increase its weight and softness. 
  • Example: psyllium husks
  • Osmotic agents: Poorly absorbed and gathers water into the bowel for softening.
  • Example: milk of magnesia
  • Prokinetic agents: Stimulate movement of stool through the gut.
  • Example: prucalopride
  • Lubricants: Creates more moisture in the intestines to help stool pass.
  • Example: mineral oil
  • Stimulants: Increase muscle contractions to move stool through the intestines.3
  • Examples: senna

Are laxatives good for weight loss?

The short answer⸺no, laxatives are an unsafe method to lose weight for several reasons.

First, many believe these bowel-stimulating medications are effective for rapid fat loss. While laxatives can lead to weight loss, it’s not from fat loss, but from the loss of water. Instead of containing calories and fat,  laxative-induced stools are made up of electrolytes, minerals, water, and undigested fiber and wastes.  Losing large amounts of these nutrients can create electrolyte imbalances, making it difficult for your body to stabilize blood pressure and balance fluids. Further,  these imbalances and can threaten your kidney and cardiovascular functions.4 

Secondly, using laxatives won’t  lead to healthy lifestyle changes compared to other changes, like eating more plant-based foods, or incorporating weight training exercises into your day. Strategies that are good for weight loss won’t harm your body, but can help you adopt habits that will enhance your health and well-being. 

That said, laxatives aren’t good for weight loss because misusing them is ineffective, counterproductive,  and unsafe. Using laxatives for reasons beyond their original purpose is called laxative abuse. Here’s what you should know. 

What is laxative abuse?

Laxative abuse is a dangerous weight loss strategy involving the repeated use of laxatives to “poop out” unwanted calories. All too often, laxatives (especially stimulants) are seen as quick fixes to binge eating.4, 5The ultimate hope is to rapidly push out food calories before the body uses them. 

Laxative abuse is prevalent in 10-60% of people with eating disorders.4 A 2020 long-term study published in the American Journal of Public Health investigated a possible link between laxatives and diet pill use in 10,058 young women and eating disorder diagnoses.6 Women using diet pills and laxatives had greater chances of receiving an initial eating disorder diagnosis in 1 to 3 years than women who didn’t use these products. 

Further, the side effects of laxative use can be severe and cause lifelong health consequences. People who rely on laxatives for weight loss may need to work with a multidisciplinary healthcare team for treatment. 

Adverse effects of laxative use

Regular use of laxatives in people without medical problems can be safe, but misusing laxatives has the potential to wreak havoc on the entire body. Side effects can present as bloating, gas, headache, nausea, and diarrhea or become more severe.7 More serious effects of laxative toxicity are dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, laxative dependence, and impaired digestion. 


Excess thirst, dry mouth and lips, weakness, and infrequent urination are several telltale signs of dehydration.2 Laxative-induced stools pull water from the body, and if the person misusing the laxative isn’t careful to replenish water losses, dehydration ensues and may require medical treatment. 

Electrolyte imbalances 

Along with water losses, laxatives cause electrolyte and mineral losses. This is when essential nutrients such as potassium and sodium pass through the stool. 2 Fluctuations in these levels disrupt many body functions, giving rise to seizures, heart arrhythmias, and brain and nerve impairments.8 

Laxative dependence

Your body can get so used to regular dosages of laxatives that it becomes less sensitive to the action of laxatives on the colon⸻ requiring larger doses for speedy bowel movements.5

Impaired digestion

Chronic laxative abuse may limit the normal function of intestinal nerves and muscles, making it hard to clear stools and causing constipation. 9  

Tips for achieving safe weight management

Now that you understand the dangers of using laxatives, here are some quick tips on healthy weight management  strategies that can enhance your nutrition. 

  1. Build balanced meals

The plate method takes the pain out of calorie counting and helps you build balanced meals by filling your plate with these easy to remember sections. Make half of your plate non-starchy vegetables, one-quarter of lean protein, and the remaining quarter a whole grain or starchy vegetable. 

  1. Fill up on fiber

Fiber is a carbohydrate that can’t be fully digested. It has been shown to  reduce hunger and keep you full for longer periods. 10 Top sources of fiber are berries, beans, green peas, and spelt. Men should have around 38 grams of fiber daily, and women can benefit from at least 25 grams daily. 

  1. Create protein-rich snacks

High-sugar snacks like candy or  cookies can spike blood sugar levels—which can set you up for a blood sugar crash. You may have experienced this before if you’ve ever felt sluggish after said snacks. 

Healthy blood sugar levels are easier to attain when you add protein-rich foods to your plate. . Plus, when  your blood sugars are in check,  your hormones can function properly, making weight loss more achievable.  Adding protein from Greek yogurt, sliced almonds, boiled eggs, and peanut butter can help you stabilize your blood sugar and create a snack that satisfies you. 

  1. Move your body

Everyone knows exercise has benefits, but the key to improving your health is finding activities you enjoy doing. The general guidance is to exercise for 150 minutes a week and choose activities to get your heart pumping. Whether joining a friend for a nature walk, taking a dance class, or doing workout videos online, it’s vital to move your body in ways you enjoy so you’re likely to keep it up. 

Get help with safe weight management

Medical experts agree that using laxatives for weight loss is dangerous and unhealthy.  If you’re currently using laxatives as part of your weight loss routine, or you’re considering taking a  laxative to lose weight, Nourish can help. 

Our dietitians will meet you with compassion and create a nonjudgmental space to help you identify better strategies that complement your health and well-being.  We’ll help you make a step-by-step plan that’s personal to your lifestyle and needs. 

With sessions fully online and covered by insurance, Nourish dietitians can help you wherever you are. Get started today


  1. Gastroenterology, 1D. of. (n.d.). ACG clinical guidelines: Prevention, diagnosis, and... : Official Journal of the American College of Gastroenterology: ACG.
  2. Bashir, A., & Sizar, O. (n.d.). Laxatives - StatPearls - NCBI Bookshelf.
  3. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2023, January 1). Laxative (oral route) description and brand names.
  4. Roerig, J. L., Steffen, K. J., Mitchell, J. E., & Zunker, C. (2012, September 19). Laxative abuse - drugs.
  5. Laxative abuse. National Eating Disorders Association. (2018, February 22). Retrieved January 31, 2023,
  6. Levinson, J. A., Sarda, V., Sonneville, K., Calzo, J. P., Ambwani, S., & Austin, S. B. (2020, January). Diet pill and laxative use for weight control and subsequent incident eating disorder in US young women: 2001-2016. American journal of public health. Retrieved January 31, 2023
  7. Andresen, V., & Layer, P. (2018, April). Medical therapy of constipation: Current standards and beyond. Visceral medicine. Retrieved January 31, 2023
  8. Electrolytes - statpearls - NCBI bookshelf. (n.d.). Retrieved January 31, 2023
  9. Bashir, A., & Sizar, O. (n.d.). Laxatives - StatPearls - NCBI Bookshelf. Retrieved January 31, 2023
  10. M;, A. (n.d.). The role of dietary fibers in regulating appetite, an overview of mechanisms and weight consequences. Critical reviews in food science and nutrition. Retrieved January 31, 2023


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