Take Diet Pills Now For An Eating Disorder Later

If you’re a young woman who doesn’t have an eating disorder now, but really wants one, there might be a simple way to get it!

Diet pills and laxatives!

There’s no guarantee, but according to the good folks over at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and at Boston Children’s Hospital, it’s probably a good place to start.

Before you get all in a tizzy, Coach Phil isn’t trying to make light of a serious medical condition that injures thousands of people every year, even killing many. But the intro got your attention, didn’t it? Now, here’s the science.

If you’re a young woman without a diagnosed eating disorder and you choose to take diet pills or use laxatives for weight loss or control, you have a higher likelihood of getting your initial eating disorder diagnosis within 1 to 3 years than women who don’t. At least that’s what the folks at Harvard and Boston Children’s Hospital say.

“We’ve known that diet pills and laxatives when used for weight control can be very harmful substances. We wanted to find out if these products could be a gateway behavior that could lead to an eating order diagnosis,” said senior author S. Bryn Austin, professor in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Harvard Chan School and director of STRIPED (Strategic Training Initiative for the Prevention of Eating Disorders). “Our findings parallel what we’ve known to be true with tobacco and alcohol: starting harmful substances can set young people on a path to worsening problems, including serious substance abuse disorder.”

The study was published online November 21, 2019 in the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH).

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that doctors, dietitians and health care providers don’t recommend diet pills or laxatives as a way to shed pounds or manage your weight. In fact, they can have some pretty serious health consequences. You might get to enjoy liver and kidney damage or high blood pressure, among other things. At a minimum, you’re likely to be nervous and jittery or running to the toilet 10 or 15 times a day. Or an hour.


Researchers looked at women who took part in the US-based Growing Up Today Study (GUTS) between 2001 and 2016. It was an enormous amount of data, since there were over 10,000 women involved.

For women without an eating disorder, those who used diet pills within the year previous to reporting got a first eating disorder diagnosis within the next 1 to 3 years at a 1.8% rate. This compares to a 1% rate for those not using diet pills.

With regard to laxatives, those who reported using them for weight control received an initial eating disorder diagnosis at a 4.2% rate. That’s significantly higher than the 0.8% diagnosis rate for those who did not use laxatives for weight control.

Researchers believe that use of diet pills and laxatives for weight loss and control might be a “gateway” to other disordered eating practices. They believe it dysregulates normal digestive function and fosters dependence on unhealthy, ineffective coping mechanisms, As a result, they recommend restricted access to these products, including a ban on the sale of diet pills and laxatives to minors.

“Our findings are a wake-up call about the serious risks of these products. Instagram took a step in the right direction recently by banning ads to minors for over-the-counter diet pills and ‘detox’ teas, which are often laxatives,” said first author Jordan Levinson, clinical research assistant, Division of Adolescent Medicine, Boston Children’s Hospital. “It’s time for retailers and policymakers to take the dangers of these products seriously and take steps to protect youth.”

Perhaps it’s also time to reassess our education practices around nutrition, eating and exercise habits, as well as how we discuss body acceptance, self-image and the way media and social media present “fit and healthy.” But that takes a lot of work and would make us face our dysmorphic approach to fitness, health and beauty. Banning stuff is just so much easier.

Keep the faith and keep after it!

Success! You're on the list.

Journal reference – Jordan A. Levinson, Vishnudas Sarda, Kendrin Sonneville, Jerel P. Calzo, Suman Ambwani, S. Bryn Austin. Diet Pill and Laxative Use for Weight Control and Subsequent Incident Eating Disorder in US Young Women: 2001–2016. American Journal of Public Health, 2019

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.