Living with an eating disorder can be a devastating experience. In the absence of effective professional treatment, the ongoing physical and psychological trauma of an eating disorder can have a catastrophic impact, leading to negative outcomes in virtually all aspects of a person’s life.
Many women and girls who struggle with eating disorders imperil their health and wellbeing by engaging in what professionals refer to as inappropriate compensatory behaviors. Commonly referred to as purging, these behaviors result from the mistaken belief that an individual can control her weight by consuming food, then eliminating it from her body before it is absorbed into her system. Common inappropriate compensatory behaviors include forcing oneself to vomit, exercising excessively, and abusing enemas, diuretics, and/or laxatives.
In addition to being an ineffective means of weight control, laxative abuse can also have a profoundly harmful effect on a woman’s body and mind, and can complicate the effort to help her overcome her eating disorder and resume a healthier lifestyle.
In addition to the negative effects of laxative abuse that are listed later on this page, this behavior can also lead to tolerance and dependence. This means that an individual will need to take greater amounts of laxatives with increasing frequency in order to get the desired effect, which increases the risk of harm.
Women and girls who engage in laxative abuse as a symptom of an eating disorder are putting themselves in grave danger, and should seek professional assistance.
Signs and Symptoms of Laxative Abuse
Secrecy and deception are unfortunate characteristics of many eating disorders. Girls and women whose disordered eating behaviors involve laxative abuse may go to great lengths to hide their behaviors and the effects of these behaviors from friends, family members, and others with whom they regularly come into contact. That said, the following signs and symptoms may indicate that a person is abusing laxatives in an unhealthy attempt to control his or her weight.
- Lying about when and how much one has eaten
- Leaving the room immediately after eating
- Needing to make abnormally frequent visits to the restroom
- Wearing baggy and/or shapeless clothes to hide changes in body shape
- Withdrawal from family and friends
- Abdominal cramping
- Persistent nausea
- Unsteadiness, lightheadedness, and/or involuntary shaking
Effects of Laxative Abuse
Girls and women who abuse laxatives in a misguided attempt to control their weight may increase their risk for a variety of negative effects, including the following:
- Muscle weakness
- Extreme fatigue
- Blurred vision
- Abdominal pain
- Electrolyte imbalances
- Heart problems
- Kidney damage
- Liver damage
- Colon and bowel damage
- Increased risk for bowel tumors and cancer
Treatment for Eating Disorders and Laxative Abuse at Timberline Knolls
Individuals who enter Timberline Knolls for treatment of eating disorders and laxative abuse will benefit from a thorough assessment of their needs. We will then use this information to develop a personalized treatment plan to ensure that they receive focused care that addresses all of the issues that have been preventing them from living healthier lives.
Each woman who heals from an eating disorder and laxative abuse at Timberline Knolls will work in close collaboration with a treatment team that consists of the following professionals:
- Primary therapist
- Family therapist
- Psychiatrist (MD)
- Internal medicine physician (MD)
- Registered dietician (RD)
- Eating disorders specialist
Each treatment team member provides an assessment within the woman’s first days at Timberline Knolls. The findings are integrated and reviewed with our entire clinical staff, including other therapists and psychiatrists. As a result, our full knowledge about effective treatment for eating disorders and laxative abuse is integrated into each woman’s treatment plan.
Taking Ownership of Treatment
At Timberline Knolls, we believe it is critical for each woman to take ownership of her treatment and recovery from the outset. Once her treatment plan is formulated, our team’s recommendations are shared with the woman in her first care conference, which will include her primary therapist, family therapist, psychiatrist, discharge planner, nursing staff, and lodge staff.
This cooperative approach ensures that the individual has input into the goals for her treatment and allows her to choose several elective elements of her program. She will be asked to sign off on her treatment objectives and the progression of her plan for treatment of her eating disorder, her laxative abuse, and any co-occurring disorders. This conference also sets the stage for ongoing collaboration between the woman and her treatment team throughout her stay in residential treatment.
Comprehensive Integrated Treatment and Recovery
At Timberline Knolls, we are well aware of the fact that there is no such thing as a miracle cure for an eating disorder .Every woman who seeks recovery from eating disorders and inappropriate compensatory behaviors such as laxative abuse must develop tools she can trust to help her healthfully experience emotions that used to trigger binges and purges.
We work with our residents to help them recognize their feelings and identify the conscious choices they make throughout their day. Through ongoing, supportive reinforcement women learn to trust the tools we give them in situations where they would have previously turned to laxative abuse and other inappropriate compensatory behaviors.
As they gain confidence in their ability to make positive, healthy choices, they experience improved self-image and body acceptance, reduced stress and anxiety, healing of trauma, and increased self-awareness. They begin to lose the sense of loneliness and isolation they experienced as they come to know the healing power of belonging and healing in a recovery community.
Comprehensive and individualized eating disorder treatment plans use approaches proven to help women learn to healthfully experience their emotions and develop the tools to recover from their eating disorder and end their laxative abuse. Specific examples include:
- Individual therapy sessions
- Experiential therapy
- Education about disease processes and recovery
- Meal support and regular consultation with dietary staff
- Group sessions to teach and practice behavior modification and emotion management
- Family therapy
- 12-step facilitation
- On and offsite 12-step meetings
- Weekly psychiatric consultations
- Trauma awareness and recovery groups
- Educational services for school-age participants at Timberline Knolls Academy
Expressive Therapy Provides a Healthy Outlet for Emotions
Expressive therapy has been clinically proven to promote healing and recovery in women who have been struggling with eating disorders and laxative abuse. It also provides a needed creative outlet and physical exercise that strengthens women during treatment, and after they return to their home environment. Our expressive therapy program includes a variety of outlets a woman can select based on her personal interests:
- Art therapy in a historical art studio that supports painting, sculpture and other media
- Dance/movement therapy
- Empowerment group to facilitate experiential trauma recovery
- Self-defense in our on-site fitness facility
- Outdoor recreation including volleyball, basketball, soccer, badminton, and gardening
A Realistic, Supportive Approach to Nutrition
Many adolescents and adults who have been struggling with eating disorders and laxative abuse arrive at Timberline Knolls with great apprehension about meals. We believe that healthy changes in eating behavior begin with listening and empathy, not with policing or judgment.
Our nutrition and eating disorder treatment staff focuses on creating an environment where a woman can feel safe expressing the emotions that arise in the context of food and eating. Learning to verbalize her feelings, a woman will start to realize that she is not alone with her illness, or in her struggle to cope with her fear, sadness, anger and shame.
Our nutritional philosophy focuses on supporting women as they seek this awareness and helping them develop confidence in their ability to make healthy choices about food with support. Experiential activities like shopping and cooking give residents real-world chances to practice skills needed to overcome eating disorders and resist the urge to engage in laxative abuse while still surrounded by eating disorder treatment professionals who understand the challenges of recovery.
We recognize that successful treatment for an eating disorder and laxative abuse must also empower a woman’s family to engage in the process of recovery during and after her stay at Timberline Knolls. Nutrition and meal preparation approaches are addressed during weekly family phone conferences, as well as during hands-on sessions with our eating disorder specialists and dieticians during on-campus visits. When clinically useful, we may also encourage the family to practice these skills together during off-campus meals.
To learn more about treatment for eating disorders and laxative abuse at Timberline Knolls, or for answers to any questions that you may have about any aspect of our programming, please feel free to contact us at your convenience. We look forward to answering all of your questions and helping you determine if Timberline Knolls is the perfect place for you or a loved one.