Thinking About Using Diet Pills or Laxatives to Lose Weight? Think Again.

If you read magazines, watch TV, or use the internet and social media, chances are you’ve seen advertisements, commercials, or glowing celebrity endorsements for weight-loss products like diet pills, “flat tummy teas,” or laxatives. While these methods may sometimes be effective in the short term, they are incredibly dangerous and don’t actually lead to long-term weight loss. 

Using diet pills and laxatives for weight loss is harmful, and can have severe health consequences such as liver injury, cardiac arrhythmias, and gastrointestinal damage (1, 2). The use of these products is also a risk factor for developing a dangerous eating disorder (like anorexia or bulimia) (3). About 28.8 million Americans will have an eating disorder in their lifetime, and there are a whopping 10,200 deaths per year due to eating disorders (4).

Two recent studies have shown the immense danger in using the products: young women who use diet pills and laxatives for weight loss are more likely to be diagnosed with an eating disorder than those who don’t use those products (5, 6). In fact, young women who used diet pills between 9 and 15 years old were 5 times more likely to receive an eating disorder diagnosis in the next 1-3 years than those who didn’t use diet pills, and those who used laxatives for weight loss were 6 times more likely to receive that diagnosis than those who did not use laxatives (5).

The pressure to lose weight and stay thin is all around us, coming through television, movies, and even Instagram and TikTok. Diet pills and laxatives are often seen as an “easy” way to accomplish this, and unfortunately, these products are so easily available that even a minor can buy them over-the-counter at their local grocery store or pharmacy. Thankfully, there are continued efforts to prevent the sale of these products to minors. In Massachusetts, New York, and California, specifically, there are ongoing efforts to pass bills that would make it illegal to sell diet pills (and other dangerous muscle-building supplements) to minors. Preventing consumers, especially teens, from getting their hands on these products may be a way to prevent the development of eating disorders!


Hazzard, V. M., Simone, M., Bryn, | S, Scd, A., Larson, N., & Neumark-Sztainer, D. (2021). Diet pill and laxative use for weight control predicts first-time receipt of an eating disorder diagnosis within the next 5 years among female adolescents and young adults.

Levinson, J. A., Sarda, V., Sonneville, K., Calzo, J. P., Ambwani, S., & Bryn Austin, S. (2020). Diet pill and laxative use for weight control and subsequent incident eating disorder in US young women: 2001-2016. American Journal of Public Health, 110(1), 109–111.

Neumark-Sztainer, D., Wall, M., Guo, J., Story, M., Haines, J., & Eisenberg, M. (2006). Obesity, disordered eating, and eating disorders in a longitudinal study of adolescents: How do dieters fare 5 years later? Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 106(4), 559–568.

Roerig, J. L., Steffen, K. J., Mitchell, J. E., & Zunker, C. (2010). Laxative abuse: Epidemiology, diagnosis and management. In Drugs (Vol. 70, Issue 12, pp. 1487–1503). Springer.

The Social and Economic Cost of Eating Disorders in the United States of America: A Report for the Strategic Training Initiative for the Prevention of Eating Disorders and the Academy for Eating Disorders. (2020).

Zheng, E. X., & Navarro, V. J. (2015). Liver injury from herbal, dietary, and weight loss supplements: A review. In Journal of Clinical and Translational Hepatology (Vol. 3, Issue 2, pp. 93–98). Xia and He Publishing Inc.