Many individuals with anorexia experience gastrointestinal (GI) problems such as constipation.

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that most commonly affects females in adolescence or young adulthood. This disorder causes symptoms that include severe weight loss, dizziness, and dry skin.

Researchers have found that up to 97% of people with anorexia experience GI issues. Consuming too few calories causes the GI system to slow down. This can lead to GI concerns such as bloating, acid reflux, indigestion, and constipation.

This article will explore the link between anorexia and constipation. Read on to learn about how anorexia causes constipation, treatment options, and more.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

Was this helpful?
Black and white image of a fork standing on end casting long shadowsShare on Pinterest
MirageC/Getty Images

Anorexia causes people to limit the amount of food they consume. This leads to reduced body weight and a slower metabolism.

With anorexia, the body begins to metabolize food more slowly to preserve energy. Part of this process involves reducing the speed at which food moves through the GI system. This reduced speed can lead to constipation.

In one study, researchers examined teenage females with anorexia. They found that almost 30% of these females experienced constipation.

Read more about anorexia.

Symptoms of constipation

People with constipation may experience fewer than three bowel movements each week. Other symptoms of constipation include:

The symptoms of constipation may vary among individuals. Anyone experiencing ongoing symptoms of constipation should speak with a healthcare professional to learn more.

Learn more about constipation.

In addition to constipation, anorexia can lead to further health complications. These may include:

Individuals with anorexia may experience long-term fertility issues. They may also develop issues with memory and concentration. Severe anorexia can lead to permanent heart or kidney damage.

Anorexia is a serious condition that requires professional care. Individuals with anorexia who are experiencing constipation can find relief through treatment.

Treatment for anorexia typically involves eating a nutritious diet high in calories. Consuming a higher number of calories supports weight gain. And eating an adequate amount of nutritious food can treat constipation from anorexia.

Anorexia treatment also involves group or individual therapy. Reducing stress and anxiety through therapy can also help relieve constipation symptoms.

Preventing constipation

To prevent constipation, it is important to follow a healthy and balanced diet and prioritize mental health. Steps for helping prevent constipation may include:

  • drinking plenty of water
  • exercising regularly
  • reducing anxiety or stress
  • getting enough fiber intake
  • meeting estimated calorie and macronutrient needs
  • having a regular and consistent eating schedule

Fiber is a nutrient that supports healthy bowel movements. Fruits, nuts, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes are all good sources of fiber. To help prevent constipation, it is best to focus on eating plenty of fiber-rich foods as part of a balanced diet.

The symptoms of anorexia can vary among individuals. Some of the more common symptoms of this eating disorder include:

  • extreme weight loss
  • obsession with counting calories
  • making excuses to avoid eating
  • exercise addiction
  • reduced social activity
  • intense fear of gaining weight
  • missed period
  • concentration issues
  • sleep disturbances
  • dry skin
  • dental issues
  • thinning hair
  • constantly feeling cold
  • growth of fine hair on the body

Individuals with anorexia may also experience other mental health conditions. These often include conditions such as depression and anxiety.

Learn more about mental health.

Anorexia treatment depends on the individual and the severity of the condition. Many people respond well to outpatient care. But in severe cases, individuals with anorexia may require hospitalization.

Treatment for anorexia focuses equally on physical and mental health. Resuming a healthy diet can help reverse weight loss. However, individuals with anorexia often also experience body dysmorphic disorder and extreme fear of weight gain.

Therapy is an important part of helping individuals regain a positive body image and a healthy relationship with food. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help reduce negative thoughts and behaviors. Family therapy can also be effective for adolescents with anorexia.

Nutritional counseling is another part of anorexia treatment. A doctor or dietitian can advise people on nutrition and help them create an eating plan.

Anorexia is a condition that can lead to permanent health consequences. Anyone showing signs of this condition should visit a healthcare professional for an evaluation.

The following are some questions people frequently ask about anorexia and constipation.

Is constipation common with eating disorders?

People with eating disorders often experience GI issues such as constipation. This is generally due to nutritional deficiencies that result from the eating disorder.

What are three side effects of anorexia?

The side effects of anorexia may include low body weight, missed periods, and dry skin. However, signs and symptoms of anorexia can vary from person to person.

Can anorexia cause bowel obstruction?

In some cases, reduced digestion and constipation may lead to bowel obstruction. This complication can be life threatening and requires immediate treatment. Although anorexia can cause bowel obstruction, this is an extremely rare complication.

Anorexia is an eating disorder that causes side effects such as low body weight, obsession with calories, and exercise addiction. Many individuals with this condition also experience GI issues such as constipation.

When the body does not receive an adequate amount of calories, it slows down the GI tract to preserve energy. This can lead to constipation among people with anorexia.

Resuming a healthy diet through recovery can reduce or eliminate the symptoms of constipation. It is important to discuss all treatment options with a healthcare or mental health professional.