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I had a problem with constipation

Q. I’m 14 years old. Because I’m trying to lose some weight, I’m careful about what I eat. When I was young, I had a problem with constipation. Now, when I don’t eat as much as I used to, the problem with constipation has come back. So every night I take a laxative pill.

Is taking laxatives like this harmful? Can I become addicted to them? How can I regulate my body without the pill?

A. It’s not a good idea to rely on laxatives to regulate your body. I have a few suggestions on how you can get by without them.

In trying to lose weight, you’ve cut back on the amount of food you normally eat. If you’ve also cut back on the amount of fluids you normally drink, that could be the whole problem.

If you don’t get enough water each day, you’ll become more and more constipated, meaning your bowel movements will be dry and hard. To correct this problem, all you’ll need to do is increase the amount of fluid in your diet. Plain water is best and has no calories to make you gain weight.

I had a problem with constipation

Another natural aid for constipation is eating plenty of fruits, vegetables and foods high in fiber. Fiber is a substance that doesn’t get absorbed by your body; instead, it passes through you, making your bowel movements soft. Bran cereals are a good-though sometimes not too tasty-source of fiber.

If these treatments don’t help, I suggest asking your family doctor for advice. I don’t recommend that you continue taking laxatives, because in a sense your body can become addicted to them, meaning that your bowels will come to depend on them and not work as well without them.

Having said that, I’m a little concerned about your using laxatives in connection with wanting to lose weight. I say this because some people-teen-age girls in particular-use laxatives as a way of losing weight. Doing this can be harmful. If you feel you’re becoming overly concerned with losing weight, I recommend asking your family doctor for advice.

Your doctor can recommend a sensible diet, make sure you’re not having any problems with it and make sure you’re not becoming too concerned with losing weight. You may have heard of anorexia or bulimia, two serious eating problems related to weight control that affect a lot of teen-age girls. I hope if you think you’re overly concerned with losing weight, you’ll ask your family or doctor for help.

Jay Siwek, a family physician from Georgetown University, practices at the Fort Lincoln Family Medicine Center and Providence Hospital in Northeast Washington.

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