Everybody poops! That’s a children’s book for a good reason. We all poop and when we don’t - it’s a problem. Constipation is defined differently by pretty much everyone. The simplest definition is less than 3 bowel movements per week. Constipation is associated with headaches, decreased energy, bad breath, difficulty concentrating, decreased appetite, abdominal bloating, gas, skin problems, and depression. In 2008, people spent over $725 million on over the counter laxatives! We’ve all been there at some point, right? Whether it was travel, stress, too much cheese (is there really such a thing though…) constipation happens. Here are 6 medication-free ways you can use to get on a regular #2 schedule!
#1 Get a good night’s sleep
Your gut is busy digesting and absorbing nutrients when you are sleeping. It also produces 95% of the body’s serotonin, a chemical compound. Serotonin is primarily thought to be responsible for helping you to maintain mood balance. We don’t know exactly how this works yet, but several depression medications work by influencing serotonin levels in your body. Serotonin is also believed to affect appetite, digestion, sleep, memory, and sexual desire/function. That alone is a good reason to get enough sleep, but this post has some more if you need them.
#2 Eat a big breakfast
After getting that great night’s sleep, you should keep the good work going and eat a big breakfast! There is actually a reflex which kicks in when you eat that increases the activity of your colon. However, it requires that you eat enough to get a little stretch in your stomach. This doesn’t mean gorging on 5 big macs though! It varies person to person, but it kicks in about 30 mins after you eat. Consider giving yourself more time in the morning to eat a full breakfast and still be at home when it kicks in. Being stuck in traffic with a great reflex isn’t going to help!
#3 Exercise regularly
Exercise helps to stimulate more of those reflexes which speed up the activity of your gut! Exercise also releases feel-good chemicals (endorphins) which improve your mood. This can help improve your stress levels which in turn may help you to go. High stress has been associated with increased constipation.
Stress ramps up the nervous system into a "flight or fight" mode, which means storing your pee and poop. It wouldn't be useful to poop your pants while running from a lion right? Although we usually aren't making life or death decisions, constantly living in this type of reaction can contribute to constipation. Those feel good chemicals after exercise and meditation help to calm the nervous system down by turning on the nerves which help to "rest and digest."
#4 Eat GOOD fiber
Fiber gets a really crappy rep (pun intended). Most of us have at some point felt personally victimized by fiber. The story goes something like this: Person realizes they need more fiber. Person starts eating lots of fiber. Person feels 9-months-pregnant-with-a-food-baby kind of bloated. Person gets constipated. Person decides “fiber just doesn’t work for me.”
But you know what? It’s not fiber. It’s you.
The problem usually isn’t adding fiber to your diet, it’s what kind of fiber you add! The best sources of fiber are raw fruits and veggies. Fiber 1 bars are not the way to go.
The recommended daily dose of fiber is 25-35 grams. You can Google the fiber content of fruits and veggies. For example, a peach is 2.3 grams. To really get a clear picture of how much fiber you are getting, record what you eat for 2-3 days. Calculate how much fiber you are getting (it’ll be listed on the label of food, or just Google it) and then add 1-2 grams per week until you reach the recommended dosage. Keep in mind that as you increase your fiber intake you also need to be drinking plenty of water to keep your poop passable.
#5 Give your gut time to adjust
Your gut is sllllooooowww to adjust to the dietary/lifestyle changes you make. So if you decide to start adding in more of that awesome fiber we talked about, your gut is going to need some time to get used to it. That’s why the recommendation is to add 1-2 grams per week until you reach the target range of 25-35 grams. Overall, your gut will need about 4-6 weeks to get used to a new diet. This is especially important to keep in mind if you are trying to eliminate food groups (i.e. gluten, dairy, etc).
#6 Cut it out with the cleanses
Your colon doesn’t need a cleanse. It IS the cleanser of your body! Let’s just review what we know about healthy gut function so far. To work well your gut needs regular: restorative sleep, exercise, fiber rich food, and plenty of time to adjust. With that in mind, it seems silly to cut severely back on food in a 1-2 day period to try to get your colon to work better right? Right.
Now, if you make a healthy change then you might notice you go to the bathroom more frequently at first. This is okay, especially if you have been constipated for a while. Once you get into a good routine your body will adjust and you’ll find out what’s normal for you. Remember, “normal” is anywhere from 2-3x/day to 3x/week.
Happy pooping y’all! Check back next week to learn about the best pooping positions and the role of the pelvic floor muscles in pooping!