You are likely suffering from constipation if you have a bowel movement fewer than three times a week. But for some, just missing one day can be uncomfortable. Your stool will be difficult to pass, and leftovers are staying in the colon for a long time before making their exit. The average person has between 5-10lbs of waste in their colon at any one time, but if you’re constipated this can be considerably more.
Constipation can affect your skin or breath, as the body is looking for a way to get rid of accumulating toxins. So apart from being uncomfortable, it’s important that we help the process along, in as natural way as possible. Whilst there are plenty of laxatives on the market, these are quick fixes and do not address the underlying problem, and so should only be used in severe cases and sparingly. Otherwise, like any muscle, the colon will get lazy, possibly leading to more severe constipation known as faecal impaction.
When stools do put in an appearance they are likely shaped like nuts, if you’re very constipated, or sausage shaped, but lumpy if your slightly constipated. See my article on What your poop can tell you about your health for more information.
Help constipation by addressing your diet and lifestyle
Some of the common causes of constipation include: dehydration, lack of fibre, lack of activity, stress, side effects of medication, too much dairy, eating disorders, and changes to your diet or daily routine. Diet is probably the best place to start, and my basic recommendations include:
- Increase your water intake to around 2 litres each day. When your body is properly hydrated, less water will be drawn in from the colon keeping your stool soft and easier to pass. Read my article: Water is does the body good!
- Add more fibre to your diet, as this also allows more water to remain in your stool. However, suddenly adding a lot more fibre to your diet can cause gastrointestinal stress, so start slowly. Crunchy greens and vegetables are great for increasing your fibre intake, and also aren’t too heavy on carbs. You could also try flax or chia seeds. Add 1-2 tablespoons of chia seeds to one cup of liquid (water, nut milk, etc), and leave to soak overnight. In the morning, you’ll find a gelatinous and soothing liquid. Not only will they help to get things moving, it’s also a great source of Omega-3 fatty acids.
- Reduce your dairy intake, especially the low-fat variety. This is loaded with Casein which, among other things, slows down digestion.
Consider lifestyle modifications
Lifestyle modifications can also make a big impact on constipation, and here’s what you can do to help yourself:
- Get moving. Many people find that they only have a movement after physical exercise. This is because the body is stimulated and everything is sped up. If there is little to no exercise in your daily routine, it’s time to do something about it. You don’t need to join a gym, just a walk around the block in the evening will help. If exercise feels very foreign to you indeed, take a look at my article on A NEAT exercise for people who don’t exercise, and this will get you moving from a sitting start! If you’re a little more energetic, try rebounding. This can really get things moving.
- Deal with stress. Stress can have a huge impact on your digestion. Exercising will help to alleviate stress, but you could also consider meditating for 10 minutes each morning. I’ve been a yo-yo meditator for some time, not really sure if it can achieve everything that the gurus claim. However, with patience and practice I now understand the benefits of taking just a few minutes to stop, focus on the breath and be in the moment. It can be utterly transformational. You can pick one of the many meditations on YouTube for stress, or try the Headspace app for a longer-term, more guided experience. Also pay attention to how you operate your day. Do you eat lunch at your desk, food in one hand, mouse in the other? Try to stop and take some time away from work to relax while you eat.
- Slow down to speed up. Constipation is more common for people who jump out of bed, eager to get on with their day. Taking a slower approach to rising can really make a difference. Establish a routine that sets the body into a pattern, letting it know when it’s time to release. An approach may be to get up slowly, then sip a mug of warm water with a squeeze of lemon juice. Sit cross legged and try some hip circles, moving the torso around in a clockwise motion, and then counter-clockwise. This can be followed by some gentle stretching focused on moving the torso. Also try the Cat Cow yoga stretch (see video at the end of this article). This could add 15 minutes to your day, but will slow down the nervous system sufficiently to make things start to happen. Experiment, and see what works for you.
- Massage yourself. Not only does self-massage help with constipation, it’s a great way to connect with and tune into your body. Take a tablespoon or oil, Castor or Coconut will work, and rub it onto your belly with two fingers to massage your intestines, in a clockwise direction. Start around the belly button and massage concentric circles outwards. As you move out towards your ribs, skip the bottom part of the circle and focus on massaging a upside U-shape around your upper torso. Do this for several minutes each day. If you feel particularly stressed, you could add a couple of drops of peppermint oil to relax your nerves and calm your muscles.
- Squat on the pot. Last, but by no means least, I’d like to introduce you to the Squatty Potty. This is a small plastic footstool that you rest your feet on while on the toilet. It puts your legs into a squatting position which is much more conducive for a good movement than having your feet on the floor. You can buy them online, but a sturdy box will also do the trick.
To summarise, in all likelihood, your constipation is caused by diet and lifestyle factors, and it’s much better to address these before you reach for the laxatives. Your constipation will likely start be alleviated, but you’ll also feel much better generally as you’ll be taking some of the basic steps to good all round health.
Good luck and let me know how you get on.
Other articles in this Poop Series include: