In my office, when I ask people about their bowel habits, they’re often shy about it and ready to move on to the next topic. Understandably so! However, once the poop conversation starts, there’s no stopping it! People want to know what’s normal, what’s not normal as well as what they can do to make it normal.
It seems like the problem that makes people the craziest is constipation. It can end up making people obsessive, keeping mental notes about when they went to the bathroom last.
So what exactly is constipation? I think the common understanding of constipation is that you’re not going regularly. Yes, going less than 3 times a week is part of the criteria of an official diagnosis of constipation. That’s not the only sign though, and some people go regularly and still have constipation. Other signs of constipation include:
Having to strain when going to the bathroom
Lumpy, hard and/or dry stools
Stools that are separate small lumps and appear like marbles or pellets
Feeling of incomplete evacuation (you feel like you could go more, but can’t)
Feeling as though you have a blockage in your rectum
Constipation is common and seems to just happen sometimes. There are many potential causes, here’s a list of some of the common ones:
Irritable bowel syndrome
Inadequate fiber intake
Certain diseases such as disorders of the thyroid, or spinal injuries
Certain medications such as diuretics, antacids, certain pain medications and iron supplements
Luckily, there are a lot of things you can do on your own to help improve constipation. The big 3 are fluids, fiber and physical activity!
Everyone knows hydration is important, and it’s even important for our poop! When feeling constipated, it can be difficult to get everything out because the stool is so hard. Simply drinking more water can make the stool become softer and easier to pass.
A good goal for most people would be to drink 64 ounces of fluids or more per day. Sticking with water is best, but feel free to mix it up other with noncarbonated caffeine-free beverages. Prune juice has a natural laxative effect.
Increasing fiber intake is another great option for constipation. Fiber should be increased gradually and fluid intake should increase along with it. If you don’t follow both those rules, you might actually feel worse before you feel better. Everyone’s fiber needs are a little different, but most people should aim to have 25-38g per day.
There are two different main categories of fiber, and they both help in different ways. Luckily, foods that contain fiber generally contain a mix of the two types, so there’s no need to stress too much about what type of fiber you are consuming. Soluble fiber absorbs water, making the stool softer and easier to pass. Insoluble fiber speeds up transit time, making you go ASAP.
If you’re moving, everything else is moving! Physical activity increases peristalsis in your GI tract. This is the process of muscle contractions that moves food through the digestion system. So being more active can help move things along quicker!