Ever traveled to a different country and experienced a total halt in the bowel movement department? Or experienced a period of stress that interfered with your regularity? Perhaps a few days of poor quality food or indulgences left you feeling uncomfortable for days?
Most expats experience the occasional case of constipation as a result of travel and temporary changes in diet or lifestyle. Although uncomfortable, this kind of constipation can be quite easily reversed with a few simple tips and diet changes, which I will share later.
The constipation that requires your attention and intervention is the chronic kind, where bowel movements are consistently very irregular (less than once a day), are hard to pass or incomplete and look something like type 1 or type 2 on the Bristol Stool Chart.
This level of constipation is quite literally not to be poopooed as it can be extremely uncomfortable, make you feel heavy, bloated, toxic and sluggish and cause all kinds of other symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, lower back pain or other aches and pains, and even brain fog.
If we were to talk as openly about our toilet habits as we did about the weather, we would soon figure out that constipation is more common than we think. If you have trouble with bowel movements, know that you are not the only one. In the USA alone it is estimated that 20% of the population deals with this common digestive concern. I surely see it a lot with clients in my own practice.
Chronic constipation can have all kinds of underlying root causes that range from dehydration to bacterial imbalances in the gut, stress, thyroid or other hormone imbalances, SIBO, food sensitivities, poor diet or an otherwise impaired digestive function. It is therefore impossible to give a quick fix solution to resolving constipation but there is that awesome digestive health-building program that I offer 🙂 that aims to address all of these underlying imbalances and more so that you can, once again, poop like a pro. You can read more about that here.
In the meantime, I have some super tips that may help to start moving things along more smoothly.
This is the first important step on your way to regularity. Adequate hydration keeps your stool soft so that it can move along the digestive tract more easily. Aim for 8 glasses of water a day. More on how to stay hydrated in this article.
Eat more veggies
High fiber food, like vegetables, helps with easy transition. I suggest including plenty of rainbow colored vegetables in your diet for this purpose. My all time favorites are leafy greens such as romaine, arugula, kale, spinach, bok choy: all of these contain plenty of fiber, they have a high water content and are choc-a-bloc full of nutrients. You can also add some ground flax seeds or chia seeds to your meals to add in that extra fiber.
This is a mineral that plays an important role in many different functions in the body and most people are deficient in it. Taking magnesium helps to relax the bowels and pull water into the colon so that the stool stays soft, making it easier to pass. I recommend taking magnesium citrate, starting with one capsule at bedtime and increasing it to bowel tolerance: when you are starting to experience loose stools, reduce it to the previous dosage.
Bring on the Vitamin C
Like magnesium, vitamin C has osmotic properties which means it helps to draw water into the colon. This makes it a helpful supplement to boost regularity, in addition to being a powerful antioxidant.
Move it, move it
Physical movement incorporated throughout your day keeps the peristaltic waves in your digestive tract going. So while a workout session is useful, more important is to regularly move. This is especially important when you have job that requires you to sit a lot. Try to get up and take your 10,000 steps, spaced throughout the day. I like to set a friendly alarm on my mobile phone to get up once every one to two hours and take a movement break. Some other benefits of this are that it helps to lower stress levels, improve lymphatic system and boost blood flow to all the organs.
Space your meals
Your body needs time in between meals to complete the digestive process. There is a mechanism called the Migrating Motor Complex that sends peristaltic waves through your stomach and intestines to sweep food and debris along the digestive tract. This Migrating Motor Complex is active only when you are in a fasting state. It is therefore important to leave an adequate amount of time in between meals; at least 4 hours is ideal. Avoid snacking in between meals and aim for 3 good meals a day.
When you are in stress mode, you are physically tense and in a fight/flight state. The body is concerned with survival at this point, not with digestion. This can be a major contributing factor to constipation. Try to find ways to relax and put your body back into its “rest and digest” mode: get a massage, read a book, practice some deep breathing, relax!
Your body needs the help of the trillions of microorganisms that are housed in your gut for an optimal digestive function. If there are imbalances in the microbiome, i.e. too many bad bacteria and not enough good ones, you are going to see a ripple effect in your digestion (and other areas too, like your brain, energy and mood.). Taking a high quality probiotic and including probiotic rich fermented foods can help to start bringing things back into balance and help to cure constipation.
As I mentioned before, you may need to dig deeper and resolve underlying issues such as SIBO or hormonal imbalances but these tips are a great way to start taking control.
If you feel you need more help, I would be more than happy to discuss some options in a free Nutrition Breakthrough Session, which you can sign up for here.