There’s nothing worse than sitting on the toilet for 10 minutes, pushing harder than a woman in labour, and then standing up to see one measly pellet staring back at you from the toilet bowl. But constipation is something that one in four Canadians currently experience, according to the Canadian Digestive Health Foundation, and it’s repercussions often go undiscussed.
Constipation involves: infrequent or difficult bowel movements, the transition of small, hard stools, feeling like the rectum has not been completely emptied, and straining during defecation. As the Canadian Digestive Health Foundation writes, “Constipation generally erodes quality of life more than lifespan. It has a major emotional, physical, social and financial impact on individuals of all ages.” In other words, constipation is a big deal, and we need to fix it.
The Main Steps of Improving Constipation
Add bulk to the stool.
If you’re constipated, your colon needs that extra push to get it going. We can do this by ingesting foods that add weight to the stool so your body has no choice but to push it all out! Fibre is your best friend in this department. There are two types of fibre, both of which have important functions when it comes to constipation:
SOLUBLE FIBRE: dissolves and mixes with water to form a gel in the gastrointestinal tract. It promotes regular bowel movements and helps with weight loss by giving you a full feeling and slowing the passage of food. It also slows the release of glucose in your body (or sugar), allowing the body to release it into the bloodstream gradually.
INSOLUBLE FIBRE: doesn’t break down during digestion. Like a sponge, it absorbs water and leads to softer stools that have greater bulk. It also helps appease your appetite, speed up the elimination of waste, absorb toxins, and improve bowel disorders.
The goal is to get as close to 30g of fibre per day. Here are some of the highest sources of fibre:
All Bran Cereal (1/2 cup): 8.5g
Lentils, cooked (1/2 cup): 7.8g
Black beans, cooked (1/2 cup): 7.5g
Kidney beans, cooked (1/2 cup): 7.3g
Lima beans, cooked (1/2 cup): 5.8g
Chickpeas, cooked (1/2 cup): 5.3g
Chia seeds (1 tablespoon): 5g
Medium baked potato, with skin: 4.8g
Peas, raw (1/2 cup): 4.4g
Oatmeal (1 cup, cooked): 4.0g
Pear with skin: 4.0g
Apples with skin: 3.7g
Brussels sprouts, raw (1/2 cup): 3.4g
Peach with skin (1 medium): 3.4g
You can also add psyllium fibre powder to your smoothies, oatmeal, or beverages. One tablespoon contains a whopping eight grams of fibre—most of which is soluble fibre—so it can help to get those bowels moving!
2. Improve peristalsis.
Peristalsis is a series of wave-like muscle contractions that moves food through the different parts of the digestive tract. One of the best ways to stimulate peristalsis is to hydrate your body. One of the biggest mistakes I see people make is to eat their weight in fibre yet not drink enough water. If you don’t hydrate, your bulky stool is just going to sit in your gut. So, make sure you’re drinking as much water as possible to flush that crap through (literally)!
3. Lubricate the body.
Say goodbye to the days of pushing as hard as humanly possible to poop! Lubricate your body internally. You can take fish oil or borage oil in supplemental form or you can pour flaxseed oil into your smoothies, sauces, wraps, etc. I have heard great success stories from formerly constipated individuals thanks to fish oil supplements.
4. Drink some kefir.
Kefir is a fermented milk—usually made from cow's or goat's milk—that is loaded with probiotics. It is easily found in grocery stores now, usually in the milk section or the "health food" section of the grocery store. While it comes in many flavours, your best bet is to get the plain flavour as it doesn't contain any added sugars. Most people I know who come to me with complaints of constipation experience GREAT success by incorporating kefir into their daily life. I love to add it to smoothies, but you can also add it to your regular yogurt, cereal, or granola. The natural flavour reminds me of tart, natural yogurt. When it comes to kefir, however, make sure you work your way up. Start with just a couple of tablespoons and go from there. If you consume too much too soon you'll be on the toilet all day! (Your bowels may thank you, but your boss might not.) For whatever reason, I've also seen that different forms or manufacturers of kefir produce different results for different people. For example, companies like Liberté produce kefir in more of a bottle-type container while others will package their kefir in a yogurt-like tub. Try out a few different brands over time and see which ones work best for you!
In addition to the above three-step formula, make sure you:
Limit your intake of processed and refined foods, which are incredibly low in fibre.
Exercise regularly to help stimulate your intestinal functioning. You’d be surprised at how quickly you might need to take a poop after just running on the treadmill for a bit!
Go when you’ve gotta go! Don’t ignore the urge to have a bowel movement.
Don’t take laxatives! They might help you in the short-term but they can disrupt your normal bowel functioning and be habit-forming!
Squeeze half a lemon into a cup of warm water and drink first thing in the morning to stimulate digestive juices and help detoxify your liver!
Put your feet up on a stool when you’re on the toilet. It puts you in more natural, squat-like position that can help you poop easier! (No stool nearby? Slide your trash can in front of you and rest your feet on there!)
The Bottom Line
Constipation affects so many people today that it might seem normal, but it’s not. Using the formula outlined above of eating more fibre, drinking more water, and ingesting healthy fats can make a huge difference in your bowel movements. Upping your exercise and limiting caffeine intake can also work wonders!
You Tell Me!
Got any tips for when you suffer from constipation? Share in the comments below! (Reminder: Everybody poops and if we can’t talk about it here, then where can we?!)