FACT: EVERYBODY POOPS BUT NOT EVERYBODY POOPS WELL ..
What’s the difference really, between a fantastic bowel movement and a mediocre bowel movement?
There are numerous differences but the biggest difference is how much better you feel when you consistently have the fantastic ones.
When your poops are on point your GI tract (effectively your body’s “engine”) is able to perform at full capacity and therefore so is the rest of your body. But when your poops are struggle-some and inconsistent that engine sputters and stalls (and backfires) more often and your body and brain both suffer for it.
Most people don’t realize that there are degrees of constipation, that they don’t have to be totally blocked up to be constipated (and suffer from its symptoms).
To be clear: when we’re talking about strategies for fantastic bowel movements we’re often also talking about constipation and its relief. There’s a lot of overlap.
There are two big misconceptions when it comes to constipation.
MISCONCEPTION 1 : You’re not constipated if you poop every day.
MISCONCEPTION 2: You can relieve constipation with a better diet. Yes diet impacts your bowel movements but there’s a lot more to fantastic poops than what’s at the end of your fork!
It’s important to understand that constipation is not about how often you go: it’s about how fully you evacuate your bowels when you do. You can poop every single day and still be constipated because the real issue is that your poop is only evacuating a fraction of what’s in your bowels. and not the full 100%.
What if I’ve had diarrhoea? That has to mean I’m not constipated … right? WRONGI
Think of your digestive tract like a 4 lane highway from your mouth to the other end! You can get congestion at any part of that highway not just at the end plus an ambulance could come flying past at 100kms an hour. That’s diarrhoea!
When you fully evacuate your bowels. the system is free to continue flowing forward unencumbered. But when you’re constipated and things aren’t moving the way they’re supposed to (like traffic crawling its way around a car accident). the forward flow is bottle necked or otherwise restricted… and when this happens. things can even start to move backwards instead.
SIX CLASSIC SYMPTOMS OF CONSTIPATION:
GAS AND BLOATING – This is the Number One Symptom of Constipation. Measuring (changes in) gas and bloating is a big part of determining whether or not you have adequately improved your constipation.
Gas is a natural byproduct of the many chemical reactions in the gut which break down the foods we eat so the mere fact of having (produced) gas isn’t a problem. But that gas does have to be able to pass through the system-and the problem is that when that system is blocked up even just partially it can prevent pockets of gas from progressing smoothly down the GI tract.
ABDOMINAL DISCOMFORT /CRAMPS – Bear in mind, firstly, that the GI tract is all squeezed together pretty tightly; there’s not really a “ceiling” available for gasses to just float effortlessly over top of the rest. They often have to push through the gut crowded together with everything else-and this increases local pressure, especially as more and more gas is introduced. The discomfort and/or cramping can occur in many different locations throughout the abdomen; they can range in severity from mild to very severe. Many times. they’ll come in waves which build build, build and then finally break (only to start over).
As I mentioned, though, the problem with constipation is not just that things are struggling to move forward (and out). The problem is that things can also start to move backwards-and this helps to explain the next three symptoms especially, starting with:
- NAUSEA – One way of explaining nausea is that it’s the stomach not knowing which direction to go (so it goes in circles). If it decides to go backwards you vomit. Until then or until things start moving forward again you feel queasy.
- WORSENING OF ACID REFLUX – This operates by much the same principle as nausea, where downstream blockage can encourage stomach contents to reverse direction-but the difference here is that stomach acid can gradually creep its way backwards without upsetting the rest of the stomach contents.
This can happen to anyone. but especially those with acid-reflux disease. This is because acid-reflux disease is caused (in layman’s terms) by a faulty seal; the lower esophageal sphincter. which connects the esophagus to the stomach. doesn’t close as tightly as it should. and that gives stomach acid more latitude to creep back up.
- LOSS OF APPETITE – If you’re constipated. you might find that you get full very quickly-that your hunger dissipates unusually fast and that you don’t feel a desire to continue eating the way you otherwise might have.
After all if you start the meal with traffic already backed up on the GI Highway. it won’t be too long before cars can’t even enter the highway.
And last but certainly not least common among the symptoms …
FATIGUE – If your GI tract is the engine of your body-the part that breaks down food and distributes energy to everywhere that needs it-constipation affects the GI tract like partial clogging would affect any engine namely reducing its output and reliability. This is one of the more complicated symptoms to explain fully but it’s extremely common nonetheless. So if you have any of the symptoms above (especially gas and bloating) and you find yourself dragging recently in ways you can’t fully explain. you should seriously consider the possibility that you’re constipated.
Constipation is painfully common: it affects adults of all ages and backgrounds. For another thing, it’s caused by a bunch of different factors (both dietary and non-dietary) and their interactions which means it’s usually not ‘just one thing” blocking you up.
STRATEGIES FOR CONSTIPATION
- Hydration – drink a minimum of 2 litres of water a day. An approx rule of thumb is 30mls per kilo of body weight. When you wake in the morning you will be in a dehydrated state as you haven’t been drinking whilst asleep! Start the day with a couple of glasses of warm water to quickly help contribute towards rehydrating. This is the start of your day when you’re waking up and getting yourself together. Drinking that water turns on your kidneys, stomach, and brain; it gets all of your body’s systems in balance and (not least of all) it encourages your bowels to clear themselves out for a new day. You will literally just feel better overall because you’re doing this while your batteries are still fully charged.
- Fibre – You need 30 to 50 grams of fibre a day for a healthy gut microbiome. The vast majority of people do not receive enough fibre. Only plant foods contain fibre. The highest are beans and legumes e.g. lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans, cannelini beans, lima beans, navy beans. Having some toast for breakfast, salad at lunch and some vegetables with your dinner does NOT mean you are getting enough fibre.
- Exercise – get your body moving and your bowels are sure to follow. Aerobic exercise is best, the kind where you’re physically moving your entire body. Weight training doesn’t help nearly so much with your bowels and their movements because as your body isn’t moving nearly as much during most weight training. The exercise doesn’t have to be strenuous to be helpful for moving your bowels along. Even just a short walk (especially after meals) is helpful for preventing jam-ups in the poop factory. High daily step counts are a good thing for these purposes no matter how slowly and steadily you rack them up.
- Check medication side effects – medications and supplements known to cause constipation include: antihistamines, antispasmodics (mostly taken for IBS), tricyclic Antidepressants, some iron and calcium supplements especially if they contain iron sulfate or calcium carbonate, some blood-pressure medications and opioid painkillers.
- Retrain your bowel – this is especially useful if you have a lazy bowel from constantly suppressing the urge to go. You might be the type to hold on if you are at work, at a friends house, out shopping etc but this only makes the connection between the brain telling the bowel to go weak. Choose the same time every day that you can dedicate 5 minutes to go and sit on the toilet and relax. Do not strain! You might find after breakfast every day is ideal. You could also have 2 glasses of warm water first thing every morning and then shortly afterwards go and sit on the toilet. After five minutes get up and flush the toilet even if nothing happens and wash and dry your hands. Patience is important because you’re ultimately playing the long game here. This daily ritual isn’t about forcing your body to poop at a specific time; it’s about tempting your brain to poop at a time set aside for it. Research has found that the more consistently you stick to this morning bathroom routine the more your brain learns to anticipate it and the better it prepares your bowels to use the time you’ve carved out for (emptying) them each morning. Do this long enough and you WILL be pooping in the time you’ve allotted.
- Position yourself – caveman never sat at 90 degrees on a toilet and if we found ourselves out in the bush needing to go we wouldnt do this either. We would squat! This straightens out the exit path taken by our poop which makes the go easier and empties a greater proportion of our bowels than we’d see via conventional toilet usage. Its not realistic to get up and squat over your toilet but you can mimic this action by using a small stepping stool. Use it to elevate your feet so that your knees are positioned above your hips then lean forward. This creates a 35 degree angle similar to squatting. There are also companies like SquattyPotty that sell specific stools for this purpose.
- Abdominal massage – you’ll want to start just above your right hip in the right lower quadrant of your abdomen. This is the starting point of the colon. From that starting point trace upwards on your right side to just below your ribs in the right upper quadrant of your abdomen. Next. trace across the top of your abdomen to the equivalent spot under your ribs in the left upper quadrant of your abdomen. Finally, trace down the left side of your abdomen to the equivalent spot just above your left hip, in the left lower quadrant of your abdomen. You should be forming basically, a three-sided box around your abdomen. Massage in this direction with gentle circular motions covering a small area. Nice and slow. Repeat this a few times round.
Supplements to help
Tried ALL of these tips and still feel like you are constipated? Then there are natural supplements that dont cause dependence or irritate the bowel like many do. We like Metagenics Laxatone capsules that help tell the bowel to move everything through. Great for a lazy bowel. Use them before bed to help go in the morning along with retraining the bowel practices and you can then slowly wean off Laxatone.
Our other favourite product is Gut Synbiotic which is a pre-biotic pro-biotic fibre that tasteless and proven in studies to improve constipation, IBS and even diarrhoea issues.
And finally Flora GI Select is great for bloating, wind, spasms, pinworm and threadworm. It is called select as it is selective in killing off the “bad” organisms in your gut and leaving the good ones alone.