Constipation. It’s uncomfortable, unpleasant and disruptive. And much as we don’t want to talk about it, many of us are troubled by it at one point or another. Constipation is, for better or worse, your body’s way of telling you that you need to pay a little more attention to what you’re putting in it, and what you’re not. And frequent constipation is more than just an uncomfortable annoyance. If it happens often enough, it can set the stage for chronic gastrointestinal problems, leading to leaky gut, inflammation and disease.
So, the question then becomes, how to stop constipation from taking hold, how to get rid of it if it does, and how to keep it from coming back? What follows is my in-a-nutshell guide to dealing with constipation and flushing it out of your life, hopefully for good! Here’s where to start:
Do a little detective work.
Some foods pass through the digestive system relatively quickly, like soup and salad, while others, think chicken parm with pasta, may plug up your machinery for days. If frequent constipation is an issue, then you’re going to need to get to the bottom of what’s causing the slowdown. It can be any number of things like an imbalanced microbiome, stress, poor sleep, lack of exercise, etc., but often, the first place to look is on your plate.
Police your plate.
You are what you eat, so if you’re eating like crap, you probably won’t – and you’ll feel like crap too. If, on the other hand, you’re eating a decent diet, then you’ll have to dig a little deeper. The best way to i.d. the constipating perps is with a 2-week elimination diet. On it, you’ll remove the foods that typically can trigger gut trouble, like sugar, gluten, dairy, soy, corn and eggs. After 2 weeks, you’ll slowly reintroduce the likely suspects, one at a time, over the course of a few weeks, to see which ones cause trouble and which ones don’t. For some people, simply nixing dairy will do the trick, while others may initially need to avoid several foods to prevent trouble.
Feed your gut.
You know what your gut thrives on? Not surprisingly, fermented foods which contain good bacteria, and prebiotic foods, which feed your good gut bacteria the nutrients they crave, in particular, veggies like leafy greens and cruciferous veggies (especially the stalks and stems). And when your gut bacteria are well fed, digestion stays on track and waste products are eliminated more easily, with minimal strain or pain. Another fantastic way to aid the digestive process is with a high-quality probiotic supplement, to add even more good gut bugs to the mix.
Drink your fill.
Another major cause of constipation? Not drinking enough fluids. It’s easy to lose track, particularly if you rarely ‘feel’ thirsty. Drinking plenty of filtered water keeps stools softer and easier to pass, so waste products can keep moving. If you frequently work up a sweat or live in a hot climate, be especially conscious of your fluid balance. Your urine should be straw-colored. Bright yellow indicates you’re not drinking enough, and no color suggests that you might be over-doing it.
At night, go light.
In the evening, try to avoid weighing yourself and your digestive track down with a big dinner. Instead, most nights, eat lightly. A good blended veggie soup three hours before bedtime will help rest your digestive system so that it goes to sleep at about the same time you do.
Keep things moving.
What you do during the day, impacts how well your gut behaves round the clock. To keep constipation at bay 24/7, try a few of these easy, everyday habits to keep digestion and elimination on track:
- Improve digestion by adding 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar and/or bitters to a glass of water, before and after meals
- Chew fennel seeds or infuse them into a tea for sipping
- Add flaxseeds and chia seeds to your smoothies – and blend!
- Add more healthy fats to your diet, like olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds
- Move daily and incorporate yoga twists and/or gentle abdominal massage (use clockwise strokes while lying down)
- Get into the rhythm of moving your bowels at the same time each day; consider using a Squatty Potty for optimal ergonomics
- Meditate daily to relieve stress (too much of which can trigger constipation)
- Take a little magnesium chloride or oxide before bed to aid elimination in the morning
- If Magnesium does not work, try some Triphala, a traditional Ayurvedic herbal formulation consisting of three fruits, which supports regular bowel movements.
- For acute cases, try Swiss Kriss (a senna-based herbal laxative) for occasional relief, but don’t become dependent on it.
Kill the bad guys.
If the above tips do not give you success, I often use an anti-microbial formula in my practice, to help kill the bad guys in the gut and support microbial balance and digestive health. This overgrowth of bad bacteria or yeast causing an imbalanced microbiome, seems to becoming a more frequent problem these days, and a not uncommon cause of constipation.
To learn more about protecting your microbiome, click here.