Constipation 101: The Quintessential Guide to Keeping your Bowels Healthy (Regular)
I don’t know about you, but for me moving my bowels was always a problem. In fact, it is because of my chronic constipation that I’m doing the kind of work that I do today. It was my constipation that made me particularly interested in how the food that I was eating affected my body. Later, I changed careers, so I can help others to make food their medicine as well.
I was in my 20s, when I become aware of my body’s functions. I remember being a veterinary medicine student and studying about colon health. It struck me when I learned about constipation and the risk for colon cancer. It was a big “AHA” moment for me. It was then, that I “turned myself” into a local hospital to investigate why I was “pooping once a week or once every other week” so that I could learn how to fix it. I was healthy overall. In fact, that was my very first encounter with a hospital, but I understood that if I didn’t get my body regular, my health would suffer in the future. I was diagnosed with megacolon (I have a big-over sized colon). The doc said to me, “some people are born with a big nose, you’re born with a big colon. We can fix it for you, we go in and make it normal size”. I said, “that’s nice of you, thank you, but no thank you.” And that is when my quest for gut and colon health began. My life long constipation lead me into trying a raw vegan, then vegetarian diet and eventually the GAPS Nutrition Protocol. You can read about my story of going from Raw Vegan to GAPS here.
On today’s post, I’m summarizing 7 of the strategies that help keep my colon regular. I personally use all of them except for #5-as I can’t tolerate any amount of sugar alcohols and prunes are quite high in sorbitol.
Keep in mind that a healthy digestive system is essential for a healthy body (and optimal weight loss). Before I give you the 7 strategies, let’s make sure we understand what “constipation” means, because there is quite a difference of opinion when it comes to defining constipation.
Clinical Constipation Defined:
“Chronic constipation is infrequent bowel movements or difficult passage of stools that persists for several weeks or longer. Constipation is generally described as having fewer than three bowel movements a week.” by Maio Clinic Stuff
“The normal length of time between bowel movements varies widely from person to person. Some people have bowel movements three times a day. Others have them only once or twice a week. Going longer than three or more days without one is usually too long. After three days, the stool or feces become harder and tougher to pass.” by WebMD
I don’t know about you but these definitions of constipation do not sit well with me. I believe (as other alternative practitioners do) that “our bowels should move as nature intended — once or twice daily, usually after a meal (one after each large meal), with no effort and no need to wipe.” I know…, it sounds like a dream for so many of us. I’m still not there yet, just visualizing it for now:)
A tool I use with my clients to assess the frequency of their stools is a daily log and for the quality, we use the Bristol Stool Chart because, “Knowledge Is Power! The Real Power Comes From Taking Actions”… And now
The 7 strategies:
- Ground Flaxseed and Chia Seeds – Enjoy 1-2 heaping tbsp of ground flax or chia seeds daily – both are gentle sources of fiber that can help promote bowel movements. I personally like chia seeds as they are high in soluble fiber and bind to toxins in the gut. You can read more about chia seeds here.
- Fat! Fat! Fat! Get off the low-fat diet please, (if you’re still on it). Fat is one of the most important macro-nutrients for healthy stools (gut health and function, fat soluble vitamins absorption, hormone production, brain, nerves, heart function and so much more). How does fat help move bowels? Dietary fat stimulates the release of bile from the gallbladder, which, in turn, stimulates the gastro-colic reflex. This then stimulates intestinal (motility) and facilitates bowel movement.
- Drink fresh lemon juice and warm water in the morning. Lemon juice is great for the liver, stimulating bile flow which gets the rest of the digestive system moving.
- Magnesium – Magnesium is the 2nd most abundant mineral in the body next to calcium. Magnesium stimulates peristalsis which is the rhythmic contraction of your digestive system, moving things along the digestive tract. Great sources of magnesium include; dark leafy green veggies, micro-algae like chlorella and spirulina. Talk to your healthcare provider about supplementing with magnesium. The best form to induce bowel movements is Magnesium Citrate (this is the one I personally use and recommend it to my private clients).
- Prunes and prune juice – have a laxative effect due to their natural content of sugar alcohol-sorbitol. This will pull more water into the large intestine and facilitate bowel movements. Note: some people are sensitive to sugar alcohols even the natural ones found in foods and will experience GI distress with cramping and gas.
- Probiotics – restoring gut flora balance is a must. Healthy bacteria in our gut is essential for the proper breakdown and absorption of nutrients from our food, as well as proper elimination. Plain yogurt with live probiotics is a good place to start, as well as sauerkraut and its juice. Other food sources of proboitics include naturally fermented cucumbers, cashews, kefir, nato, etc. For many, supplementation is needed for a more therapeutic amount of these healthy bugs.
- Move your body – it’s not the first time you hear me or other health experts telling you to move your body. Moving your body to support healthy bowel movements doesn’t have to be anything out of the ordinary. You can start with the old fashion WALK. Yes, walking is extremely beneficial for us humans. In fact I dare to say it’s vital, as we were designed to walk. So make sure you put in those 10,000 steps each day. Now in addition to that, if you add some planned exercise, that’s even better for overall health, including your bowels too.
- Bonus: use a “squatty potty” to help you get into a squat position. This will facilitate an easier evacuation. It’s the way our ancestors went poo, they squatted. Hint: I got mine at Bed Bath and Beyond, but you can get one from Amazon too.
If you need support around gut health I encourage you to take the FREE online coaching program: 5 reasons you’re still sick and overweight even if you’re eating healthy.