10 Diet Changes You Can Make To Overcome Your Constipation
Trying to ignore your constipation? Constipation is like ….. You wait for something that just won’t… You have to use a – lot – of- FORCE. Sometimes, in return for all that effort, you get no more than •••
This is NOT what you signed up for when God was handing out bowel movement preferences.
We are a constipated nation. And with 15-20% of the Western World struggling with it, you’re not alone.
Constipation sucks – straining so hard you see stars on the toilet or looking and feeling like you just ate Christmas dinner for the 3rd time this week, even though your half eaten salad is still in front of you. And the longer it goes on, the more painful it gets.
You’re managing to eat healthy (mostly) and you would like to lose a few pounds, but you find yourself suffering with belly protruding constipation. You might be going days without a movement and it is consuming all of your attention. It is not a nice sensation. In short, you hate it.
I just take a laxative…
You may have tried laxatives, or your doctor may have prescribed them for you, but apart from a short term fix, they haven’t worked either. The problem with laxatives is that when you start taking them regularly, you can become physically dependant on them. The colon requires larger and larger does of laxatives to produce bowel movements and the body loses its ability to produce bowel movements on its own.
I just need to eat more fibre…
Maybe your doctor tells you that you just need to eat more fibre or he may have prescribed fibre sachets for you. If you currently eat very little or no fibre, these methods may work for you, however, if you are constipated, it is worth knowing that this fibre increases stool bulk and volume. Therefore, in people who are already having difficulty in ‘expelling’, it is illogical to actually expect that adding ‘bulk’ to the stool will alleviate this problem. Several studies have shown that dietary fibre does not improve constipation in patients with constipation issues. The authors of this study also provide this handy analogy:
The role of dietary fibre in constipation is analogous to cars in traffic congestion. The only way to alleviate slow traffic would be to decrease the number of cars and to evacuate the remaining cars quickly. Should we add more cars, the congestion would only be worsened… Adding dietary fibre would only add to the bulk and volume and thus make evacuation even more difficult.
But I thought eating wholegrains, cereals and oats was healthy!?
Certain types of fibre can do more harm than good. Grains, wheat and all processed carbs, are filled with gluten, toxins or added sugars, which feed bad bacteria in your digestive system and cause hormonal changes.
What tends to work well with individuals suffering from constipation and other ‘irritable bowel’- like symptoms, is the elimination of grain, particularly wheat, from the diet. Eating vegetables and fruit (rich in ‘soluble’ fibre), allows them to get and maintain good bowel movements. Recent studies have shown that the 1980’s old school advice of eating ‘insoluble’ fibre in wholegrains, does the most damage to people with constipation. Studies on people with IBS concluded pretty much the same thing.
I’m fine if I have a few coffees…
You may be cheating constipation by using coffee as a mild laxative. But did you know that coffee has such a strong laxative effect that it empties partially digested food out of your digestive system before your body has had the chance to absorb the nutrients? Therefore, if you are chugging several cups of coffee down a day so you can poop, you are stopping important minerals from being absorbed, particularly iron. In fact, if you were to eat an iron-rich breakfast and wash it down with a cup of coffee, your body will be unable to absorb most of the iron content. Mineral and nutrient deficiencies can in turn mess your whole system up, leading to more constipation.
Coffee also has other negative effects on your digestive system. It’s best not to drink coffee on an empty stomach, as it is extremely acidic and can interfere with acid secretion, cause heartburn and worsen IBS symptoms.
How often should I go?
Regarding frequency, you should be going at least once per day. If you are going every other day, this is on the slow side, but going every other day is great compared to going every 3rd day or once a week, so there’s a sliding scale to be aware of.
Let’s say you are going daily, but it’s rabbit pellets, some might say you are constipated, but really your motility (how fast you digest food) is a bit slow. This is something to improve, but not total constipation.
In other words, there are varying degrees of constipation, from mild to severe and the factors that create these levels are the frequency and quality of your movements.
So, if you are having non-ideal frequency or quality, you need to take your diet to the next level. The first diet change is to remove any foods that usually contribute to the problem. The biggest offenders include wheat, dairy and other grains. After you’ve made that switch, take your diet to a whole other level with these changes:
1. Add More Fat
This is the most common error with those eating a grain-free diet and even with those not eating a grain-free diet. After giving up wheat, or whilst trying to ‘eat healthily’ or lose weight, some people give up fat. This is a great example of how we’ve all been marketed into a ‘low-fat-diet’ by the food producers.
Fat is not only needed for our hormones and cell walls, but also for good digestive motility. Studies show an increase in motility when ingesting a higher fat diet. Some of the fat passes through the colon, increasing the speed of bowel evacuation. It is also due to bile acid release.
Omega-3 oils help lubricate the intestines so stools can move more easily though the colon. You can increase your intake of fish oil by taking Cod Liver Oil daily.
Eat fattier cuts of meat, like good quality bacon. Add spoonfulls of healthy oils like fibre-rich organic extra virgin coconut oil to your meals or eat an avocado daily.
2. Consume These ‘Healthy Colon’ Foods
50-80% of your stool is made up of bacteria. The best way to encourage changes in gut flora is from the inside out. We can encourage proper small intestinal bacterial growth through certain foods. We can also encourage proper colon bacterial growth.
If you have constipation issues, start eating more of these foods on a weekly basis: onions; garlic; mushrooms; berries; broccoli; carrots; cauliflower; brussel sprouts; pears and apples.
3. Consume More Good Bacteria (Probiotics)
Probiotics are live microbial organisms that are naturally present in the digestive tract. Beneficial bacteria are necessary to properly digest food and to absorb nutrients.
The primary reason to consume probiotics is that they take the place of bad bacteria and help to repopulate the gut with good bacteria. Probiotics also reduce inflammation. They interact with our immune system. Probiotic foods help constipation. Whether you choose natural yoghurt, probiotic capsules or something else, in most cases, just eating these daily will help improve stools.
So, if you’re suffering from constipation and not eating a daily source of probiotics, pick one and begin eating it daily.
4. Eat Prunes
Prunes might be the oldest trick in the book for constipation. In recent studies, 70% of people receiving prunes had an improvement in their constipation symptoms.
The soluble fibre is not the sole reason for the ease of constipation symptoms. People that received only soluble fibre did have some improvements in their symptoms, but the amount of people who reported better symptoms were almost double in the prune group.
Try eating 3-8 prunes a day. Start with 3 first. If you see no improvements after 2 days, try eating 4 prunes a day and so on.
- Important note – if using dried prunes, avoid the ones with Sulphur Dioxide in the ingredients. This is an anti-mould chemical used to prolong the life of the dried prunes even further. It is also a common allergen causing reactions like bloating, itching and respiratory problems. Would you knowingly consume an anti-mould chemical? If it’s that powerful that it stops the natural process of fruit from going off, do you really want to put that in your body? There are plenty of dried prunes that don’t contain this unnecessary ingredient (and they still last for months).
5. Add Salt To Your Food
Salt is your friend, regardless of what you’ve heard or read. You need salt to live. We are living things – sustained with small electrical charges, which are dependant on electrolytes. Lose too many electrolytes so the electricity in your body doesn’t flow as freely and you”ll begin to suffer health consequences. Salt is one of the most important of these electrolytes.
In a standard Western Diet, salt is added to almost every single food because it increases the chances we will buy it again. Just about every boxed product on the market contains added salt for these reasons. When someone switches to non-processed food, there is typically a dramatic dip in the amount of salt consumed in the diet due to the elimination of these processed foods. You don’t want to consume less than 3,000mg a day, or more than 7,000mg a day.
It’s quite common to salt some food here or there, but we need salt to eat the minimum level of 1.5 teaspoons (3,000mg) a day. And if you are exercising and leading an active life, your need for salt increases.
Beyond our need for electrolyte function, salt is very important for proper thyroid and adrenal hormone health. Without adequate salt, neither will work very well. And a sluggish thyroid or adrenals are very common reasons for constipation.
6. Drink High Quality Electrolyte Drinks
High quality electrolyte drinks provide minerals and ions key in hydration. They offer nutritional support for your body throughout the day and contain specific nutrients to enhance water absorption which is great because constipation is related to dehydration in the colon. They are usually rich in magnesium, which contributes to a reduction in tiredness and fatigue and is also used to treat constipation. Try drinking 2 servings a day.
7. Drink Green Tea Every Morning
Green Tea can be used as a constipation remedy. Green Tea can allow more bile to stay within your stools, bile being our natural laxative. Said bile will eventually be excreted in your stools, providing more moisture. Multiple scientific studies have confirmed this fact. There is also an overall benefit on the gastrointestinal tract, from mouth to colon, providing great benefits for constipated people. What is a reasonable quantity? I would say 2 cups should be about right. Make it part of your morning routine.
8. Take Digestive Enzymes With Meals
While there are many causes of constipation, a fundamental, but often overlooked one is incomplete digestion of foods, which causes a build up of waste in your colon that can ferment and putrify. Therefore, optimal digestion and elimination should be a priority in your wellness approach.
Digestive enzymes help digestion. Everything we eat needs enzymes to not only digest foods into nutrients, vitamins and minerals, but also to deliver these nutrients to the cells. However, overconsumption of processed or fast foods or even living a stressful lifestyle puts a greater demand on our digestive systems. The key is to help your body better digest food before they reach your colon.
Supplementing with digestive enzymes can help improve digestion, reduce toxicity in the intestines and colon and thereby improve elimination and reduce constipation. When toxicity builds up in our colon, this can put stress on other systems and hinder their ability to create the enzymes necessary for complete digestion. Enzymes play a key role not just in digestion, but also healthy elimination.
9. Take an Epsom Salt Bath
Epsom Salt looks like table salt, or sodium chloride, but it isn’t made of the same ingredients. It was first discovered centuries ago in Epsom, England. It’s made from the minerals magnesium and sulfate. Magnesium is the relaxation mineral. Constipation is a common symptom of magnesium deficiency.
Using Epsom Salt externally can also relieve constipation. When you’re constipated, it’s common to want fast relief, however, stimulant laxatives can cause painful cramping and explosive bowel movements. Epsom Salt is a fast and gentler way to relieve constipation and it is easier on your body than stimulant laxatives.
Using Epsom Salt usually leads to a bowel movement within 30 minutes to 6 hours. Soaking in it helps relax your gut and softens your stool as you absorb magnesium through your skin. This is what helps produce a bowel movement. Dissolve 5 cups of Epsom Salt in a bath full of warm water and have yourself a soak for a minimum of 30 minutes.
10. Get Your Thyroid/Adrenals Tested
Magnesium deficiency is also a common issue for people with hypothyroidism. Constipation is one of the classic signs of hypothyroidism. Without enough thyroid hormone, many of the body’s functions slow down. Hypothyroidism slows the action of the digestive tract causing constipation. Muscles line the digestive tract including the small and large intestines. The muscles contract to move the stool through the intestine to the rectum. Hypothyroidism can weaken the contraction of these muscles causing the stool to move too slowly.
The Thyroid Federation International estimates there are up to 300 million thyroid sufferers worldwide, yet over half remain undiagnosed. With millions of undiagnosed hypothyroidism sufferers worldwide and millions more insufficiently treated, is it really any wonder why there are so many different constipation remedies on the supermarket shelves?
If you are reading this article right now and you suffer from chronic constipation, but you’ve never been diagnosed with hypothyroidism, please get your thyroid properly tested. Finding a doctor who is open to comprehensive thyroid testing is key.