Constipation can make us feel pretty uncomfortable. When you are constipated, you may be consistently feeling full and bloated. Even the pressure of your clothes against your stomach can be irritating! Bowel movements can range from 1-3 times a day that is easy to pass without strain or pain. Less than ideal bowel habits? Here is part 1 of 2 part series of tips to improve constipation.
If you have any specific diagnosis or gastrointestinal disease please consult your dietitian and/or physician before trying the below.
The most frequent cause of constipation is lack of fiber in the diet. This is the first place to start. Fiber is what feeds the good bacteria (also called probiotics) in our gut, to keep them alive and well. Without the fiber to feed the good bacteria, that probiotic you are taking may not be getting the “food” it needs and not staying alive to do its job in your gut. When the probiotics in your gut are out of balance, this can be a cause of constipation. Aside from feeding your good bugs, fiber adds bulk to the stool, therefore lessening constipation for an easier bowel movement.
Most Americans are only getting about ⅓ of the fiber in their diet that they need. The recommendation for women is 25-30g per day and for men 30-38g per day. So how can you make sure you are getting the fiber your body needs? Fiber is found in whole grains, nuts, seeds, vegetables and fruits. A good source of fiber is 3 or more grams per serving.
Here are some examples of high fiber foods:
|Fiber (grams)||Serving Size|
|Pear (with skin)||5.5g||1 medium|
|Apple (with skin)||4.4g||1 medium|
|Whole wheat pasta||6.3||1 cup|
|Quinoa flakes||4.8g||2/3 cup|
|Lentils (cooked)||7.8g||1/2 cup|
|Black beans (cooked)||7.5g||1/2 cup|
|Flax seeds whole||3g||1 tablespoon|
|Green peas cooked||4.4g||1/2 cup|
|Brussel sprouts cooked||4.1g||1 cup|
Fiber can also be supplemented, but supplements will not stand alone in getting the nutrition you need. Talk with your dietitian if you are considering a fiber supplement as you will need to choose the right kind of fiber and make sure you are getting enough water as not to make the constipation worse. Fiber can also bind to your medications and supplements lessening their effect so make sure you discuss the amount of fiber and spacing of supplements with your RD.
There are other huge benefits of eating a high fiber diet. A high fiber diet will help to lower cholesterol (fiber acts like a vacuum picking up bad cholesterol (LDL) and removing it from your body). A high fiber diet can also help to stabilize blood sugars. If you have a diagnosis of Diabetes, Pre- Diabetes, PCOS or insulin resistance, fiber is your friend. Fiber will also help you feel fuller longer which helps with energy levels and mood throughout the day and helps to manage portions at meals and snacks.
2. Water intake
Adequate water intake keeps the stool the right consistency and allows for easier elimination. Unfortunately, sodas, diet sodas, coffee, sweetened teas and juices do not count towards the water count for the day. Your body can help you manage the amount of water you need. Instead of shooting for 80 ounces or 1 gallon a day, aim to stay hydrated by drinking enough water to keep your urine a pale yellow and using the bathroom every 3-4 hours. We can overdo water! Often the symptom of nausea arises when water intake is too much. Not a water fan? Start small and slowly increase your plain water. We are 60% water and have no choice but to drink water to make our biology work! Have a hard time increasing your water intake? Try some of these ideas.
Activity can help to stimulate motility . Moving your body for 30 minutes a day can do a large part in keeping you regular. When you think activity, it does not need to be on the treadmill or high intensity crossfit! It can be kicking around a soccer ball with your kids, hiking in the outdoors, playing tennis or exploring a new city on foot for the day.
4. Mindful Eating
When we are in fight or flight mode, one of the non essential systems is our digestive system. If you were running from a cheetah, you do not need to be digesting your food and worrying about having to use the bathroom. Your energy goes to supplying your muscles (skeletal and heart) and your brain to fight or flee the situation. The problem is that sometimes we have “cried cheetah” and are in a state of chronic stress. Eating under stress can contribute to maldigestion.
Mindful eating, that is being present at the meal and eating with attention, can help to improve maldigestion. Something as simple as taking a few deep breaths before the meal to center yourself and bring down the stress level can improve your digestion. Taking some time to practice gratitude is another way to decrease stress before a meal. Mindful eating takes time, be patient and practice!
5. Herbal tea
Herbal teas can help with motility. I count herbal teas toward your water intake for the day. Ginger tea, camomile tea or peppermint can help with constipation. There are many tea options out there to try, you can even steep a few slices of fresh ginger in hot water to make your own.
Are you struggling with constipation or other GI issues? Make an appointment with one of our dietitians by calling 301-474-2499 or clicking here.