I recently ran across an article touting peanut butter consumption as a way to relieve constipation. The article triggered my memory of all of the times that I had clients come in to see me for one thing or another, but it was all too common that they had a lifelong problem with this very troublesome issue. Then I thought, why not share my key tips to help YOU get things moving along regularly again?
First of all, as you may have guessed, the typical diet is not very conducive to helping you go. Not enough fiber, bad fats and most people don’t drink enough water, not to mention the lack of movement throughout the day. A lifestyle filled with these habits (which is all too common for most people) is a sure fire way to get stopped up.
Here are some solutions that have helped my clients over the years and they can help you too!
Getting Enough Fiber
I know you’ve heard this mantra - we need more fiber in our diets! But what is fiber? What should you be eating and how much?
Fiber comes from a few things, all of which we generally don’t eat enough of, namely whole grains, veggies and fruits. Let’s first talk about what constitutes a whole grain.
A grain is actually a seed of a plant. You can replant them and new plants will grow. Each grain has three components, the outer layer, or bran, the inner portion that makes up most of the grain, or endosperm, and the smaller inner part, or germ. Think about an egg. You have the shell, the white and the yolk. The bran is the shell, the endosperm is the white and the germ is the yolk. The bran protects it, the endosperm feeds it and the germ is where the new baby comes from.
The bran has almost all of the fiber of the grain, the endosperm has the sugars and the germ has the fats and nutrients of the grain. When grain is processed, the bran is stripped off because it’s tough, requiring more cooking time and the flour produces denser baked products (not light and fluffy like most people prefer). Fats tend to go rancid quickly, so the germ is removed to extend shelf life. You are left with, you guessed it, the sugar portion of the grain.
This means that most of what we consume as carbohydrates from grains are really just the sugars of the grain it came from (besides all of the chemicals used to strip it down and make it pretty - but let’s not go there). Even when you buy “brown” or supposed “whole grain” bread, most likely it’s either made with white flour and colored brown with molasses or some bran is added back in after it has been stripped down, but you don’t get it all back and none of the germ comes back in.
The point of the story is most of what we are consuming from grains have virtually NO fiber in them, or a minimal amount. This is why it’s important to eat our grains and products that come from grains (like flours) as whole as possible. Get creative with whole grains, like quinoa, brown rice, farro and more - check out my site for some recipes!
The other major fiber source lacking in most diets is vegetables and fruits. Think about it, how many times did you eat a fruit or vegetable today? Yesterday? The day before that? Maybe you really love your veggies and your plates are full of them, but most people do not. Heck, I absolutely love veggies and salads and even I have a hard time getting them in sometimes!
Remember the old Five a Day campaign? The goal was to promote consumption of five portions of fruits and vegetables every day. What’s a portion? Click here and you will get a visual portion guide, as well as a quick, easy meal guide to help you make healthy choices wherever you are!
Basically, think about filling up half of your plate with vegetables and get a variety of colors in there. You cannot be so ad libitum with fruit, but sticking to your portions and enjoying one or two portions of your five plus a day as fruit is just fine. I usually have my fruit (I particularly love berries!) at breakfast.
Not Enough “Good for You” Fats
I could go on for days about grains and fiber, but I’ll save that for another blog. Let’s talk about fats.
I think by now we all know that fats aren’t the bane to our food existence like we used to believe back in the 90’s. However, unless you are doing keto or a similar diet, I think it’s still in the back of our head that fats are “bad” and we should be careful with over consuming them.
Of course, over consuming anything is not good, fats included, but consuming the right kind of fats is actually beneficial to our health, helps us feel satiated and, you guessed it, helps keep us regular.
I had a client who came to me for weight loss. After a couple of counseling sessions, he was doing everything right and getting results, but now he had another problem, he was constipated. I reviewed what he was eating, which was pretty much right on, however, I noticed that he was not really eating much fat at all. I recommended that he add some healthy fats into his diet and by his next appointment, all was good again!
Questions to ask yourself are, first, what kind of fats are you eating? Do you eat fried food frequently? How about those croissants and baked goods? Or are you consuming mostly nuts, seeds, avocados, olives, etc?
The second question is, how much are you eating? Perhaps you feel like you are eating healthy, lots of veggies, you aim for whole grains as much as you can, but you still have difficulty going regularly? You may be surprised that you aren’t getting enough fats. Perhaps you can sprinkle some nuts and seeds on your salad, add some avocado and olives, smear some nut butter on your Wasa crackers, etc.
It may be an idea to keep a food diary to see what you’re really eating. I know, it’s not like we have enough on our life plates already, but it’s just for a few days and it could really open your eyes to what you are actually consuming!
Drinking Enough Water
I would always tell my clients that fiber is like a broom, it sweeps through your intestines and cleans things out. However, you can be eating all of this great fiber and getting in healthy fats, but if you aren’t drinking enough fluids, you will get stopped up.
It seems the recommendation for the amount of water or fluids we should be drinking is all over the place. How much water should you drink then? Well, there are different variables that determine what you need, such as, if the weather is hot, you are an athlete, you have a fever, you are pregnant or breastfeeding, etc. All of these situations require more fluid intake.
But in regular situations, a general rule of thumb is to divide your weight in pounds by 2 and that’s how many ounces you need. For example, if you weigh 150lbs, you need to consume 75 ounces of fluid per day. There are eight ounces in a cup, so that comes out to a little less than 10 cups a day.
Fluids without sugar count (OK, sugary fluids count too, but let's just say they don't because they are just not good for you on so many levels), but water is always best, unless you are in a situation where you are sweating a lot and you need the extra electrolytes (which you can get without the added sugars). If you are a coffee or tea drinker, that counts too. Sorry, alcohol does NOT count!
The best thing to do is to get a water bottle with a specified volume, like a 26 ounce container, and carry it around with you all day. Using the example above, you would need to drink at least three of those 26 ounce containers a day to get enough fluids.
You can also do the pee test, the darker the yellow, the more dehydrated you are. Your pee should be light yellow.
If you are thirsty, that means you already let it go too long without a drink. Drink enough so that you don’t feel thirsty. Make it a habit to always have water with you and take a drink often.
Of course, there are extremes to everything and water is no different. If you chug down gallons of water in short periods, you can create something called hyponatremia, which happens when your sodium blood levels become diluted. This is very bad, so I wanted to mention it, but you don’t need to worry about this if you are just drinking water throughout the day.
Have you noticed that when you get up and moving in the morning, you suddenly feel the urge to get to the bathroom? Perhaps if you are chronically constipated you may not have this feeling, but for those of us who are regular, this is really a thing.
Being active, moving, exercising, whatever you want to call it, will help keep you regular. You
should be exercising on a regular basis for so many different reasons anyway, this is just one of the many.
This isn’t a blog about exercise (check out blogs I’ve written about the importance of exercise here), so I won’t go on too long about it, but the main point is to get out there and MOVE! The recommended amount of activity is 150 minutes a week, which comes out to around 30 minutes a day (over five days). If you have a job where you are sitting most of the day, this is particularly important. If this is you, you may find that just moving more regularly will help you get, well, regular!
Coffee Helps You Go
This last tip is for you coffee drinkers. Perhaps you’ve noticed that shortly after drinking your coffee you have to go? This definitely happens to me! The reason for this isn’t the caffeine, but the cholinergic acid the coffee contains. This means that this effect works if you drink decaf too (check out my article on why you should drink less caffeine here).
If you don’t like coffee, no fear, tea counts as a fluid and can help get things moving. And if tea isn’t your thing either, go for the other four tips!
If you’ve been dealing with a lifelong, or short-term, struggle with constipation, I hope these tips help you. I know that some of you may be saying, I know this stuff already! But knowing and doing are two different things. Really do them and I have faith you will find yourself with "the urge" more often!
If you’re interested in the peanut butter article, here’s the link: https://www.eatingwell.com/peanut-butter-and-constipation-8358091