People can become constipated for a lot of different reasons. Not “going” is not only frustrating, but unhealthy. After all, we should be taking a break on the porcelain god with a good degree of consistency. There are dozens of foods that help with constipation, as well as supplements and lifestyle changes that can help you poop, too!
Relief is on the way. Keep reading.
Getting Help With Constipation
Going to the bathroom is an important routine. It helps us mentally and physically. I’ve worked with clients for over 14 years, and one of the big topics that comes up with at least half of them is constipation. For one reason or another, they just can’t poop. Some of my clients are chronically constipated going up to a week without going. Others are constipated for shorter amounts of time. Foods that help with constipation could help, but there are a couple other approaches that can help, too.
Before we dive into ways to remedy constipation, it’s important to know what it is…exactly.
What is constipation?
Constipation is the inability to regularly empty your bowels. “Regular” isn’t really clearly defined. Research shows that going to the bathroom anywhere from 3 times a week to 3 times a day is normal. I’ve always used the benchmark of going once a day as a good place to start.
What your poop looks like matters, too. Your bowel movements consist of undigested waste that moves through your large intestine, through your colon then our your body. Foods that help with constipation usually contribute to a healthier bowel movement.
Healthy poop has these characteristics:
- Reasonable in size, amounting to about 12 inches
- Solid, not watery
- Brownish or brownish/greenish
- Green poop is normal if you eat a lot of leafy greens, like kale
- Red poop is normal if you eat beets
- Elimination can happen from 3 times a day to just 3 times a week
- Should be pain free
Unhealthy poop includes:
- Pooping more than 3 times a day
- Black-colored stools that are loose like coffee grounds
- Red poop in the absence of eating red foods, like beets
- Pale or white poop of any consistency
- Water or loose poop is often a sign of diarrhea
- Greasy or waxy poop is a sign that you’re eating too much fat
- Pebble-like or difficult-to-pass stools is a sign that you might be dehydrated or not getting enough fiber
- Experiencing pain when trying to empty your bowels
If you’re experiencing unhealthy poop characteristics, see a medical practitioner to get the best advice.
Why is constipation uncomfortable?
Constipation can really throw you off your game. When we don’t eliminate toxins from our body over a long period of time, we can reabsorb them. It’s an entirely creepy thought. No one wants to absorb toxins that are remnants of stool living in our large intestine.
Another reason constipation can be so painful is because our colon has stretch receptors, not touch receptors. Our colon can stretch due to gas or fecal matter that won’t come out. When you have gas or haven’t been going enough, that build up forces that part of your body to stretch, which can be quite painful.
If you’re constipated, it’s not because there isn’t poop waiting to come out. It’s because your intestine and colon aren’t moving it out.
When you chew and swallow food, your esophagus contracts and relaxes allowing food to pass through making its way to your stomach. This is called peristalsis.
Peristalsis also happens in our intestines. Peristalsis causes a wave-like motion that moves waste out. In the absence of peristalsis, poop isn’t getting pushed down and out. We need to make peristalsis happen to help resolve constipation.
Even if you poop, you could still be constipated
You’re probably thinking that if you poop everyday, you’re not constipated. That’s not always true.
One night a couple years ago, my son was asleep in his crib. He was goofing around with his sisters just before he went to bed and seemed to be really happy. Fast forward a couple hours to a toddler screaming in pain.
When I ran in to check on him, tears were streaming down his bright red face. I picked him up to see what was wrong. Nothing seemed obvious. I thought maybe a bug bit him and looked for a mark on his body. Couldn’t find anything. I held him close to me, and for a moment he was quiet. Then he started again – screams turning to shrieks.
He wasn’t talking very much at that point, so I couldn’t get an answer out of him.
If you’re a parent, grandparent or caregiver, you just know when something is wrong. After 15 more minutes of screaming, I told my husband I was taking him into the hospital. At 11:00pm, I loaded him in my car and drove to Lurie Children’s in Chicago. With him falling in and out of sleep for a couple hours, interrupted by his terrifying screams, we were finally seen by a doctor in ER.
The doctors were very good, but couldn’t pinpoint anything that as wrong. They asked if he had been pooping everyday. “Yes, everyday.” I told them. He was still in diapers and when I changed him it was obvious he was eliminating what I thought was a good amount.
He went back for a scan of his abdomen. When the attending physician came back to talk to us, she hung up his X-ray. I was shocked to see that my son was moderate to severely constipated. Despite the fact that he was going everyday, he was still getting backed up.
Remember what I mentioned about stretch receptors in our colon? This is where the pain was coming from. He had a bulk of stool bulging from his descending colon (if your tummy is a clock, the top of the descending colon would be around 1:00).
Despite the fact that my son pooped everyday, and given that I know he was taking in enough fluids and fiber, he still became constipated. When he was a tiny baby, he would resist the urge to go. My thought is that he experienced a painful bowel movement at some point prior to the constipation, and withheld as much poop as he could.
In the end, he ended up taking an adult serving of Miralax everyday for a week, which helped clear him out. Amazingly, after he was potty trained, all signs of constipation were resolved.
This is just one story that illustrates how we could very well be constipated and not know it. If you’re not pooping enough, it’s still in you!
Food for Constipation
Different foods can help for different reasons. Some foods contain a lot of fiber, which can help to add bulk to your poop – making it bigger. Other foods contain nutrients, like magnesium, which helps to increase the amount of water in your intestines, which helps to kickstart peristalsis. Make sense?
Before you reach for a box of laxatives, which should be an absolute last resort, here are a few foods you should fill your cart with to get you more regular.
I’m going to go through:
- Legendary Prunes
- Supplements that can help tremendously!
Fiber for Constipation
Fiber is a great thing to add to your diet. If you can hit 25 grams a day, you’re doing really good. If you’re getting much less than 25 grams right now, work your way up a few grams a day so you don’t have to deal with too much gas and bloating.
There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Insoluble fiber us what we’re looking for in foods that helps with constipation.
I put together a list of 70 foods that contain fiber right here. You can reference that anytime you’d like. But for now, here are a bunch of foods you should include in your diet that are high in poop-loving insoluble fiber!
- Apple Sauce (unsweetened)
- Brown Rice
- Garbanzo Beans (chickpeas)
- Green Peas
- Macadamia Nuts
- Red Peppers
- Refried Beans
- Split Peas
- Sweet Potatoes
- Tomato Paste
Magnesium for Constipation
Now that you have your list of foods rich in insoluble fiber, you need magnesium-rich foods.
Magnesium is a powerful nutrient that helps to level off unruly blood sugar levels, maintain more optimal blood pressure, improve nerve function and relax muscles. Magnesium also helps to pull water to our intestines.
After you eat foods with lots of insoluble fiber, wouldn’t it be perfect to get water down in your intestines to bind with all that undigestible fiber? Yes! Yes, it would. Make it happen with these magnesium-rich foods.
- Black Beans
- Dark Chocolate (this is my favorite)
- Flax Seeds**
*Bananas – This fruit is high in magnesium and insoluble fiber, but it can have a constipating effect if eaten unripe (on the greener side). They’re much more starchy in that state, and best to avoid. If you’re going to eat a banana, the yellower the better.
**Flaxseeds – more important for the benefit of magnesium than fiber, it’s important to grind flaxseeds before consuming so all the beneficial magnesium can get absorbed!
You probably noticed a lot of these foods did double time on both lists. Think of those foods as two for the price of one. You can’t lose!
Why Do Prunes Help with Constipation?
Prunes contain some insoluble fiber, and also contain a modest amount of magnesium – both of which can aid in elimination. But prunes also contain a sugar alcohol called sorbitol. Sorbitol, like all sugar alcohols, can’t be digested and have to be eliminated.
Some people don’t tolerate sugar alcohols very well. If you haven’t tried prunes to help with pooping, then go easy. My clients who don’t tolerate sugar alcohols vey well tend to get gassy and bloated. Try a couple prunes to see how you do. If it does the trick, great!
If you can tolerate sorbitol and if prunes have done the trick for you, other fruits that contain sorbitol include apples, peaches, dates, raisins, apricots and nectarines.
I wrote more about sweeteners, including sugar alcohols, here. If you’re interested in their effects on your body (including aspartame and stevia), read more.
Supplements That Help with Constipation
Now we’re down to the nitty gritty. You’ve gotten all the info you need to get started related to insoluble fiber, magnesium and even prunes. Let’s move onto the next line of defense: supplements.
I take supplements. I love them for my body. The supplements that I take that I believe help with constipation – or at least in keeping me going – include:
- Magnesium (as a supplement)
I have tried a lot of different probiotics – and have shared my thoughts here – but always go back to the probiotics that show the best research. A hallmark of this is the transparency in the strains of bacteria that probiotics contain.
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria. The good bacteria in our gut has to co-exist with the bad bacteria. Good bacteria is a strong line of defense for our immune system, mood and digestion, to name a few. They’re pretty important!
If you pick up a probiotic in the store, make sure it shows the exact strain, so you know just what you’re getting. Different strains of bacteria work in different ways. This is an example of a good probiotic transparency vs bad probiotics transparency.
I take a probiotic in the morning and in the evening before bed.
For me, magnesium supplementation changed everything. I run low on magnesium, so I am religious about supplementing twice a day. I sleep better and I recover faster from my workouts. Love it!
I’ve tried several types of magnesium. I personally find magnesium glycinate to be the best for my gut. Others I know swear by magnesium oxide or sulfate. There are several types of magnesium available in supplement form. Of all the supplements I take regularly, I would say this is the one that I would miss the most.
Magnesium glycinate is made from the amino acid glycine, which has also been shown to improve gut health. It’s no surprise why my body likes this type so much.
Lifestyle factors and constipation
I’d be remiss if I didn’t touch on a few lifestyle factors that relate to constipation.
It goes without saying that water is a huge helper when it comes to elimination. I always recommend drinking 8 ounces or room temperature or warm water as soon as you wake up. This will immediately get things going in terms of stimulating digestion.
Why room temp or warm? Cold water is great and perfect after a long run, but if you’re in need of using the toilet, then avoid cold water. Cold water can have a constricting effect on the colon. When our colon is constricted, it’s not relaxed. You’re simply not going to go as easily.
After that, drink water 15 minutes before every meal or snack. You don’t need water interfering with your stomach acid as food tries to digest. Drink beforehand!
Alcohol dehydrates. If you’re going drink, try to drink a glass of water for every glass of wine or beverage you enjoy. Then when you wake up, take magnesium as alcohol has a tendency to deplete this nutrient.
If you’re taking a medication, over-the-counter or prescribed, it could have a constipating effect. Check with your doctor to see if this is the case, or just do a little research on what it is you’re taking. If you started taking a medication then became irregular, there could be a connection.
Pulling it all together
All the tools are in the toolbox. This is what I would do if I were you. Admittedly, this is supremely simplified, but you get the point.
- Wake up in the morning and drink room temperature or warm water
- Take magnesium glycinate
- Take a probiotic
- Breakfast: Eat 1/2 cup cooked oatmeal + flaxseeds + raspberries (maybe add a little almond butter)
- Drink more water
- Lunch: Eat a big leafy green salad with lots of avocado, chicken and carrots on it.
- Drink more water
- Dinner: Eat a fillet of salmon with quinoa and a lot cooked spinach
- Drink more water
- Take magnesium glycinate
- Take a probiotic
- Go to bed!
Get things moving. Leave a comment and let me know if you have any questions! Good luck.
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