Constipation is a very common functional disorder accounting 16% of population around the world. Constipation is defined as infrequent bowel movements or difficulty to pass stool and can be a painful and disturbing for some people, such as for people who have irritable bowel syndrome constipation type or IBS-C. Constipation is usually described as having less than 3 bowel movements per week.
Constipation can be acute or chronic. Some people experience occasional constipation due to behavioral, environmental, or dietary changes with getting back to normal bowel movements after returning to their usual routine. For example, some people experience constipation when travelling, but return to regular bowel movement when they are back home. Others have chronic constipation which requires a thorough investigation of root causes. Many people may suffer from constipation for years until they ask for help.
Constipation can also be mild or severe. People who have mild constipation may not even notice it and think that it is normal part of digestion. Usually, these people will have constipation for life without addressing it. However, severe constipation can greatly affect the quality of life by interfering with jobs, hobbies, lifestyle, family, personal life etc.
Constipation is not a disease, but a symptom and can be treated with some easy strategies. The most common causes of constipation are inadequate fluid intake, not enough fiber in the diet, physical inactivity, and stress.
You can get rid of constipation by following these Four “F” principles:
- ‘F” – Fluid
Many people in the US do not drink enough water throughout the day. According to The U.S. National Academies of Sciences you should be aiming for 2.7L of fluids for women and 3.7L for men a day. Fluid comprises of plain water, beverages, and foods. Basically, anything liquid at the room temperature is a fluid, such as popsicles, soups, smoothies, gravies, coffee, tea etc. Some fruits and vegetables can also be high in fluid and include watermelon, melon, pineapple, oranges, grapes, cucumbers, tomatoes, green leafy vegetables, and others.
Here some ways to add fluids to your diet:
Infused water. Add different vegetables, fruits or herbs to plain water and keep it in the fridge overnight to enjoy the next morning. I like lime + peppermint water. It is so refreshing! Also, peppermint may help to reduce the bloating that many people experience when they are constipated.
Plain or flavored ice. Mash fruits, such as strawberries, mix in water and freeze in ice cube maker. You can add these ice cubes in water to give some flavor or simply suck on them.
Flavored shaved ice can be made by blending ice cubes in a blender and adding your favorite fruit puree. Avoid adding sugary syrups because they may contain high fructose corn syrup, which can be a problem for some people.
Popsicles can be made by pureeing fruits and combining them with lemon or lime to give a sweet and sour taste. Use popsicle molds to shape and freeze it. Mixing fruit juices with pureed fruits and water is another option. Bonus! Add pieces of fruits to your mixture, such as orange or kiwi, to give some flavor.
2. “F” – Fiber
Fiber is always trending. This is because so many people suffer from constipation, and food manufactures add fiber to their products to make them more appealing and nutritionally valuable. Did you know that fiber can even be added to beverages?
Fiber is found in fruits, vegetables whole grains, beans and legumes, nuts and seed and is a part of healthy eating. Recommended adequate fiber intake is 28g for women and 38g for men a day or about 14g of fiber per every 1000kcal the person consumes. Most people are not getting even half of the recommended amount. On average, Americans consume about 15g of fiber a day.
There are 2 types of fiber. Insoluble fiber makes up the bulk of the stool and helps to speed up the process of elimination. Soluble fiber dissolves in water and forms gel-like substances which helps the smooth laxation preventing constipation.
One of the easy ways to increase the fiber is to add flaxseeds to your meals.
1 Tablespoon = 2.8g fiber
Freshly ground flaxseeds are the best form to get all the healthful nutrients. Like most plant foods, flaxseeds contain both soluble and insoluble fibers and may help with regular bowel movements.
Here are the ways you can enjoy your flaxseeds:
✅ Add it to smoothies or yogurt bowls
✅ Add it to cereals or oatmeal
✅ You can use flaxseeds to thicken soups
✅ Add it to various dips or hummus
✅ Substitute it for an egg: 1 egg can be substituted with 1 Tablespoon of flaxseeds. Mix 1 Tbsp of flaxseeds and 3 Tbsp of water and let it sit for 10 minutes.
✅ Substitute it in baking: 1 Tbsp fat = 3 Tbsp flaxseed + 1 Tbsp water (let it sit for 5 minutes)
✅ Add it to salads or salads dressings
3. “F” – Fitness
Fitness or physical activity is also important in moving your bowels. If you have a sedentary lifestyle and don’t get much of an exercise, your constipation can worsen. It doesn’t mean that you have to work out 7 days a week in the gym; simply walking, dancing, doing yoga or Pilates, biking, swimming, gardening, or hiking will count towards your physical activity.
What if you are not used to exercise and don’t know where to start. Well, any movement is beneficial and may contribute to improving your health. Exercise can also boost your energy levels. Start with easy exercises, gradually increasing the intensity and time. The more consistent you are in your exercise routine, the easier it will get.
It is hard to start exercising for people who had never done it before. But it will get easier, I promise.
You can use different tools to make your exercise more enjoyable.
Download different Apps that can guide you through if you are not sure what to do. YouTube has so many free videos of different types and levels of exercise.
Start now and do not put it off. Remember! Any movement is beneficial, whether it is 15minutes, 30 minutes or 1 hour. If you feel that you are tired and not in the mood of exercising, just try to fit 15 minutes of low intensity physical activity.
4. “F” – Feelings
It has been proven that we have a bi-directional communication between our brain and gut, which can affect our mood and GI function. During stress the sympathetic nervous system, also known as “fight or flight” response, helps the body mobilize all necessary resources to fight a perceived threat, whether it is physical or psychological. In other words, stress and anxiety activates the sympathetic nervous system, and all the functions, that are not important at this moment, begin to shut down. Stress disrupts the balance in the body initiating a chain of reactions prepare an organism for survival. At this moment our bodies release certain hormones, such as epinephrine, norepinephrine, and adrenaline, the heart starts pumping the blood to your muscles and digestion slows down.
This is why people have adverse symptoms when they eat during stress or anxiety. Your body decreases intestinal flow and slows down digestion leading to stomach pain, distention, and constipation.
Here are some ways to decease the stress level:
Breathing. Sometimes people forget to breathe when they are stressed. It may promote restriction of oxygen flow to all your organs and tissues. Find a deep breathing technique that works for you. You can these ones “3 Breathing exercises that help with digestion”
Exercise. There are numerous studies showing that exercise improves the mood and lowers the stress level, so make it a habit. Do 7-minute workouts in the morning, 30 minutes walks after lunch and/or 30 minutes stretching in the evening.
Journaling. Writing down your struggles and emotions on the paper helps to release the tension and negative thoughts. If you don’t have anybody to talk to or you are afraid of talking about your feelings, write it down. Journals are good listeners! You can always go back and read what is triggering your anxiety, what helped you in the past and find the pattern.
Meditation. Some people don’t believe in meditation until they try it. It helps to release the tension in the muscles including muscles in the GI tract. There are different forms of meditation, find the one that is right for you. Don’t do it because you have to, find the one that helps you to see the results. People have been using meditation for thousands of years. Prayer is one form of meditation and is used in many religions. Forget about surroundings and only focused on yourself.
Humming, chanting, gargling, or singing. Making different sounds can help to stimulate the vagus nerve, which connects the brain and abdomen and innervates your gut. Next time if you are asked to “OM” at your yoga class, don’t be shy and just do it. It will help to activate your vagus nerve in the form of vibration. Feel the vibration and imagine how it starts in your belly and goes all the way up to the top of your head.
5. BONUS: “F” – Fun
The Last “F” principle is FUN. Whatever change you make, do it with fun! Whether it is adding more colorful fruits and vegetables to your diet, trying a new food or a new recipe or attending your favorite Zumba class, researching a new hiking or biking route, you have to enjoy it. This way, the change will be easier and more consistent. Adding fun component to your routine will ensure that you want to do it again. This is how healthy habits are made. Start making yours now!