Updated: Mar 18, 2020
I know this is a condition many of you can relate to. This was me for most of my adult life. It's painful and debilitating, not to mention downright dangerous if you really understand the implications of being constipated.
Gut dysfunction is the most common complaint I work with every day in my practice. It has been estimated that more than 80% of people have experienced constipation at least once in their lives and that over 25% of Americans suffer from ongoing constipation. However, my guess is that it's WAY more than that because there is a lot of confusion out there as to what constipation really is.
Infrequent bowel movements
Hard, dry, pebble-like (lumpy) stools
Stools that are difficult or painful to pass
A feeling of not having passed a full bowel movement (incomplete evacuation)
All of these are very common, but they are by no means "normal". When I ask a client if they're regular, I hear them say "Yes, I regularly go every 3-5 days" or "I guess once a week is regular". That folks, is NOT regular. You should be having a FULL evacuation at least once a day.
I have a friend who has experienced life-long constipation and jokes by saying that going to the bathroom daily is a waste of food - LOL. Although I can't help laughing at her statement, I'm also reminded of the dangers of being constipated. You see, it's not just residue from your food that's being passed in a stool. Toxins get transported from the liver through bile, into the gallbladder (hopefully you have smooth flowing bile), get's dumped into the small intestine and eventually exits the body in a bowel movement.
But if you're constipated, those toxins get re-absorbed. They then have to be escorted back to the liver - your body can't let them run rogue and damage other vulnerable tissue. It's like prison guards escorting an inmate to prison instead of letting him find his own way there and taking the risk that he might commit another crime. The liver has to do ALL that work again of "packaging" toxins up before it can send them out through bile to continue their journey out of the body. The same is true for hormones (sex and stress hormones) and many other substances that the body needs to keep in a very fine balance in order to not become excessive.
So why do we become constipated?
When stools are hard, dry and lumpy, this could be a sign of dehydration as the colon is the place where the stool is formed and also the place where the stool draws water for easy elimination. This could also explain why they are difficult to pass. Stools should be long, soft, easy to pass with minimal to no cracks on the surface. Yup, LOOK at your deposit and evaluate it according to this chart. Becoming aware is the first step in recognizing that things can be better.
POOR EATING HYGIENE
Yes, there actually is such a thing as Eating Hygiene.
Slow down before and during meal. This is known as the cephalic phase of digestion.
Feel your food while preparing it. Smell your food while preparing and plating it.
Take a few deep breaths before your first bite to calm your nervous system.
When you're consuming a meal, consume ONLY the meal and not the news, social media, emails from your boss, or any other work.
Sit down while you eat and make sure you're in a relaxed state.
Don't consume large glasses of icy cold liquids with your food (this constricts the esophagus and also dilutes your stomach acid that you just worked at increasing by feeling and smelling your food). Rather have a small glass or cup of WARM liquids like lemon water, maybe with a teaspoon or two of raw Apple Cider Vinegar to increase digestive secretions and SIP here and there during your meal. This is not a time to hydrate, but just to wet your palate. Hydrate between meals.
C-H-E-W slowly and thoroughly until your food is almost liquid before swallowing. This is the only part of the digestive process that is voluntary, over which you have control. The rest is the responsibility of the Autonomic Nervous System. What did or didn't happen in your mouth determines how the rest of the process will go.
Make sure you have sufficient stomach acid and digestive enzymes. If you have any mild signs of acid reflux or GERD, you may have too little stomach acid. These can be taken in supplement form while you're working on your body's natural ability to produce these in sufficient quantities and strength
Consume smaller portions of meat and larger portions of fresh produce to provide sufficient fiber and consume healthy fats like avocados, olive oil, coconut oil and nuts.
This refers to the trillions of microbes living in your gut. Some are friendly, some not so much. But they need to be in balance. You don't want "bullies on the playground", you want them to live and co-exist in harmony with each other. However, just taking any random probiotic you buy in a store can do more harm than good. Please speak to someone who is trained to know which probiotics will best serve your unique needs and digestive requirements.
Stress will make the most sane person close up like a clam shell. Stress activates your sympathetic nervous system mode, also known as your fight-flight-hide reactions. Stress impairs production of digestive secretions by a whopping 80%. That's not a minor reduction. That's HUGE. This is not a time in which your body will optimize digestion. If you're sending your body the message that you're running for your life, those functions can wait. Stress management and stress perception become of critical importance if you're dealing with constipation.
There are other reasons why people experience constipation, but in my experience, addressing these first brings relief in most cases. Pick just ONE thing you would like to work on the next week and master it. Then pick another and another until you have built up a collection of healthy habits that will have you pooping with ease.
As always, please feel free to reach out if you need individual support or accountability. I LOVE hearing from you - and no topics are off limits, so post a comment below and let me know if you've learned anything new in this article, what you do to help combat constipation and which tips you'd like to implement. I so enjoy your feedback.