Keep reading for insight into everyday things dietitians say could be unknowingly causing or exacerbating your internal 'traffic jam,' as well as simple remedies for constipation relief.
Seeking constipation relief? Here, 8 sneaky causes and solutions, according to RDs
1. Not hydrating enough.
This may seem obvious, but sometimes the most clear causes are overlooked. “Drinking too little liquid can lead to constipation—water is key for proper digestion, because it helps to keep digested food moving smoothly through your intestines,” says Jackie Newgent, RDN, CDN, and author of The Clean & Simple Diabetes Cookbook. But know that liquid found in foods counts, too. “Eating plenty of high-water foods, like fresh fruits and veggies, can also help prevent constipation.”
2. Drinking alcoholic beverages.
Beer, wine, and spirits can also contribute to constipation, since alcohol acts as a mild diuretic. Newgent recommends drinking a glass of flat or fizzy water after each alcoholic beverage, and if you're really plugged up, skip the booze entirely in favor of juice, kombucha, or water.
3. Working behind a computer full-time.
Even if you exercise, if you’re sedentary for a major portion of your day, Newgent underlined that your GI system won’t have optimal motility. “Try to take mini-breaks and get at least five minutes of movement for each hour sitting by your computer," she suggests.
4. Not engaging in enough physical activity.
Again, exercise is a super crucial part of healthy bowel movements. “When we exercise, it helps decrease the amount of fluid absorbed from our stool, making the stool easier to pass,” says Hotz. "In addition, with the increase in heart and breathing rate during physical activity, it can help increase the contractions of the intestine to help further move the stool from your system.”
5. Too many sweaty activities.
That being said, according to Newgent, some of the physical activities that can play a helpful role in preventing constipation may also be a sneaky cause of constipation when excess sweating is involved, especially when done in a hot environment. These might include Bikram (“hot”) yoga or simply walking in high heat or humidity. “That loss of body water may potentially lead to mild dehydration and constipation if you’re not replacing your sweat losses,” Newgent says. So, circling back to her first suggestion, make sure you are hydrating throughout the day—particularly when you are engaging in sweat sessions.
6. Too much stress.
This is a tricky one. “With current research, we have learned that there is a strong connection between our gut and our brain,” says Hotz. “This being said, when we are stressed, our body tends to divert focus to more ‘basic survival functions’ as well as potentially triggering upsets to gut function, which can lead to constipation. This can happen to anyone, but is particularly common in individuals with irritable bowel syndrome.”
7. Too little fiber.
Fiber is the indigestible part of a carb, meaning you excrete it. Diets of those who frequently consume fast food or easy-grab meals tend to be low in fiber. “Whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables are the best sources of fiber in our diet, so if they are lacking, they are likely contributing to constipation,” says Ricci-Lee Hotz, MS, RDN, expert at Testing.com. “Consuming fiber will help properly bulk the stool and strengthen the gut to help it move more effectively through your system, thus assisting in constipation relief.”
You can learn more about the top foods that help you poop from an RD in this video:
8. Too much fiber too fast.
But don’t go overboard! While fiber can be a great thing for constipation relief, increasing fiber intake too quickly can also lead to constipation. “If the gut is not used to so much fiber, it has not developed the ability to use the strength needed to move the increased bulk stool through your system,” explains Hotz. “It is recommended not to increase fiber intake by more than five grams every few days.” If you have consumed a high fiber diet for an extended period of time and are adequately hydrated and active, with low stress, Hotz says you may need to play with slightly decreasing your fiber intake to see if it improves your symptoms.
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