Did you know that constipation is thought to affect 1 in 7 of us at any time? Doesn’t that seem a lot, for something that I’m sure you never discuss with family and friends? You might be wondering what constitutes ‘constipation’. Maybe for you a bowel movement every other day has become the norm. Rabbit droppings? Always.
The NHS defines constipation as having three bowel movements or fewer per week, and passing hard or lumpy stools. I would go further, and suggest that everyone should be aiming for a daily bowel movement, type 3 or 4 on the Bristol Stool Chart (have I gone too far??). Any less than this and you may be experiencing symptoms such as pain, discomfort and bloating. What you might not be aware of is that on-going constipation has long-term implications on our detoxification capacity which may in turn play a role in hormonal health, headaches, skin issues and more. It’s definitely time to prioritise moving things along if it’s a problem for you.
Tips to ease constipation:
I’ve mentioned in previous blogs that increasing water can have a positive effect on a sluggish bowel, as can addressing ongoing stress.
Increasing fibre in the diet can also help improve the consistency and frequency of bowel movements. Fibre can be divided into soluble (oats, psyllium husks, apples, dried beans) and insoluble (vegetables, grains, nuts) – a combination of the two is ideal, building up the amount you’re eating gradually until you reach ten portions a day. In addition, try adding a teaspoon of flaxseeds (aka linseeds) to a small glass of water before you go to bed, and drink it first thing on an empty stomach. These little seeds have been shown to help soften and bulk stools, making their passage easier. Build up gradually to two tablespoons, maintaining the quantity when you see an improvement.
The position in which you sit on the loo can also make an enormous difference. Assuming a squatting position, with your feet raised as high as possible helps to straighten the bowel and may make things easier. You can use anything to hand to rest your feet on – the bathroom bin, a pile of books, a stack of loo rolls – or buy a ‘squatty potty’ designed specifically for the job. You’ll find a range of these available – from beautiful wooden stools to fold-away versions that you can keep in the cupboard until needed.
And finally, movement. Every day, try to move your body. I’m not talking HIIT classes or 100 burpees, just a 30 minute walk or yoga class as a minimum to help move things along. Your intestine has its own muscular movement system – peristalsis – but giving it a helping hand by moving your body as a whole is no bad thing. And it can help to relieve stress at the same time – win, win!
So, things to try this week:
- aim to drink 1.5-2 litres of water each day – plain water, herbal teas, soups etc.
- start building up to 10 portions of fibre each day (mostly vegetables)
- add 1 tsp of flaxseeds to some water and drink on rising
- aim for a squatting position when on the loo
- find a way to move each day – something you love to put a smile on your face as well
- try to reduce stress, especially around trips to the bathroom. Breathe deeply, calm your mind and give yourself time