There is nothing worse than having constipation, and I would know as I have been a long-term sufferer.
Constipation is having to strain to pass a hard stool (poo). And by straining I mean to ANY degree. Before I did my Masters in Women’s Health, I thought it was normal to strain. How wrong I was!
Despite what people commonly think, normal bowel motion frequency ranges from 3 times a day to 3 times a week- as long as the consistency of the stool is soft but formed. Now of course if you are do number two’s every few days & you are straining, bloated & uncomfortable then this is not ok!
I am contstantly blown away by how many women suffer from constipation & have been putting up with it for years. Our bowel health is an indicator of overall health & can affect us in many different ways. Constipation can lead to unpleasant gastrointestinal symptoms, pelvic floor weakness, and can worsen prolapse & incontinence. Avoiding constipation is also critical after childbirth, as your pelvic floor is healing & the stool needs to pass smoothly without any additonal pressure on this area.
How To Treat Constipation & Optimise Your Gut Health:
1. Fluid intake.
- Drink 2L of fluid per day. Increase this to 3L if you are breastfeeding or exercising. Drinking mostly water is ideal for your health.
- Drink a big glass of warm water in the morning when you wake to boost metabolism.
- Try adding 1 tsp of apple cider vinegar & a squeeze of lemon juice 10-30mins before eating.
- If you are a coffee drinker then having your cup of coffee first thing in the morning can help to stimulate your bowels.
- Try a glass of bone broth a day which is rich in nutrients.
- Try drinking warm water & herbal tea during the day rather than cold or iced drinks.
- Green tea can help increase metabolism.Peppermint tea following meals can aid digestion.
2. Eat more wholefoods.
- Eat food in its original state like veggies & soft fruit (choose organic produce i.e. hormone-free, pesticide-free)
- Eat 5 serves of vegetables especially greens & root vegetables.
- Try eating softer fruits like stone fruits & berries.
- Eat foods that lubricate the intestines- spinach, soft pear, prune, peach, apricot, berries, carrot, cauliflower, beetroot.
- Eat foods that promote bowel movement- cabbage, peas, coconut, sweet potato, asparagus, papaya, fig, rice bran, oat bran, chia seed pudding, psyllium seed.
- Eat nuts in moderation.
3. Eat more healthy fats.
Healthy fats support lubrication of intestines- avocado, coconut, sardines, salmon, olive oil, avocado oil, macadamia oil, coconut oil, sesame seed oil, omega 3 fatty acids, grass-fed butter, ghee, flaxseed, chai seed, hemp seed, pumpkin seed.
4. Eat less…
- White processed food- bread, pasta, pastries.
- Drying foods- cheese, biscuits, crackers.
- Packaged foods.
- Inflammatory foods/drinks- gluten, dairy, refined sugar, caffeine, alcohol, soft drinks.
- Rich food.
- Bananas & skin of fruits.
5. Eat meat in moderation.
- Eat meat the size of the palm of your hand not including your fingers.
- Eat good quality organic meat ie. Hormone-free, grass fed.
- Consume red meat max 3 times per week.
- Slow cooked meat is best for digestion
6. Eat warm or slow-cooked food.
- Soups, stews, slow cooked casseroles, roast veggie salads (opt for healthy warm options when eating out or bring your lunch to work).
- Try porridge for brekky or eggs with veggies.
- Use bone broth as the base of soups/stews.
7. Serving sizes.
- Eat breakfast like a king- a healthy, hearty breakfast helps stimulate the gastrocolic reflex.
- Eat lunch like a prince.
- Eat dinner like a pauper & as early as possible so you digest dinner before bed.
- Avoid overeating- stop before full.
- Eat 200 calories more per day if pregnant (=extra snack) & 500 calories more if breastfeeding (=extra small meal).
8. Mindful eating.
- Sit down to eat, eat slowly & enjoy each mouthful! Chew every bite well (your stomach doesn’t have teeth!) and place your knife & fork down between bites.
- Only sip on fluid during meals.
- Enjoy your food. Our relationship with food can affect our digestion. Food is essential to nourish our body to function optimally and survive. If you have any anxiety towards food, my suggestion is to learn meditation/mindfulness or speak with a psychotherapist.
- Movement keeps muscles & reflexes toned so peristalsis is active & improves fluid metabolism.
- Exercise for least 30 minutes per day, such as walking.
- Exercise in the morning- even a 15 minute walk is better than nothing.
- Try yoga especially yin yoga, breath work & these yoga poses.
- Try going for a short walk after meals.
- Use a standing desk & walk in your lunch break.
10. Wait for a strong urge.
“Wait for the train, not the carriage”- in other words make sure you feel a good strong urge to use your bowels rather than anything less than this. If you go to the loo prematurely you may find yourself wanting to strain.
11. Optimal toilet position.
Sounds strange but the way you sit on the toilet is incredibly important as it optimizes the rectal angle & can prevent straining.
Step 1: Sit with knees higher than your hips using a foot stool.
Step 2: Keeping your back straight, lean forwards so your elbows are rested on your knees.
Step 3: Breathe into your belly (gently bulging your stomach) & make a “sssssssssssssss” sound. This will relax your pelvic floor, as appose to clenching your abdominals.
12. Diaphragmatic breathing.
Diaphragmatic breathing facilitates PF relaxation to ensure they relax when you are using your bowels. Click here to read detailed description.
13. Stress management.
Stress can slow metabolism & contribute to constipation. Ways to reduce stress- breath work, meditation, mindfulness practise, journal writing, reading, getting outdoors, walking, having a bath, having some alone time.
14. Self abdominal massage (AKA poo massage!)
Click here for video- *however I always recommend clearing your descending colon first by stroking left side of abdomen from ribs to pelvis before you start the circular motion.
Another strategy to help constipation is opening the ileocecal valve, located between the small intestine & large intestine. Click here for the video.
Click here for reflexology video.
Take a probiotic daily- find a good quality, high count, multi-strain probiotic. Probiotics introduce friendly bacteria into the gut, which can aid absorption, digestion & increase gut motility. Rotate different probiotics every few months to introduce different good bacteria into your gut. Visit the Probiotic Advisor Website.
17. Laxative support.
If the above diet & lifestyle changes are not enough to treat your constipation, speak to your GP or Women’s Health Physio about trying a laxative. Consider an osmotic laxative like Movicol or Osmolax, which help to draw water into the intestines softening the stool. Avoid using senna as this is habit forming.
18. Know your triggers.
Travel, jet-lag, stress, skipping meals, lack of sleep can be triggers for constipation. Preparing for these times & implementing preventative strategies is key.
19. Consult an Integrative GP or Naturopath.
Everybody is different so if symptoms persist consult a practitioner who specialises in bowel & gut health. They can offer personalised probiotic & laxative advice. Discuss the possibility of constipation being a side effect of a medication you are on.
So there you have it! My top tips for treating constipation & improving your gut health. If you have any questions, please feel free to comment below.