Updated: May 17
It is estimated that 16% of Americans suffer from chronic constipation (1). The frequency doubles once a person reaches sixty years of age, to 33% of adults having constipation.
What is Considered A Normal Bowel Movement?
To answer this we will look at what constipation is considered. Constipation is when BMs are difficult or infrequent, hard, or you feel like you didn't fully eliminate. You'll be diagnosed with constipation if you have 3 or more months with these symptoms.
straining with defecation more than 25% of the time
lumpy or hard stools more than 25% of the time
incomplete elimination more than 25% of the time
two or less bowel movements per week
Healthy bowel movements should be daily. It is important that if you are only having a bowel movement every couple days, you should meet with a health professional to discuss interventions to help promote daily, regular bowel movements.
Why am I constipated?
Constipation can be triggered by a variety of factors, including:
There are health conditions also associated with constipation, including irritable bowel syndrome, crohn’s, colon cancer, diverticulitis, and ulcerative colitis.
Other reasons for constipation can include slow colon transit or dehydration. If muscles in the GI tract are tightened it can prevent the natural movement and contraction that allows for excretion of waste. If the body is not properly hydrated, the colon cannot pull enough water into the GI tract to allow for transit to occur.
Many of my clients who are suffering from constipation also experience symptoms of
While we can treat these symptoms, the most important focus is still on naturally promoting daily, healthy bowel movements so that the root cause of these symptoms can be eliminated.
How can I manage constipation naturally?
Most clinicians agree that the first place to start is adequate fiber in the diet, adequate fluid intake, and exercise. If you have already tried these interventions and you still suffer from constipation, there is another underlying condition triggering your constipation.
Now we say increase fiber, but what does that look like and how can you do it without worsening symptoms? In a randomized study, more than 60% of patients reported adverse effects, primarily constipation or diarrhea, after treatment with bran or psyllium fiber. There are gentle alternatives to fiber supplements including: aloe, okra, and marshmallow. Increasing fiber naturally in the diet is also important.
1. Fiber can be found in all plant foods, including: vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. See list below on high fiber foods.
2. Stay hydrated. Try to drink at least half your body weight in ounces of water. What does that look like? If you weighed 200 pounds you will want to try and drink 100 ounces of water daily. Foods that contain a good amount of water include fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as soups or smoothies.
3. Try and elimination diet to find what food could be triggering your constipation. Working with a dietitian is the best way to implement a successful elimination diet. Two of the most common foods linked to constipation include gluten and dairy.
Activity helps to promote natural movement of the GI tract. Walking brisk, or at a reasonable pace for any physical limitations is a good place to start. You can also start a routine of massaging your belly to stimulate movement.
Eating 2-3 prunes, either stewed or soaked in water for about 10 minutes before eating. This is not a quick fix, but if you continue to follow for a couple days you should start to see the beneficial effect.
Other foods that provide soluble fiber include:
Sesame seed oil
It is important to note that fiber and supplements have the potential to make symptoms worse if too high of a dose. Start small with ½ dose and work your way up. A good rule of thumb for increasing fiber is to increase only 5 grams fiber every 2-3 days. Water intake should always be increased along with fiber and supplements.
It can feel like our body is working against us, but please know that is never the case!
If you're looking for additional guidance and support, let me know. Now is the time to invest in yourself and your body. You deserve to feel happy, energized, and comfortable in your body! Apply to work with me here
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Liz Riesen, Registered Dietitian
works specifically with women's hormones, inflammation, and digestive health. Often these conditions coexist and share common disruptive symptoms including bloating, weight gain, anxiety, mood swings, irregular cycles, and other inflammatory symptoms.
Liz is trained in identifying and healing food sensitivities, as well as balancing hormones naturally through nutrition and lifestyle. Follow me @moms.hormone.dietitian