Updated: May 27, 2020
Happy day-after-Valentines Day! Now let's talk about 💩
Before we dive into the serious matter of making sure that your GI tract is healthy in order to perform a normal bodily function, let's insert a dad joke about BMs and get the giggles about 💩 out of the way first. Here's my dad's personal fave:
"It's a 💩-y job but someone's gotta do it"
Alright, alright. Dad jokes aside, this is a really serious matter. Most people struggle with some form of constipation or diarrhea on the daily. Seriously. And, statistically, you're probably one of those people. It's such a common occurrence that most of us think not going to the bathroom is normal. Let me make this clear: just because it's common, doesn't mean it's normal.
It's common for people in the U.S. to experience constipation, but it's not a normal thing to happen on the daily. From 2006 to 2011, the number of emergency room visits for constipation related issues increased by 41%. This equates to an annual national cost of $1,622,624,341 per year. Holy 💩. Our bodies aren't hard-wired to hold on to waste. We want to get that 💩 OUT.
First of all... how often SHOULD you be going?!
It's funny, because if you google "how often should I have a bowel movement", the standard answer you get is "anywhere between 3 times per day to 3 times per week". (?!??)
Of course, there isn't an exact number for how often you should go to the bathroom, but 3 times per week?! That means every other day! This may be "common", but remember, that does NOT make it "normal" for the body. A number of studies will quote this 3/3 rule for BMs as "normal" for "healthy" people. But my question is - what are they considering healthy? Are those people stressed? Are they sleeping regularly? What type of food are they eating?
Plus, this study (from what I could find) only had the criteria of using adults age 20 or older. Considering 55% of Americans are taking a prescription medication (many of which can have an effect on your BM quality and quantity), I'm not so sure this is a valid estimation of what the body SHOULD be doing.
Although I can't tell you an exact number of times you should be going to the bathroom - I can in great confidence say that if you aren't going to the bathroom everyday, then you'll definitely want to take a look at the Action Steps below.
What happens if you don't go regularly?
Not going to the bathroom is uncomfortable and can lead to some problems... but I'm more concerned about WHY you aren't able to go and what you are consistently doing/not doing that is causing your body to decrease a natural function in the first place. The constipation is a symptom. We have to address the cause.
ALSO - relying on laxatives/non-food sources of fiber is NOT the answer. These are bandaids. And since you're an #AENpeeps, you want the SOLUTION, not a bandaid.
Today's strategies are honing in on the "not-able-to-go" factor. These are strategies addressing 7 of the most common causes of constipation that I see with clients/friends/family members on a daily basis.
#1: Eat less often.
Howwww does this have anything to do with your BMs?! The answer is wrapped all around this fun science-y term called the Migrating Motor Complex or MMC. Get the deets with this video:
Action Step: Two options here ~ you can either implement Intermittent Fasting OR wait 3 hours and 45 minutes (yep, it's that specific) between meals. Finding that you can't wait that long between meals? Then you probably aren't eating enough.
#2: Eat more chia seeds. And avocados. And lettuce.
What do all of these have in common? FIBERRRRR. One of the solutions you may read/hear about for constipation is to take fiber supplements. That's all well and good (-ish), but since you're an #AENpeeps, you know that the whole form of a food is always the best. There are certain symbiotic reactions between various components within food (such as fiber, polyphenols, antioxidants and even stuff we don't know about yet!) that you just can't get with supplements. So if fiber is one of the solutions, then increase your intake of whole food sources of fiber!
Action Step: Some foods are surprisingly high in fiber. Try to increase your intake of those foods ~ for example my Blueberry Hemp Smoothie has about 16g of fiber in ONE serving. That's over HALF of your daily fiber needs. In one meal. Done and done. Try out the smoothie HERE.
#3: Down that H2O.
So you know how I said to have more fiber? You also need water to help make that fiber move. If you load up on fiber and you don't include enough water, this is a recipe for FURTHER constipation.
Action Step: Start with 16 oz. of water first thing in the morning before you even have your coffee. After sleeping, your body loses a lot of water. Making sure you replenish that before having any diuretics (like coffee) is key.
#4: Calm. Down.
Raise your hand if you're stressed 🙋🏼♀️ Honestly, even if you think you aren't stressed, you probably are. Or at least experiencing more stress than our GI tract likes. Emotional (or physical and environmental) stressors causes our body to release the hormone cortisol. Cortisol's job is to help get you out of a bad situation (like running from a tiger). In order to do that, it shuts off energy and blood flow from "non-essential" organs. One of those is - you guessed it - your entire GI tract. This slows down digestion, allows food to be fermented by good (and bad) bacteria and therefore leads to bloating and constipation.
#5: Walk outside.
This is a twofer (do people say that still?). Walking helps to stimulate your GI tract which aids in digestion. But walking outside ALSO reduces your cortisol levels. And as we know, reducing cortisol is key to staying regular.
Action Step: Head outside for at least 15 minutes per day and go for a walk. Having a crazy winter? A treadmill can do the job while you wait for the snow to melt.
#6: Don't workout at night.
You're probably wondering how this has ANYTHING to do with your BMs. But listen up, because this is really important. Our body has a natural circadian rhythm when it comes to our hormones. That means naturally we're supposed to have higher levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) in the morning, and lower levels at night. Working out - although fantastic for our health - increases our stress hormone while we're doing it. This throws our natural circadian rhythm out of whack which can lead to sleep issues and bloating/constipation (due to the increased cortisol levels).
Action Step: Switch your workout to the morning or early afternoon. If you need some level of activity at night, I suggest a workout that won't raise your heart rate too high and therefore keeps your cortisol levels lower. This includes stretching, light yoga and going for a long walk.
#7: Cut out protein bars.
I recently gained the confidence to talk about protein bars - something I was nervous to do because I knew it wouldn't be a popular topic! But removing protein bars from your diet will help to reduce bloating and stimulate your MMC pathway which promotes natural BMs.
Action Step: ...don't eat protein bars 😂 Instead, take a look at WHY you're snacking. You may need to eat more food or more of certain types of foods. I go over all of the deets on this HERE.
Educating yourself on how your GI tract works and how to optimize its function is the first step to achieving daily BMs (and zero bloat!). Get inspired by Elizabeth's story on how she started achieving regular BMs by utilizing the 21 Day Intermittent Fasting Program HERE.
Happy Friday, my friends!
Autumn Elle Nutrition