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| October 21, 2021
Read time: 4 min.
Constipation is defined as infrequent bowel movements that are difficult to pass. I define constipation as anything less than 1 bowel movement per day, though there can be many different causes.
Constipation can firstly be caused by fibre, and this is where it can get tricky. You can get constipation from both too much or too little fibre. Fibre makes up the ‘roughage,’ or what most of your stool is made out of. Fibre also feeds the bacteria living in your large colon, supporting diversity of bacteria in the gut. How much fibre do you need? My rule of thumb is 10g per 1000 calories consumed, although this doesn’t always hold true either. Ultimately, it will come down to the individual. Some people thrive on 40g-50g of fibre daily, whereas others feel best on 20g daily. In addition, skip the Metamucil. The bulk of your fibre should come from a variety of whole foods, of both insoluble and soluble fibre. Insoluble fibre does not dissolve in water, and includes beans, grains, brown rice, and nuts. Soluble fibre dissolves in water, and turns into a gel-like substance, similar to what chia pudding looks like. Soluble fibre includes sources like oats, avocado, brussel sprouts, and sweet potatoes.
Water intake can also impact bowel movements in a big way. To start, aim for 33ml/kg of body weight daily. Your hormones take 2-3 days to catch up to an increase in intake, so don’t be alarmed if you have to use the bathroom frequently. After a few days, if your urine is still a medium to dark yellow, you need to up your intake even more. Increase your intake until your urine shows up light yellow, but not clear. This will further support healthy bowel movements.
Stress is another big factor with bowel movements, in many unexpected ways. The first thing that changes when you’re stressed are your breathing patterns. You go from large, deep breaths, expanding your ribs 360 degree, to short belly breaths. This can impact your digestion, signaling to your body that you’re deep into your sympathetic nervous system. This decreases blood flow to your digestive system, favouring your brain and extremities instead. Evolutionarily, this helped keep us alive over time, allowing us to ‘fight or flight’ when facing a threat. Fortunately, our daily life stressors are often non life threatening, making this feedback system less helpful than it used to be. Check in with your breathing patterns regularly, especially around meal times. Are you taking deep breaths? Are you present? Is your mind going a million miles a minute? Try incorporating vacuums/hypopressives into your daily routine as well, to throw you back into your parasympathetic nervous system.
Macro ratios are also important for bowel movements. If you drop your fats too low, this will slow bowel movements down. I personally wouldn’t recommend going lower in fats than 0.8g/kg of lean body mass, as this tends to be the minimum amount required to maintain healthy function. You can, of course, opt for a higher fat split, if you feel better on higher fats than you do on carbs. Get curious about how different macro ratios affect you, to further optimize your health.
Processed foods or food sensitivities could also be the causation of constipation. If you experience a lot of bloating and gas post meal time, it could be helpful to look into removing a few items from your diet. Artificial sweeteners and additives can sometimes wreck havoc on someone’s digestion. If artificial sweeteners are bothering you, you could try replacing them with stevia or monk fruit sweetener, as these tend to be better tolerated by most. If the issue is a food sensitivity, you could try removing some of the top offenders. Eggs, dairy, and gluten are the top three most common food sensitivities, though it is possible to develop a food sensitivity to many others. Food sensitivities tend to develop to the foods you eat the most of, so auditing your diet and observing which foods you eat the most of could be helpful. Remove item for 4 weeks, and reintroduce on week 5, first thing in the morning, on an empty stomach. How do you feel? Are you experiencing any digestive discomfort? Fatigue? Accelerated heart rate? These could be a sign that that food in particular doesn’t agree with you.
Hypothyroidism is yet another cause of constipation. Hypothyroidism is diagnosed with a simple blood test, and usually treated with a drug called Synthroid. When you have hypothyroidism, everything slows down, since the thyroid is the driver of all metabolic function. Getting your thyroid under control can take time, but it is possible. Reach out to a health practitioner for more guidance on this.
Fibre intake, water consumption, stress management, macro ratios, processed foods, food sensitivities and hypothyroidism are the key possible drivers of constipation. Narrowing down your specific causation can take some trial and error, but is entirely possible. Check through these top offenders one by one to determine your unique cause.
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