The Fastest Way to Relieve Constipation, According to a Dietitian
It's no fun feeling constipated. Here are a dietitian's top tips for finding some relief—fast.
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Being constipated can be stressful! We're all been there before and it's no fun feeling backed up. Constipation is technically defined as 3 days without a bowel movement for most people, however, this varies widely from person to person. Some people have bowel movements several times a day while others only have them a few times a week. Because of this, many health professionals prefer to define constipation as when one strays significantly from their normal bathroom pattern, or when bowel movements are hard and may require straining. Regardless of the specifics, it's uncomfortable and when it happens, you want relief as quickly as possible.
The good news is, a few adjustments to your diet can help relieve symptoms and keep constipation at bay. Drinking plenty of water, getting in some movement and eating a high-fiber diet is the best way to relieve constipation, without relying on medication like laxatives or other stool softeners. While they may seem like a good idea when you're at your most uncomfortable, using these medications can catapult you into a tricky cycle where you flip-flop from one extreme to the other.
Instead, try these few simple tweaks you can make daily to help relieve constipation naturally.
1. Drink water—and lots of it
Dehydration is one of the most common reasons for constipation. When you are dehydrated, there's less water available to help soften your stool and as a result, it becomes hard and difficult to pass. On the other hand, when your body is properly hydrated, water will be absorbed into the colon, which keeps your stools soft and easy to pass.
Aim to drink around 64 ounces of water, or 8 (8-ounce) glasses. Cool or room-temperature water is easier to gulp down than ice cold water. Bubbly seltzer can add to the bloating and discomfort, so skip that for now. And a straw may help make it easier to drink more, while also cutting down on the amount of air that enters your GI system.
2. Take a brisk 15 to 20 minute walk
Taking a brisk 15 to 20 minute walk can speed up your breathing and get your heart pumping. This can help get everything else moving, too! Taking a walk after each meal helps keep your bowels working normally and it increases blood flow to the gastrointestinal tract, resulting in stronger intestinal contractions that can may relieve constipation. Even some stretching—front and side bends in particular—may also help.
3. Load up on fiber
The key nutrient to look out for to keep things moving through the digestive system is fiber. Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that helps with digestion and is found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds. Dietary fiber speeds up the transit of stool through the digestive system, which helps keep you regular. The daily recommendation for dietary fiber is about 25 grams for women and 31 grams for men per day.
To help move things along in your gut, aim to eat anywhere from 2 to 5 servings of high-fiber foods. But choose wisely! A plate full of whole-wheat pasta or a big salad may not necessarily be your top choice when you're already feeling super full and uncomfortable. Instead, go for high-fiber foods that deliver the biggest does of fiber in the smallest form. Think chia seeds, flaxseeds, walnuts, almonds, raspberries and avocados.
Here's how much fiber one serving of these foods deliver:
Chia seeds: 2 tablespoons, or about 1 ounce, has 10 grams of fiber
Flaxseeds: 2 tablespoons has about 4 grams of fiber
Walnuts: 1 ounce, which is about 1/4 cup, 12 to 14 walnut halves or a handful has 2 grams of fiber
Almonds: 1 ounce, or about 23 almonds, has 4 grams of fiber
Raspberries: 1 cup has about 9 grams of fiber
Avocado: half of an avocado has 7 grams of fiber
The soluble fiber found in flaxseeds and chia seeds bind with water to create a gel-like consistency that helps to loosen things up in the gut and get things moving. You can use chia seeds as is but you'll want to go with ground flaxseed versus whole flaxseed. Mix them into meals like oatmeal, smoothies, yogurt, sauces and waffle mix, or try our Healthy Gut Tonic with Chia.
Walnuts, almonds and pecans have more fiber than other nuts and are also rich in magnesium, which helps the digestive muscles relax. When the digestive muscles become too tense or tight due to constipation, bowel movements have a hard time passing. Consuming magnesium-rich nuts helps relax the muscles, allowing the stool to pass.
It's important to remember that as you increase your fiber intake, you must also increase your water intake. Together, fiber and water work together to keep your stool bulky and soft, so it can move easily through your system. This helps stool pass through without needing to put too much pressure on your intestines, which can lead to hemorrhoids or other complications.
To help prevent constipation from becoming a regular occurrence, be sure to incorporate all kinds of fiber-rich foods into your daily diet.
Many factors can trigger constipation, like being out of your usual routine, having a low-fiber intake, not drinking enough water and inactivity. Chronic constipation leads to bloating, reduces appetite and can cause complications, such as impaction and hemorrhoids. Incorporate plenty of fiber-rich foods into your diet, drink plenty of water and exercise regularly to help keep things moving along in your gut. If the constipation persists without much relief, call your healthcare provider.