6 Totally Normal Reasons You're Constipated, According to a Dietitian

As uncomfortable as constipation can be, it can be a normal part of life. Read on to discover six reasons you're constipated and how to get unplugged.

Nothing sets in faster than panic when your internal plumbing has slowed. I'm referring to your digestive system, of course. We've all dealt with constipation at some point, and depending on how long your episode has lasted, you may feel like you're in dire straits. Constipation is one of the most common backdoor struggles, and 2.5 million Americans see the doctor yearly because of it.

Constipation happens when poop turns stone-like, and because it's hard and dry, it's difficult to pass. With constipation, you may successfully poop a little while the rest stubbornly stays inside. Pooping three times per week or less may be a telltale sign that constipation may be at play.

With all the trending talk about gut health, changes in bowel habits can make you feel judged or pegged as an unhealthy eater. But that's not always the case. Stress, aging, taking supplements and traveling can trigger poop problems too, and it could even run in your family.

A few lifestyle tweaks may be what you need to get back on the porcelain throne more comfortably and confidently.

This article outlines six normal reasons you might be constipated and what you can do to get relief.

a woman gulping down a glass of water
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You're Not Drinking Enough Fluids

Drinking a hot cup of joe to jump-start the workday is a common motivator for many early risers. But, before you know it, it's 2 p.m., and you may not have sipped any H2O yet. If getting enough fluids, especially water, has been tough lately, it could be why it's been so hard going No. 2. Normal poop is composed of 74% water, and as the water content increases, the softer the stool may be. Even the slightest change to the water content may form a hard stool, so constipation can happen more easily than we might think.

Water is essential to healthy digestion and helps your body absorb nutrients from food. In partnership with dietary fiber, water can help fiber do its job of aiding digestion. Consider drinking water from refillable bottles that stay cold, and have a flip-up spout for easy sipping. Every time you drink, count at least six sips. Be careful not to wait until you feel thirsty, but try to hydrate yourself with water throughout your day.

Your Eating Habits Lack Fiber

Fiber is the go-to nutrient for getting unstuck. If you've ever been constipated, the universal advice is typically to eat more fiber. And if you haven't been filling up on much fiber lately, you're not alone—90% of women and 97% of men aren't getting enough either, according to the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Fiber is a friend to our digestive tract, but bathroom time can get strenuous when we fall short of getting enough. Luckily, you've got many options for fiber-rich foods, including fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds. Give your body ample fiber by aiming for 25 to 35 grams daily, but make sure to drink plenty of water to help it do its job!

Your Body Isn't Moving Enough

A brisk walk or a virtual HIIT routine can get your heart pumping and help your digestion get moving, too. It turns out that the colon responds well to physical activity. Moreover, exercise can help promote healthy muscle tone, which can also help with healthy digestion.

A 2019 review published in the Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology found that exercise showed significant benefits in improving constipation symptoms in nine exercise studies on constipation. However, more research is needed in this area.

You're Dealing with Stress

Your brain and gut are close friends that often talk to one another, and we call this the gut-brain axis. Your psychological state can do more than drive your food choices and can impact your digestive health on a deeper level. Further, depression and stress also alter gut bacteria due to stress hormones and inflammation, and imbalances in gut bacteria can contribute to constipation. Try taking steps to manage stress in a healthy way, and talk to a professional for additional support. Also, take steps to increase the diversity of your gut bacteria by eating foods rich in probiotics, including tempeh, kimchi, miso and yogurt.

It's Your Supplement or Medication

Some calcium and iron supplements may be to blame for your constipation. A 2019 review published in the Journal of UOEH lists multiple medications that may promote stool blockages—antihistimaines, NSAIDS, opioids, antipsychotics, antiarrhythmics and diuretics, to name a few. It can be helpful to speak with your medical provider to determine if your medications might be a contributing factor to your constipation struggles.

You're Getting Older

Constipation is a common problem for older adults, starting from around age 60.

Taking multiple medications, having a poor appetite (or low fiber intake) and having a sedentary lifestyle could explain why constipation can be more of a reality as we age. Further, aging decreases your sense of thirst, increasing your risk for dehydration and constipation. But aging doesn't promise toilet troubles, and there are things you can do to help you stay ahead of constipation. The National Council on Aging recommends drinking a third of your body weight in ounces. So, if you weigh 175 pounds, you'd want to drink at least 58 ounces of water daily. If you're taking multiple medications, talk to your medical provider before making any changes and tell them if you've been living with constipation.

Tips to Help Relieve Constipation

Depending on the person, constipation may be a quick fix. Discover a few simple ways to relieve constipation.

  • Add fibrous foods to your meals and snacks, like adding frozen raspberries to morning shakes or roasting homemade chili-lime walnuts (and see what other foods dietitians eat when they're constipated!)
  • Keep a 32-ounce refillable water bottle with a spout nearby, and download an app to track your water intake.
  • Work in 15 to 20 minutes of movement to your day, whether a brisk walk, a bike ride or a recreational dance class.
  • Stay ahead of your stress but incorporate daily activities that bring peace and calm. Playing calming music, praying, meditating, journaling, exercising or doing breathing exercises can help.
  • Talk with your doctor about supplements that may help constipation (e.g., magnesium or probiotics).

The Bottom Line

Gas, bloating and constipation can be troubling, but they're often just normal parts of life and health and may be nothing to worry about. If you've been feeling plugged up, you may just need a few lifestyle adjustments to get things moving more smoothly again. Focusing on fibrous foods, upping your water intake, reducing stress or being mindful of your medications may help provide relief. Constipation happens to us all, and for various reasons. If constipation regularly disrupts your life, talk to your doctor or dietitian.

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