Constipation is not something most people feel comfortable talking about.
Even to their doctors.
Anyone who ever experienced it know how unpleasant, painful and even debilitating it can be.
And for those who manage to build up the courage to discuss it with their doctors, the disappointing and infective usual prescription of eating more fiber, more whole grains and drinking more water might even make things worse!
Constipation is defined by:
- fewer than 3 bowel movements a week, and
- by stools that are small, dry and hard-to pass.
However, I would say that this outdated definition of constipation should probably be reviewed.
The ideal frequency for a #2 should be daily. Between 1-3 times a day is a healthy range.
No #2 every single day = constipation.
If you haven’t had a bowel movement today, it’s a sign that something is not working exactly as it should with your digestive system. And a sign that you should do something about it.
Your poop contains toxic wastes that need to be emptied daily.
Letting it sit inside your body for longer than 24 hours is not a good idea as you can imagine.
Of course, it might happen once in a while if you’re traveling, changing time zones or experiencing a big change in your routine. But no more than 1-2 times a month.
Keep on reading if you need help to improve your digestion without having to resort to laxatives. I’ll share my 7 top natural strategies to help you eliminate daily in a moment.
Grab a cup of warm tea and come back with a notepad.
My 7 top natural strategies to eliminate daily
(because you should eliminate DAILY!)
Let’s get started. Make sure you take notes. It is NOT easy to change our habits but writing things down makes it easier to remember and you will then be more likely to implement some of these tips.
Just reading about it unfortunately doesn’t solve constipation.
1. Eat more healthy fat
Wait… whaaat? How can that be the first advice given by a dietitian/nutritionist? And what does fat have to do with constipation? Well, I told you I was the no-nonsense registered dietitian & nutritionist and that I have a unique approach. Let me tell you more about this first tip.
Too many people are afraid of fat and not eating enough of it, which makes me very sad because fats are SO important to your health.
Fats make your liver and gallbladder release bile, which helps your bowels to move better. That’s exactly what we want with constipation!
★ TO DO: Add a serving or two of these healthy fats at each meal: coconut oil, grass-fed ghee or butter, extra-virgin olive oil, avocado or guacamole, grass-fed tallow or even pastured lard.
These are my favorite fats because they pack a lot of nutrients and are low in the inflammatory omega-6 fats we find (and eat way too much of) in vegetable oils (soybean oil, canola oil, corn oil, etc) and processed foods.
2. Add nutrient-dense carbs
Besides eating too little fats, many of my constipated clients unfortunately also try to reduce their carb intake, whether consciously or not.
Many carbs have a bad rap and the amount you need is probably different than the amount I need. We’re all different. But I find that most people do better with a moderate amount of carbs.
It’s best to avoid processed carbs that come from flours and sugars and this is why I put the emphasis on “nutrient-dense” carbs. Those are carbs that not only contain carbs but also provide many other nutrients that are important for your health.
★ TO DO: Add 2-3 servings of these nutrient-dense carbs every day, whether it is starches (sweet potatoes, regular potatoes, butternut squash, beets and plantains) or fruits (berries, kiwifruits, citrus, apples, bananas, melons, cherries and grapes).
*** If any of these foods make your constipation worse, it is a BIG clue that you might have a gut dysbiosis (imbalance in your gut flora) like SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth), a candida overgrowth or FODMAP intolerance. Work with a qualified practitioner to go to the bottom of this and find a solution to your constipation problems.
3. Sprinkle your gut with probiotics
Did you know that you are 90% bacteria and only 10% human?
The little bugs living in your gut can have a BIG impact everywhere in your body, including your digestion. Adding gut-friendly bacteria every day can help your digestive system work better and allow you to eliminate more regularly.
★ TO DO: Take 1-2 daily servings of fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, plain yogurt or kefir, or kombucha and/or supplement with a quality probiotic supplement that is right for you (ask a qualified health care provider). I like this one because it is usually well tolerated, shelf-stable and dairy-free (but there are other good ones too).
4. Re-hydrate your body with water AND salt
Drink more water is one of the common strategies recommended against constipation.
But is the common advice of drinking 6-8 cups of water a day enough to stay hydrated and ensure your stools are moist and easy to pass? The answer is… not always!
If constipation is an issue for you (and I imagine it is if you’re still reading), make sure you drink enough fluids (and that includes water, soups, smoothies, teas and kombucha) BUT also make sure you add a healthy dose of unrefined salt to your food too.
If you’re trying to eat healthy and do your best to avoid most procesed foods, it is very likely that you’re not getting a lot of sodium (aka salt) in your diet. However, a certain amount of salt is vital for your health and can help your body retain the appropriate amount of water (especially if you are not consuming a ton of carbs).
Your gut needs that water to produce and secrete enough digestive enzymes to properly digest and keep your stools moist and easy to pass.
The key is to choose the right kind of salt. Do NOT use the typical processed table salt and switch to unrefined salt. My favorite one is Himalayan salt. Celtic sea salt, Hawaiian salt, Murray River salt and regular sea salt are also good alternatives.
★ TO DO: Sprinkle your food with 1/2 – 1 tsp of unrefined salt a day (i.e. Himalayan salt) and stay hydrated all day long (water, soups, teas, smoothies and kombucha all count). For some people, supplementing with 2 tsp of magnesium citrate powder at bedtime can also keep stools moist (you still need to make sure you drink enough).
5. Activate your parasympatethic nervous system
Again: Whaaaat? Am I still speaking English?
Yes, please stay with me. I’m trying to use the real terminology to make it more credible and scientific but it’s actually pretty simple. Although not that easy to implement unfortunately. But if you can do it, the payoff is huge not only for your constipation issue but for many other areas of your life.
To keep a long story short, you have 2 main nervous system. The sympathetic is the “fight-or-flight” one activated when you feel stressed. This is how most of us operate most of the time but it is NOT the one we want. It shuts down the whole digestion process and can cause constipation.
That’s why we want to activate your other nervous system: the parasympathetic one or the “rest-and-digest” mode. This is the one allowing your digestion (and elimination) to work as it should (i.e. daily!).
Here are a few ways you can activate your parasympathetic nervous system:
– by slowing down and taking 5 deep belly breath before your meal,
– by sitting down in good company to eat (instead of staying in front of your computer),
– by going outside and surround yourself with green (grass, trees, plants…!),
– by thinking of 3 things you’re grateful for before you start each meal, or
– by including a daily 5-10 minutes of relaxation to your day (yoga, meditation, doing nothing,
listening to music, spending time with loved ones, or practicing your favorite hobby!)
★ TO DO: Activate your paraympathetic nervous system (your “rest-and-digest” mode) before EACH meal by taking 5 deep belly breaths, going outside for a few minutes or thinking of 3 things that make you feel grateful.
6. Put your feet up when sitting on the toilet!
I know this sounds a bit crazy but it’s actually not as crazy as it sounds.
It can make a huge difference in making elimination easier (and more complete!) and doesn’t require you to be a yoga master (the ability to touch your toes is a plus but not mandatory).
Did you know that we aren’t meant to poop while sitting down?
Doing so actually makes it harder for you to eliminate.
Elevating your feet by 6-8 inches can make it easier for you when trying to do your #2.
A stool or a Squatty Potty if you want something a bit more fancy is all you need. It’s just simple mechanic that make it easier for poop to move through your tubing and out into the toilet.
Watch this video if you aren’t convinced yet.
★ TO DO: Elevate your feet by 6-8 by using a stool or Squatty Potty when ready to make your #2 for easier and more complete elimination.
7. Identify your food sensitivities
This one is easier said (written) than done, but it is usually one of the first things I look at with my clients. Gluten, dairy, soy, corn, eggs, nuts and FODMAPs are probably the 7 most common ones I see.
And I do believe that this is why the standard prescription for constipation recommending to eat more fiber and whole grains can make things worse for most people. Wheat contains both gluten and FODMAPs, making it a double whammy for many people.
You can try eliminating one or some of these foods to see if you can eliminate more easily without them. My experience tells you that your best bet is to eliminate wheat/gluten and dairy first (ideally with soy and corn if possible) for 3 weeks to see if that makes any difference with your constipation.
If you don’t see ANY improvements within that time frame, it might be a good idea to do a more complete elimination diet with the help of a qualified practitionner or to consider doing further testings to look for things like SIBO, FOMDAP intolerance or other types of chronic gut dysbiosis.
★ TO DO: Eliminate wheat/gluten, dairy, soy and corn for 3 weeks while tracking your bowel movements to assess whether an intolerance to one (or more) of these foods is contributing to your constipation.
I really hope these tips help your bowels start moving again! Good luck! 🙂
Talk to you soon!
Your no-nonsense registered dietitian & nutritionist,
p.s. And remember, you don’t have to do it alone…
Eliminating all of these foods at once can be overwhelming and this is why I encourage you to work with a qualified health practitioner.
I’d be happy to guide you on this journey. Apply for an appetizer session with me here to get started on this journey of saying goodbye to constipation and hello to a new improved and healthier you. 🙂