Constipation: The Hard Truth

By Maureen Rieras, MS, CNS, LDN

The word constipation is usually used with a hushed tone. People make sure no one is looking before saying in a low voice, “I’m constipated.” Society pokes fun by telling people with a certain concerned look on their face, that they look constipated. Before getting to solutions, let’s start with a definition. Constipation is defined as having less than three bowel movements a week, in which the stools are dry, hard, small, and difficult to pass. There is usually a feeling of fullness and that there is more left to pass. Now that concerned face makes more sense!

The digestive system is various organs working together to breakdown food into nutrients and waste. A wave like motion, called peristalsis, helps move food and waste through the intestines until the nutrients are absorbed and waste is eliminated. Bowel movements are a natural function of the body and are made of waste that is created during metabolism and digestion. When everything is working as it should, going to the bathroom is barely noticed. When there is an imbalance and bowel movements are not regular, the red alert goes off!

It’s important to your health to rid waste on a timely schedule. It’s like the goldilocks principle: not too often but not too much time passed either. Ideally, a bowel movement is passed one to two times a day. It should feel complete, like there isn’t anything left and most importantly, it should not be a strain to pass. The other side of the pendulum is having too many bowel movements a day, which can be a sign that nutrients aren’t being absorbed properly or there is an imbalance in gut flora. But that’s for another blog!

Water and fiber are the most important nutrients to focus on to stay regular. The colon is the end of the line of the digestive system. This is where all the waste products end up as a “slurry.” The colon absorbs water and the rest of the waste is excreted as stools. The body is made up of 70% water and the colon makes sure the body stays hydrated and will absorb every last drop of water it needs. If a person is not drinking enough water, the stools can end up dry and hard. Constipation can sometimes be resolved by just drinking more water! To calculate your daily water needs, take your weight in pounds and divide the number in half. That number, in ounces, is your daily water requirement. For example, a person weighing 150 lbs needs 75 ounces of water a day.

What about fiber? Turns out hay is not just for horses! Fiber is subgrouped under carbohydrates, but it really deserves a category of its own. Fiber is the “indigestible” parts of plants. It’s what gives veggies their crunch or brown rice its chewiness. While the body does not extract energy from fiber, in the form of sugar, protein or fat, it’s oh so important for colon health. Fiber absorbs water, bulking up stools and making them easier to pass. And while fiber is “indigestible” to the human digestive system, the healthy bacteria that live in the colon feed off the fiber and multiply, creating a healthier colon. Win, win! Increasing daily fiber intake should be a slow process. Overloading your digestive system with fiber can lead to bloating and gas. No fun! The average American consumes 15 grams of dietary fiber a day. Ideally, a person should consume 35-50 grams a day. Try using a app like Fat Secret to track daily food intake to get an idea of how many grams of fiber per day.

While this is a simple solution to constipation, most people need more help navigating their way towards great health. 

If you’re interested in getting more help for this, you can book a nutrition consult with me online here!

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