Ever find yourself reading the classic children’s book Everyone Poops to your nieces, nephews, or kids and think, “I wish!” Or looking longingly at the Doberman effortlessly relieving himself on the sidewalk and wish it could be that easy? Yeah, me neither.
But, whether we are willing to admit it publicly, pooping is a problem for many of us. And it’s time to get this sh*t straight.
Constipation is the most common digestive complaint in the U.S. and can get in the way of doing things we love – exercising, traveling, having sex, even getting out of the house. The general definition of chronic constipation is going #2 less than three times per week for several months, but there is a large amount of variability between and even within individuals. See this great WebMD article for more useful information on chronic constipation, including when to see a doctor.
Barring constipation caused by medical conditions, there are several things you can do to make this part of your life a bit easier. Consider the following the Ten Copro Commandments:
- Thou shalt drink adequate fluid: The classic recommendation for fluid intake is eight 8-ounce glasses per day. But if you’re a water bottle-toting non-pooper you might be wondering what gives? Remember that the body is approximately 60% water, and that body water can be affected by many things: exercise, illness, environment, hormonal fluctuations, diet composition, and intake of salt and caffeine. If your body is losing additional fluid – or retaining water for various reasons – there won’t be enough to lubricate the colon and encourage pooping.
- Thou shalt increase thy roughage: 2012 fiber recommendations from the Institute of Medicine are approximately 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men. But few reach these goals regularly. No wonder poop is stopped in its tracks (ahem). There are two types of fiber – soluble and insoluble. Insoluble is the type that affects poopage, and it can be found in whole grains, popcorn, bran, nuts, seeds like hemp and flax, vegetables like cabbage, lettuce, onions, and bell peppers, and fruits such as raisins, grapes, and apples.
- Thou shalt feed thine body what it wants and needs: You might have noticed that many of the foods named above are whole foods, unprocessed and in their natural glory. Eating whole foods is a great start in increasing fiber intake as well as eliminating any number of things in processed foods that might contribute to your elimination woes (this even applies to processed foods masquerading as health foods). Also be sure you are eating ENOUGH food. Those who restrict the quantity of their diet in order to maintain or lose weight often experience poopage problems.
- Thou shalt move thy body regularly: Though the connection between exercise and relieving constipation is somewhat controversial, regular exercise has many benefits that might indirectly encourage pooping as well, including improvement of muscle tone, stimulating the digestive tract, improvement of mild to moderate depression, and stress relief.
- Thou shalt address chronic digestive problems: Everyone farts, too. That’s normal. But if you are plagued by chronic and painful bloating, cramping, and gas, that’s not. If this is the case for you, it is time to visit your primary care physician and/or gastroenterologist. He or she can help pinpoint the cause of and address these problems, which might include irritable bowel syndrome, food intolerances or sensitivities (such as to gluten, soy, or dairy), or other gastrointestinal disorders. Then a dietitian can help you craft a nurturing, pain-free diet you love.
- Thou shalt use pro-pooping foods and supplements wisely: Once any health issues have been managed or ruled out, you might consider adding certain pro-pooping foods and supplements. These include prebiotics such as inulin and oligofructose, psyllium fiber supplements such as Metamucil, live probiotics containing Lactobaccillus and Bifidobacteria, and even fermented foods such as kimchi, kefir, kombucha, tempeh, and sauerkraut.
- Thou shalt not abuse laxatives and diuretics: Laxatives (even natural laxatives like senna), dieter’s teas, and water pills are problematic for several reasons. Though laxatives might provide a temporary quick fix, the body’s drive to find balance will often swing the pooping pendulum back in the opposite direction and you might find yourself constipated again in short order. This creates dependence. Similarly, the increased release of water resulting from diuretics like dieter’s teas and water pills (not to mention the loss of essential electrolytes) often have a rebound water-retaining effect that means no GO-ing.
- Thou shalt treat thine derriere with respect: Anything that is causing you pain, such as fissures or hemorrhoids, can make you gun shy about going and also can be worsened when passing hard stools. Again, talk to your doctor about these concerns; there are things you can do to ease the discomfort and hasten healing. Similarly, diarrhea that occurs regularly or lasts longer than 2 days robs your body of water, nutrients, and electrolytes and should be addressed with a medical professional. There is even a dietitian who specializes in diarrhea. Finally, don’t ignore the urge to go; like Kramer, you could miss your chance!
- Thou shalt become less anal retentive: Technically, the Freudian term refers to the toilet training era of our lives, but has evolved to mean hypersensitive to details, perfectionistic, and somewhat high-anxiety. In creating a lifestyle that encourages regularity, it is important to know how to relax, relieve stress, and deal with any emotional issues that might have a direct or indirect effect on your digestive system. Keep handy a short list of activities (or non-activities) that are comforting and nurturing. They might include meditation, playing with your pet, talking to a therapist or a friend, cooking, journaling, or taking a bath.
- Thou shalt create a regular and relaxing pooping ritual: This commandment might be the one most frequently broken. Pooping takes time. It can’t be rushed. But our crazy lifestyles often don’t set the scene for pleasant poopage. Create a routine. Experiment with what time of day is best for your body. Then set aside 10 to 15 minutes a day for the sole purpose of pooping. Light a candle, play a game on your smart phone, or read a book (I can think of one that might get you in the mood).