Is your breakfast to blame for blocked bowels?
Constipation can be painful and frustrating if you’re experiencing it day after day (after day after day). You may worry something’s wrong in your body that’s causing this traffic jam downstairs.
Most of your bowel woes can be traced back to your lifestyle and not necessarily a more serious GI issue. For example, “to have a regular bowel movement is very dependent on how you eat,” says Anthony Starpoli, MD, a gastroenterologist in New York City.
Not sure what you’re doing wrong to cause all this constipation frustration? Here’s what habits experts recommend to keep your #2 on the move.
1. They eat meals consistently.
“A regular eating schedule will more than likely deliver a regular bowel movement schedule,” says Dr. Starpoli. Getting all of your calories from one or two large meals in the middle of the day may hinder healthy bowel function. Try to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner (and a couple healthy snacks) at consistent times, spaced out throughout the day. This may make you more likely to have a BM at the same time every day. (See, everyone loves structure, even your colon.)
Of course, what you eat is just as important as when you eat. Here are some constipating foods you should avoid.
2. They drink plenty of water.
Generally speaking, shoot for six to eight glasses of water a day, but keep in mind water can also come from your food (e.g. watermelon, cucumber, lettuce, and clear soup). Learn more here about how much water you should drink daily.
When tallying up your fluid intake throughout the day, don’t count diuretics like booze and caffeine. “[These drinks] will cause you to go to the bathroom and urinate more often,” says Dr. Starpoli, “therefore putting you in a negative fluid balance.”
3. They eat a wide variety of fiber.
By now, it’s no secret that dietary fiber is constipation’s greatest nemesis. In a large-scale review of studies from 1946 to 2011, researchers found that increasing fiber intake consistently improved stool frequency better than a placebo.
Despite this being a well-known solution to constipation, most Americans still aren’t eating enough fiber: On average, Americans eat 16 grams per day, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That’s about half of the recommended 25 to 38 grams (yikes).
“The idea is to have soluble and insoluble fiber,” says Dr. Starpoli. Getting a balance of both of these is crucial to bowel and overall health. Soluble fiber dissolves in water and forms a gel-like consistency as it moves through the digestive system; it’s found in oats, barley, beans, and some fruits and veggies. Insoluble fiber doesn’t dissolve, so it adds bulk to your stool. You can find it in wheat bran, whole grains, and most vegetables. “It’s the insoluble fiber that will make for a better, bulkier, efficient bowel movement,” says Dr. Starpoli. Many healthy foods, in fact, contain both soluble and insoluble fiber.
Whole grains may be an especially powerful tool in disrupting constipation, as are fruits like plums and pears. (Yes, prunes really do help relieve constipation.) And while fiber supplements may boost your overall fiber intake, these drinks or capsules don’t have the other benefits of fiber-rich foods, such as helping you stay full or providing other valuable micronutrients, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
4. They live an active lifestyle.
Along with other health benefits of exercise, getting your steps in daily may aid in healthy bowel movements. A 2014 study of over 30,000 adolescents found that those who were sedentary for over four hours a day and did not reach the recommended amount of physical activity were more likely to experience constipation than people who were less sedentary.
“We know from patients who are hospitalized or infirmed in nursing homes don’t move around a lot,” says Dr. Starpoli. “The lack of mobility affects your lack of motility.” FYI, colon motility refers to the triggering of muscle contractions for digestion when you eat.
Aim for about 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week, according to the U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. That amounts to about a half hour a day. NBD, right?
Dr. Starpoli is a board-certified gastroenterologist who is affiliated with Lenox Hill Hospital-Northwell Health, Mt. Sinai-Beth Israel Medical Center, and NYU Langone Medical Center.
00:00:01,480 --> 00:00:06,278
To have a regular bowel movement
is very dependent on how you eat.
00:00:06,278 --> 00:00:10,988
00:00:10,988 --> 00:00:15,905
So a regular eating schedule will
more than likely deliver a regular
00:00:15,905 --> 00:00:18,065
bowel movement schedule.
00:00:18,065 --> 00:00:21,755
And that's important provided of course
that at those three different meal times,
00:00:21,755 --> 00:00:23,815
assuming breakfast, lunch and dinner,
00:00:23,815 --> 00:00:27,005
you're getting an appropriate
amount of fluids and fiber.
00:00:27,005 --> 00:00:28,480
We're all dehydrated.
00:00:28,480 --> 00:00:30,068
People don't drink enough water.
00:00:30,068 --> 00:00:35,170
Discounting any sorta alcoholic or
00:00:35,170 --> 00:00:38,410
which will cause you to go to
the bathroom to urinate more often,
00:00:38,410 --> 00:00:42,005
therefore putting you into
a negative fluid balance.
00:00:42,005 --> 00:00:46,255
We would say, net, about 6 to 8
glasses minimum a day of water.
00:00:46,255 --> 00:00:48,775
And then, of course,
your diet's really important so
00:00:48,775 --> 00:00:50,985
that you can keep the stools
moving along very well.
00:00:50,985 --> 00:00:53,935
So we try to encourage people
to have good fiber everyday.
00:00:53,935 --> 00:00:57,155
So the idea is to have soluble and
insoluble fiber, and
00:00:57,155 --> 00:00:59,185
I think that it's a balance.
00:00:59,185 --> 00:01:01,650
There are two types of fiber.
00:01:01,650 --> 00:01:04,420
Insoluble fiber and soluble fiber.
00:01:04,420 --> 00:01:07,000
And it's the insoluble
fiber that will make for
00:01:07,000 --> 00:01:10,970
a better, bulkier,
efficient bowel movement.
00:01:10,970 --> 00:01:14,840
The grains are the big item and
that's something I like people to do
00:01:14,840 --> 00:01:18,010
usually in the morning so
that it's with them through the day
00:01:18,010 --> 00:01:22,300
because the transit time idea is not
just that which happens overnight.
00:01:22,300 --> 00:01:26,220
It's happening through the day
as you eat your meals.
00:01:26,220 --> 00:01:29,030
The other thing is, how active are you?
00:01:29,030 --> 00:01:31,865
We know from patients
who are hospitalized or
00:01:31,865 --> 00:01:37,360
sorta infirmed in nursing homes
who don't move around a lot,
00:01:37,360 --> 00:01:42,900
the lack of mobility affects
your motility of the colon,
00:01:42,900 --> 00:01:45,420
and makes it harder to
have a regular movement.
00:01:46,580 --> 00:01:50,972
Easily, 80% of the time, people
are just not doing things correctly.
00:01:50,972 --> 00:01:55,044
Or even after the visit, they're not
convinced until they start to do it.
00:01:55,044 --> 00:01:59,750
And then they see that by being
conscientious about the water intake,
00:01:59,750 --> 00:02:03,502
excluding all their caffeine or
00:02:03,502 --> 00:02:07,508
and then adding some fiber,
it often will just get better.
00:02:07,508 --> 00:02:12,251
2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans summary. Washington, DC: Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, 2008. (Accessed on December 25, 2021 at https://health.gov/paguidelines/guidelines/summary.aspx.)
Bae SH. Diets for constipation. Pediatr Gastroenterol Hepatol Nutr. 2014 Dec;17(4):203-8.
Easy ways to boost fiber in your daily diet. Chicago, IL: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 2017. (Accessed on December 25, 2021 at https://www.eatright.org/food/vitamins-and-supplements/types-of-vitamins-and-nutrients/easy-ways-to-boost-fiber-in-your-daily-diet.)
Hoy MK, Goldman JD. Fiber intake of the U.S. population: what we eat in America, NHANES 2009-2010. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2014.
Huang R, Ho SY, Lo WS, Lam TH. Physical activity and constipation in Hong Kong adolescents. PLoS One. 2014;9(2).
Treatment for constipation. Bethesda, MD: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. (Accessed on December 25, 2021 at https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/constipation/treatment.)
Yang J, Wang HP, Zhou L, Zu CF. World J Gastroenterol. 2012 Dec 28;18(48):7378-7383.