How to Eat to Beat Constipation

Constipation is something we may feel shy talking about, but it’s something most people experience at some point or another. Whether it’s acute or chronic, serious or mild, constipation is always uncomfortable. Thankfully, having a thorough understanding of the topic might just help prevent you or your child from struggling with the issue so keep reading to find out why it happens and how to prevent it.

Constipation 101

What Is It?

One of the most well-known definitions is 3 or fewer bowel movements per week, but there are other forms of constipation that don’t fit this definition. Infrequency is one parameter, but other things to consider is if it takes a long time to have a successful bowel movement, if the stools are hard and dry (like pellets), or there’s incomplete emptying. 

Many people are actually constipated based on this broader definition and don’t even realize it! Some of the symptoms of being constipated can include the obvious bloating and abdominal discomfort, as well as nausea, loss of appetite or fatigue. 

Though these symptoms are already unpleasant on their own, there are even further complications that can develop as a result of being constipated. Individuals that suffer from chronic constipation are at a greater risk of developing hemorrhoids (swollen blood vessels in and around the anus), anal fissures (tearing) and bowel incontinence (leakage).

What Causes It?

There are many different reasons why someone could be experiencing constipation, and it’s not always down to a single cause. One of the most common reasons is simply living a sedentary lifestyle. Having strong abdominal muscles (including the diaphragm) is helpful for passing bowel movements. Physical activity also allows the digestive tract to not be physically constricted from sitting in the same position for hours on end.

A few other common explanations include not drinking enough liquids, high stress, pregnancy changes, normal aging, medication side effects, IBS, or not consuming a gut-friendly diet. Though not all of these factors are changeable, most are. 

Here are a few dietary factors to keep in mind to make bowel movements happen more regularly, and more smoothly.

Dietary Solutions

The first dietary principle to keep in mind for avoiding constipation is to consume enough dietary fiber. Fiber comes from plant foods and it helps with gut motility. There are several different forms of fiber available, so consuming a variety of vegetables, fruits, grains and legumes is very beneficial for both constipation and overall gut health.

Another important nutrition factor that affects constipation is how processed or unprocessed your diet is. Frequently eating a diet of highly processed foods will mean you’re consuming too much fat, too little nutrition, and not nearly enough fiber. The lack of satisfying nutrients also tends to lead people to overeat and make constipation even worse. 

A third way to use diet to improve constipation is to consume an abundance of probiotic-rich foods. This includes anything fermented such as kefir, yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi or tempeh. This is extremely beneficial for the overall health of the gut and it can assist with softening stools to make them easier to pass.

The Takeaway

Constipation can usually be remedied through diet, hydration, stress management and exercise alone, but there are plenty of other lifestyle or medicine-based treatments to try if what you’re doing isn’t working. There’s also always a possibility that it’s a secondary symptom of another issue, so don’t hesitate to seek the advice of a healthcare practitioner if you need further guidance on this topic.

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