With Thanksgiving just around the corner, it's only natural that you would feel compelled to gorge yourself. Your eyes grow bigger than your stomach, and despite feeling full, you succumb to the pressure of your family members urging you to eat more.
The problem doesn't present itself to you until a couple of days later when you still feel tired and bloated. Why can't you seem to get back on track with your normal diet and routine?
Maybe it's because you're too constipated.
In fact, as many as 25 percent of the American population can't poop as often as they should, and even more struggle to get the job done regularly. Constipation is technically defined as not having a bowel movement every day, but it is still considered "mild constipation" if you're only going every two or three days. Severe constipation would be considered only pooping once a week.
But seriously--everybody poops, and few things can make you as cranky as the feeling of being bloated and full, and unable to eliminate. Ideally, everyone is going one or two times a day, and it's not too hard or too soft. Who knew the semantics of pooping were so complex?
Constipation often boils down to one of six reasons:
1) Lack of Fibre
Probably the most well known reason for constipation is not enough fibre in the diet, but people still don't seem to up their dietary intake even when they know that it could be causing their poop problems. Perhaps it's because fibre-rich foods aren't exactly everyone's craving (think: vegetables, whole grains, beans, lentils, and flaxseed), or maybe it's because people spend too much time filling up on high-carb, low-fibre things like white bread, French fries, and sugary desserts. Adding 20 to 30 grams of fibre daily should help get things moving, and as a bonus, it's protective against nasty things like colon cancer and diverticulitis.
2) Not Enough Down Time
Your intestines know when you don't have access to a comfortable place to poop. Yes, a good amount of bowel health has to do with the mental game of pooping. Nobody loves sitting for long amounts of time on public restrooms, and I'm pretty sure everyone dreads the whole "must poop/clog toilet" fear of taking a dump at a guest's house (or worse: your new significant other's). If your work schedule keeps you on the go, you're more likely to suffer from the mental component of constipation.
3) Stress, Anxiety, and Depression
When your nervous system is overwhelmed, your entire body suffers the effects. Stress, of course, can initiate "fight or flight" responses that slow down everything from digestion to your body's desire to reproduce. When the brain believes that you're in danger, as it does when stress is running the show, it certainly won't think that it's a good time to sit down and spend some time on the toilet. (Some people may experience diarrhea during periods of stress, but certainly, healthy poop habits seem to go out the window where stress is concerned.) Anxiety and depression, too, are different from the normal, homeostatic nature that the body prefers. Metabolism is slowed in such conditions, and healthy digestion and elimination become an afterthought.
4) Too Much Cheese, Not Enough H2O, and Too Many Poop Pills
What you put into your body has a lot to say about what comes out (and how). Dairy products can be notoriously constipating, especially if you're a regular cheese eater. When soft drinks and coffee fill more space in your daily drinking quota than water does, you're also likely to be somewhat dehydrated. The intestines require enough liquid to move waste through. When poop spends too much time in transit, it dries out, making it harder (and more painful) to eliminate. Maybe it seems logical to help the process out by popping laxatives, but even the most natural kind can still cause your intestinal muscles to get lazy. After regular use, your body will not poop unless stimulated to do so by those laxatives, so certainly don't rely on them as a permanent solution.
5) Hormone Problems
Whether it's hypothyroidism, Hashimoto's thyroid disease, or other metabolic issues, your hormones have a lot to say about how your intestines work. Specifically, they slow down the process of digestion, which also results in slow elimination. If you do have thyroid issues, optimizing your thyroid hormone levels can dramatically improve your ability to eliminate, but it can often take weeks or months until things improve from hormones alone.
6) Medication Side Effects
Unfortunately, as many as 40 percent of people who take painkillers can experience some severely unpleasant constipation side effects. If you know you'll be taking them, start a stool softener at the same time, increase your fibre intake, and drink plenty of water. But even so, that may not be enough to erase the potential side effect. Knowing what to expect from your medication is important, so be sure to ask your doctor or pharmacist about how the meds might affect your bathroom habits.
Constipation can be really crappy to deal with, but there are proven ways that you can address it, regardless of what's causing it. It might come down to making some dietary changes, taking a supplement, or exercising more, but it's totally possible to get your body pooping regularly even when you're constipated.