7 Constipation Causes and Remedies
The average person has 5-10 pounds of waste in their colon at any time. When constipated, it can store even more.
I thought I’d start off today’s article with a fun fact. As yuck as this may seem, this just shows the effect constipation can have on your body. Holding that much waste in your gut is bound to make you feel bloated, sluggish and ‘heavy.’ How could you not when you’re storing that much inside you?!
Constipation is generally described as having less than 3 bowel movements a week, but you’ll be diagnosed with IBS-C (constipation predominant IBS) if more than 25% of your bowel movements are Bristol stool form types 1 or 2 and less than 25% are types 6 or 7 (find out more about the Bristol Stool chart here). So, the precise definition varies a lot but, chances are, if you’re constipation, you’ll know it.
Whether you’ve been diagnosed with IBS-C or you just suffer with constipation, it’s not nice. It can just make you feel so ‘blah’ and the frustration of not being able to ‘go’ can be incredibly exhausting. You’re left feeling totally jealous of your other half who seems to be able to go like clockwork every day after breakfast. He doesn’t realise how lucky he is!
The thing to know is that you don’t have to be constipated forever! You also don’t have to rely on laxatives and expensive supplements to get by. By figuring out what things are causing your constipation, you can start to do something about it.
Here are 8 key causes of constipation:
If you’re dehydrated, there isn’t enough water in your body, so it’ll try to compensate for this. Your intestines will do this by drawing water out of your stool, leaving it dry and hard. If it’s dry and hard, it’ll be much harder to pass out of your system, leaving you constipated or pooping rabbit pellets. A simple way to keep an eye on your hydration levels is to look at the colour of your pee. If it’s dark and strong smelling, chances are you need to drink up. Healthy pee is pale and luminous.
WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT - Get hydrated! Try starting the day with a big glass of water to rehydrate you as soon as you wake up. Then, carry a bottle of water with you or keep it on your desk and keep sipping throughout the day. If you can buy a nice bottle, that you’ll want to carry around, even better.
2. LACK OF FIBRE
This is a huge problem! There are 2 big parts of our diets today that can lead to a lack of fibre - low carb diets and relying on lots of processed foods. I personally thought I ate a really healthy, low-carb diet, but was forever constipated. It wasn’t until I started adding more of the right type of fibre into my diet (amongst other things), that my constipation went away. With both of these, we think we’re being healthy. We opt for pre-packaged 300 calorie salads, thinking we’re doing our bodies a world of good. The problem is, these processed, low carb foods lack the fibre that our bodies need.
Fibre helps to sweep waste through the digestive system and prevent constipation. So, if you suffer from constipation, not having enough fibre in your diet could be a major trigger.
WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT - There are lots of guidelines around how much fibre we should be eating, but I personally think it’s far to much effort, and not sustainable, to constantly be counting fibre quantities. So, I’d recommend to look at where you’re at now and start increasing your fibre intake slowly. If you up your intake too quickly, you might experience lots of bloating as your body adjusts. Try oats, chia seeds, a tablespoon of ground flax or linseed every day, and lots of fruits and veggies. Pick one to add in this week, then one more next week, and build on it week by week. Make sure you drink lots of water when you do this, as fibre needs water to do its job. Without it, you could end up even more constipated!
Too much dairy can actually cause constipation, especially low fat dairy. So, if you’re a skimmed milk lover, this could be affecting you. This is because it contains a protein called casein, which breaks down very slowly and therefore slows digestion.
WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT - If you suspect this could be a trigger for your constipation, try eliminating dairy for a month and see if your constipation gets any better. Simple! You don’t then have to give up dairy completely, but try swapping regular milk and yoghurt for lactose free, nut and oat varieties. You might even find you like them better!
4. LACK OF MOVEMENT
Low to moderate intensity exercise helps you poop regularly, by encouraging the waste to move through your gut. This means exercise can be a big help if you suffer from constipation. Exercise also helps reduce stress (see below). Have you found that you’re only able to, or find it much easier to, poo after a run? If that’s the case, there’s your proof that movement helps reduce constipation. It’s so easy to just sit all day, especially if you drive to work and have an office job. We then try to offset that with an intense workout. While that’s great, it’s consistent, regular movement that your body needs.
WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT - Try to get some gentle exercise every day. It doesn’t have to be complicated - yoga and walking are my best suggestions. If you don’t do much exercise at the moment, start with just ten minutes a day, block it into your calendar and then work your way up. If you’re a HIIT kind of person, consider reducing the amount you’re doing, building in rest days or swapping a few sessions for walks/yoga.
When your body’s under stress, it’s in ‘fight or flight’ mode, so it shuts down all the systems that don’t require it. One of these is digestion. Think about it - in the caveman days, if you saw a lion, your body put all its energy into running away from it. It didn’t matter if you didn’t digest your food if you’d already been eaten by a lion! So, when you are stressed, your body literally can’t digest your food! This will result in a lot of pain and constipation.
WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT - The first step to reducing stress is to take some time to reflect on what’s causing you stress. If it’s something that can be changed, e.g. you’ve taken on too many projects at work, then take action to do something about it, e.g. speak to your manager about delegating. However, there are lots of stressors that we can’t control, e.g. a delayed train, so try and find little ways throughout the day to manage stress. This could be a 10 minute morning meditation, an evening walk, or simply breaking from work to eat your lunch.
6. SLOW GUT MOTILITY
It might be that your gut just moves more slowly than other people’s, which is totally OK. Some people’s move faster (leading to diarrhoea) and some people’s move slower. Unfortunately, this isn’t something you can do a lot about. If you address all the other potential causes though, and do all of the right things for those, you will see some improvement, so you’re not going to be stuck with constipation forever.
WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT - Like I said, there isn’t a lot you can do to speed up your gut motility. I have got one tip you’re going to love me for though, and that’s COFFEE. Coffee is a gut irritant meaning it speeds up the movements in your gut and can trigger bowel movements. So, if you suffer from constipation, a cup of coffee can actually help you poo. Try experimenting with caffeine and see if it can help trigger a bowel movement. However, limit yourself to 1-2 cups a day and try to have it before midday so it doesn’t affect your sleep. One cup of coffee in the morning is one of my biggest tools for preventing constipation!
FODMAPs are groups of sugars that aren't properly absorbed by the gut, triggering symptoms in people with IBS. They are found in a huge variety of foods. The low FODMAP Diet is a type of elimination diet that cuts out foods containing FODMAPs. You then gradually reintroduce these foods, group by group, to work out which foods are triggering your symptoms. The end goal is to learn what foods your gut is sensitive to, so you can choose to avoid those and improve your gut symptoms for life! Research shows that around 75% of people with IBS who try the diet see an improvement in their symptoms.
WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT - The Low FODMAP Diet is a complicated process that can be hard to do on your own. Your best bet is to get some help from someone who’s trained specifically in the diet. This is something I help my clients with in ‘Your Gut Triggers’ - a one on one coaching program. Click here to find out more. If you want to give it a try by yourself, here are some tips to help you get started.
NOTE: If you’ve seen a sudden change in your bowel movements, e.g. you’ve become constipated and never used to be, I’d advise going to see your doctor, just to make sure it’s nothing serious. If you’ve started on a new medication, it’s very likely this could be the cause, but it’s always good to get checked out to make sure.
You don’t have to be constipated forever. By figuring out what’s causing your constipation, you can do something about it.
7 Causes of Constipation + What to do about them:
1. Dehydration - get hydrated
2. Lack of Fibre - up your fibre intake with oats, lin/flaxseed and lots of veggies
3. Dairy - try an elimination diet
4. Lack of Movement - build more walking into your day
5. Stress - add in daily stress management practices, like meditation or a walk
6. Slow Gut Motility - drink coffee
7. FODMAPs - try the low FODMAP diet
One or more of these might be causing your constipation. Don’t try and address everything at once though. Pick one thing from this list and implement it this week. Then, once you’ve got down, pick another one. When making any changes, I’d advise keeping a food and poo diary, to help you track improvements and make connections.
Constipation is a massively common issue and this is one of the things I help my clients with every day. If you’re sick of constantly wishing you could just ‘go,’ let’s chat. Book in a free consultation call with me. You can fill me in on your struggles and ask any questions about how I can help. There’ll be absolutely no pressure - you’ll just be left with all the info you need to have a think about whether we’d be a good fit.
Which one of these are you going to work on? Let me know in the comments below.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this and letting me be a part of your journey in taking control of your gut, eating well and living your life.