Constipation. It’s not something we like to talk about, but it’s an issue that many of us experience and it’s far from pleasant.
While the medical definition of constipation is fewer than 3 bowel movements per week, functionally you’re considered constipated if you go a full day without a bowel movement. While this is considered “normal” by our medical establishment, it’s far from optimal. You want to be moving your bowels without effort 1 to 3 times a day. If that’s not happening, or if you have to do a wild song and dance to have things “go” (a big cup of coffee, a heaping spoonful of Metamucil, an epic bathroom session and so on), then there’s something wrong.
From a health perspective constipation is more than just an uncomfortable annoyance. It’s actually quite serious and can be the precursor to a whole host of subsequent problems from diverticulitis to parasites. Your digestion is a carefully orchestrated series of events designed for your body to break down and assimilate the nutrients from your food, and then discard any waste matter. When this waste matter sits and collects rather than moves through, your body will slowly reabsorb a lot of the toxic matter. This will have serious consequences to your health if it continues over the long term.
The good news is that more often than not you can take matters into your own hands and resolve constipation yourself. Here are 15 things you can try to get your bowels moving.
1) Drink more water.
This is perhaps the easiest and most obvious thing to try. Constipation is a classic sign of dehydration.
2) Eat good quality fats.
This one comes as a surprise to many folks, but it’s a really important and often overlooked aspect of our digestion. Here’s why: when you eat fat, your gallbladder squirts bile into the top of your small intestine, where it breaks down the fats you ate and escorts toxins out of your body. Bile stimulates peristalsis – the gentle muscular contractions responsible for moving food through your digestive tract. Without fat, your body doesn’t secrete enough bile, which slows this whole process down.
3) Make sure you’re getting enough fiber.
I’m not talking about eating a bowl of All Bran for breakfast or taking some fiber supplement. I’m talking about the fiber in the whole foods in your diet – preferably vegetables, not grains (which can, counter-intuitively, be very constipating). Along with that fiber make sure you’re drinking enough water! Fiber without sufficient water actually makes your constipation worse.
4) Eliminate gluten.
One of the most constipating foods I’ve ever encountered is gluten. For many people, it is what it sounds like: “glue.” For this and many other reasons you can read about here, I recommend eliminating it.
5) Oil pull.
This ancient Ayurvedic cleansing technique has always worked wonders for me. Here’s how you do it: first thing in the morning before drinking or eating anything and before brushing your teeth, put a spoonful of oil in your mouth (I like to use coconut oil, but any good quality oil will do) and swish it around for 20-30 minutes. Toxins and bacteria are attracted to the oil, and you will “pull” them out of the deep crevasses between teeth and gums that you simply can’t access with your toothbrush or dental floss. DO NOT SWALLOW. Spit the oil into the garbage (not the sink or you’ll clog it!) and then brush your teeth. You’ll have a beautifully clean mouth and the mild detoxifying effect of the oil pulling stimulates your bowels.
Exercise – aerobic exercise in particular – is a bowel stimulant, as any runner will attest. I find that anything that has you bouncing stimulates the bowels most effectively as it stimulates your lymphatic system as well. So: jump rope, do some jumping jacks, hit your kid’s trampoline, grab a pogo stick, or just go for a jog!
7) Drink some fresh green juice.
I love my home-juiced green juice for lots of reasons, but this is one of my favorites. Green juices are mildly detoxifying, which will stimulate your bile flow. Want to pack an even bigger punch? Include beet greens in the mix.
Most cultures around the world squat when they move their bowels rather than sit on a toilet. This isn’t just due to a lack of modern bathroom equipment, it’s actually structurally much more conducive for your bowels to eliminate. Don’t worry, you don’t have to give up your beloved toilet to achieve this posture. Check out the squatty potty – we have one and have never looked back.
This one’s easier said than done for certain personalities and schedules, but it’s really important nonetheless. Your digestion is a parasympathetic process. This means that your body needs to be in a relaxed state, not a stress state, for it to function properly. When it’s time to move your bowels, make sure you’ve got enough time to give your body the space to do what it needs. Take a few deep breaths to shift into a parasympathetic mode and trust that your body can and will do what needs to be done. Bonus – Use Parasympathetic essential oil blend specifically designed to aid the body into a parasympathetic mode by applying it to the mastoid bone behind your ear, which stimulates the vagus nerve.
10) Eat your probiotics.
According to Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, creator of the GAPS diet, constipation is always a sign of deficient gut flora – those beneficial bacteria that keep our intestines functioning optimally. Make sure you’re getting lots of probiotics in your diet – cultured veggies, kombucha, water kefir, and beet kvass are especially helpful. You can also supplement with a quality probiotic supplement. Here is my favorite.
11) Avoid constipating foods.
We already talked about eliminating gluten from your diet, but there are other foods that can be constipating for some people. Dairy, grains, and potatoes are among the most likely culprits.
12) Add soaked chia or flax seeds to your diet.
Both chia and flax seeds are very fibrous and good sources of essential fatty acids, which means they stimulate bile production. We keep a jar of them in some water in the fridge and add them to smoothies. Remember to drink lots of water with them!
13) Give yourself an abdominal massage.
You can coax your bowels to move by giving yourself a gentle abdominal massage. Start in the lower right hand side of your belly, just on the inside of your right hip bone where your colon starts, and gently move upwards toward the bottom of your right rib cage. Then move across your belly to the left just under the rib cage, and then down the left side to the inside of your hip bone. It is very important that you ONLY go in this direction. I have seen clients get extremely constipated when massaged in the other direction.
14) Use essential oils.
Ginger, fennel, tarragon, anise seed and peppermint essential oils can all be very helpful with constipation. I use an oil blend by Vibrant Blue Oils called Digest, which includes all of the above plus juniper berry (which supports detoxification). I like to put a couple of drops in my hands and inhale deeply. In addition to Digest, I also recommend Gallbadder (supports nausea) and Parasympathetic (supports relaxation necessary for digestion) essential oil blends from Vibrant Blue Oils.
15) Supplement with magnesium.
Constipation can be a sign of magnesium deficiency, which is extremely common in our culture (stress and sugar consumption deplete magnesium, to name two of the many reasons for this deficiency). My preferred method of supplementing is by using a magnesium oil spray (like this one). Your body will take what it needs through the skin and leave the rest. Taken orally, magnesium can cause diarrhea, which might seem like it solves the problem but it inspires this response long before you’ve actually supplemented sufficiently.
Still can’t get things moving?
If you’ve tried all of the above and you still can’t get things moving, then you need to do some further clinical investigation to identify the underlying problem. If this is the case, I strongly recommend contacting a practitioner for some additional support, as it could be a sign of undiagnosed food sensitivities, sluggish bile, liver congestion, hormonal imbalance, a sluggish thyroid, a deficiency in pancreatic enzymes and/or hydrochloric acid, or gut dysbiosis.
Like what you're reading? Don't miss out . . .
Enter your info to be the first to know when we publish new insights, articles and recipes.
Plus, we'll send you our exclusive Kitchen Essentials List as a welcome gift (because a well-stocked kitchen is the most reliable short-cut to healthy, delicious eating).