It is the end of January and many have been on their new eating plans for 3-4 weeks. It is highly likely that many are experiencing the uncomfortable condition of constipation. In this blog I will discuss what constipation is, some common causes, signs and symptoms, when to seek care and what you can do about it.
What is Constipation?
Constipation by definition is irregular, infrequent or difficult evacuation of the bowels, based on their normal pattern and regardless of frequency. The experience of constipation varies from one person to the next. Some evacuate their bowels multiple times per day, so even missing one day can lead to discomfort. Other’s go once or twice per week as their normal baseline, and thus could experience discomfort only after an extended period of time.
Common Non- Medical Causes of Constipation
In the absence of any medical conditions there are a variety of causes that can result in decreased movement of stool out of the body.
The following are the more common causes of constipation:
- Change in diet
- Inadequate water intake
- Inadequate fiber intake
- Decreased or change in activity level
- High protein diets
- Low carbohydrate diets
- Ignoring the urge or delaying the act
What are the Symptoms of Constipation?
The following symptoms are the most commonly reported:
- Less frequent stooling than the normal pattern
- Firmer stools
- Hard, ball like stools
- Difficult to pass stools
- Lower abdominal discomfort
- Left sided abdominal discomfort
- Feelings of bloating
- Feelings of incomplete evacuations even after going
Complications of Constipaton
While occasional constipation can be uncomfortable, persistent constipation can result in a few complications. Additionally, I have know patients to stop their weight loss programs entirely because of the resulting constipation. This defeat may result in continued poor health related to obesity and overweight complications because the condition was intolerable.
Common Complications of Constipation
- Fissures (small tears in the skin)
More serious complications of constipation
- Impaction (stool that won’t come out without assistance)
- Rectal prolapse
Prevention is Key
Like I said earlier, it is the end of January, so if you have been on a new diet to lose weight, you may have started experiencing this. If you are reading then, and you have begun to experience some of these symptoms read on to find some simple solutions to prevent the more serious complications.
In my book, Second Chance at Health- Learn to Love Active Living and Clean Eating, I recommend using a fiber supplement right from the start of a program in order to anticipate the common issue.
Prevention of Constipation During an Eating Style Change
Prevention is key to avoiding this situation. Understanding the limitation of the eating plan you are on can help identify the risk. For example, when on a low carbohydrate or higher protein diet, there is often not a lot of high fiber foods to include due to the dietary restrictions. Therefore, choosing green leafy vegetables, like kale or spinach, can boost your fiber intake without significantly increasing calories or carbohydrates.
If you currently have no issues these are some suggestions:
- Add an over the counter pill form fiber supplement (A fiber pill that has few to no carbohydrates are what I recommend as most people are watching their carbohydrate intake).
- Mirilax can also be used from the beginning of a diet if you are prone to constipation
- Choose higher fiber foods from within your diet options
- Choose fermented foods (this will normalize your gut biome and can assist in minimizing the risk for constipation)
- Drink MORE water if you are in a hot weather area or are sweating more
- Use the restroom as soon as the urge occurs
Movements to Reduce and Manage Constipation
Physical activity can improve constipation. Aerobic exercise (jogging, running, jumping jacks, rope jumping, trampoline jumping) increase the heart rate and will increase peristalsis (the wave like motion of the intestines) and this can improve and prevent repeated constipation. Basically, things get shaken up.
Mat moves that can improve digestion include: cat-cow yoga movement, flutter kicks (lying on your stomach raise your legs alternately), straight leg raises (lying on your back raise your legs to 6-8 inches off the ground and hold and then bring them up to 90 degrees and lower). You can repeat these exercises 10 times each.
Treatment of Mild Constipation
If you are experiencing some symptoms of mild constipation, then try some of these suggestions:
- Over the counter Mirilax is what I recommend for dieters. This has no carbohydrates and can be added to any fluid. Follow the instructions on the packaging and adjust accordingly.
- Add more fluids until you notice a less firm stool
- Drink hot water or hot coffee (if allowed on the diet)
- Milk of Magnesium is a liquid that can be taken that will relieve the constipation
- Magnesium Citrate is another liquid that can be taken to relieve constipation
Treatment of More Severe Symptoms
More severe symptoms will require assistance and will make it easier to ensure that prevention remains the focus.
- Suppositories- over the counter can be relieving for retained stool
- Enemas- normal saline can also be relieving for retained stool
If you need to use any of the treatments to relieve the constipation, then ensure to add Miralax daily to maintain a normal frequency after the relief is obtained.
When to Seek Further Medical Care
If you are unable to relieve yourself in spite of our efforts, you should seek medical care. It is important to identify if your symptoms are caused from something more serious than simple constipation.
Another good article can be found at: Five Super Simple Exercises to Relieve Constipation
Ensuring that your digestion remains at its best is important during a weight loss program. Follow my suggestions until you reach your goal to ensure that you feel your best every day.