It’s funny because we’re all embarrassed to talk about our bowel habits, even though we ALL HAVE THEM!
Ok, not everyone is embarrassed. I remember a certain episode on Oprah (probably with my least favorite Dr. in America if you know what I mean : – P ), where there was a lot of poop talk. Size, shape, etc. I will NOT go into all that!
Actually I always make my patients feel comfortable about discussing bowel habits by telling them –
I’m a dietitian. It’s our JOB to talk about poop!
Constipation is a problem for many people. Especially cancer survivors who are on pain meds, or have had a surgery, or treatments that affect the GI tract. I had some not fun bathroom moments after giving birth that made me empathize a lot with my patients! Prior to my personal experience, I had no idea what my patients were going through. I would give them the advice I learned in school and from medical education, but until I experienced it myself, I really had no idea!
Since this is such a common issue for people, I thought I would answer the question with some easy, practical suggestions. These are the things that I found to work for me and are also the things that I know to be the best strategy nutritionally.
First of all, we need to answer the question…
What is “normal”?
There are a lot of opinions regarding what’s “normal” when it comes to bowel habits. Remember, every body is different! Normal frequency can be anywhere from 3 bowel movements a day to 3 a week. If you aren’t straining when you pass stool, then you’re bowel habits are likely fine.
However, if you notice a change in your bowel habits, be sure to let your medical team know. A change in bowel habits can indicate a problem that needs to be checked out. And for people undergoing cancer treatment I highly recommend keeping a log of your bowel movements so that you are aware as soon as it becomes longer than normal since your last bowel movement. Early intervention is key in managing constipation!
What Can You Do to Keep Bowel Movements “Normal”?
The key to bowel movements is to have enough bulk to stimulate your GI tract to move the stool through.
Did you know that the recommended grams of daily fiber for optimal health is 21g – 38g?
The problem is that the amount of daily fiber the average American gets, (according to a USDA survey) is 16g.
SOoooo…. if your body needs between 21g – 38g and you give it 16g… what can you expect? Certainly there’s more to it than just fiber, but that is an important place to take a look.
We will talk more about fiber foods and keeping a healthy colon next time. For now, I want to focus on my recommended 7 habits to promote regularity. These are the building blocks to regular, healthy bowel movements.
7 Daily Habits for Bowel Regularity
- Physical activity:
Aim for at least 30 minutes total for the day (get up and move 2-3 minute for every hour of the day that you are awake).
At least 64 ounces of water each day.
- Regular meals and snacks:
Eating at about the same time each day helps regulate the GI tract. It’s also good for blood sugar management and providing a regular source of energy!
- Have a high fiber breakfast:
Choose a cereal or healthy granola with nuts that provides at least 5g of fiber each morning.
Eat 2-3 dried prunes a day.
- Fruits & Vegetables:
Eat 4-5 cups of fruits and vegetables (combined) a day for optimal bowel health.
- Beans, nuts & seeds:
Have a serving of beans, nuts or seeds every day.
If you follow my food intake guide, you will get at least 25g of fiber! WAY BETTER THAN THE TYPICAL AMERICAN!
- Breakfast = 5g +
- 3 prunes = 2g
- 4 cups fruit + veg = 12g +
- ½ cup beans = 6g
And let me remind you that ANY VEGETABLE IS BETTER THAN NO VEGETABLE. Whether you eat organic, or conventional, or out of your yard, or down the street, or from the grocery is up to you. What is important is that you EAT THE VEGGIES! Choose what works for you and enjoy them!
Not managed with diet?
- Sometimes you’re doing all you can, but it still isn’t working. Or you’re not in a place in your life that you can do everything on the list.
- If you are following the recommendations for bowel management and still don’t have regular bowel movements, try using a psyllium husk powder daily. Konsyl is a brand I use that offers psyllium husk fiber with no added sugars or artificial sweeteners. Yes, it’s gritty.. but guess what? It Works! When I need it, I mix it in about 6 oz. of orange juice, take it down as fast as possible and chase it with 2 big glasses of water. If you use a fiber supplement be sure to DRINK ENOUGH WATER WITH IT. If not… you’re adding fuel to the fire.
- If you have no bowel movement for 3 days, ask your medical team about using a laxative as part of your bowel management regimen.
ONE MORE TIP! (added 11/13/2018)
A reader, and pelvic floor physical therapist, who is also a cancer survivor, made a very important point!
“As a physical therapist with a specialty in pelvic health who happens to be a cancer survivor I can offer additional practical information. If these guidelines don’t work, then something else about the function of the anatomy may be amiss. For example, if a body has been traumatized by cancer treatments, then the muscles of the pelvic floor may stop working correctly. These muscles are supposed to relax during a bowel movement, if they don’t then straining and/or constipation may result. So if the dietary fiber followed by use of laxatives don’t work, then remember a referral to a PT may be in order.”
Hope this helps! If you have any tips that worked for you, I’d love to hear them.
PS. Are you a dietitian or healthcare provider and want this information in a printable form for your patients? Email me!