written by JOSIE SANTI
Stool, bowel movements, poop—it’s the topic that has made us all giggle since our parents first read us Everybody Poops. But it’s true: everybody does, and no matter how much the topic might make you squirm, our bowel movements can give a lot of insight into our bodies. “Your digestive system is responsible for influencing total body health,” explained Heather Hanks, MS, a nutritionist with Instapot Life. “It encompasses most of your immune system, produces neurotransmitters that influence brain health, and houses your microbiome. Regularity is a sign of a properly functioning digestive system.” And if the eyes are the window to the soul, poops are the window to your digestive system.
Now that you know why you should be regular, let’s talk about how to be more regular. If you’re not going at least once every 24 hours consistently, you could probably use a little bowel movement makeover (yeah, same). I asked nutritionists, doctors, and gut health experts how we can all get a little bit more regular. Here are 11 things to try for healthier bowel movements and better digestion:
1. Drink more water
Drinking good ol’ H2O is basically a cliché at this point. Hydration seems to be the cure-all for any health woe or wellness boost, so it’s no surprise that it’s also crucial for keeping bowels moving. “When we’re dehydrated, our bodies will pull hydration from the colon to support the body’s processes,” explained Erica Zellner, a certified nutrition specialist and health coach atParsley Health. “This makes stool harder and more difficult to pass.” In other words, think of water as your body’s flushing system. Without enough water, the digestive system can’t move as efficiently, and stool is harder to pass (AKA that dreaded constipation). Zellner recommended aiming for half of your body weight in ounces per day to make sure you’re drinking enough.
2. Eat your fruits and veggies
“Eat your veggies” is not just the annoying reminder your mom used to repeat at each meal; it’s also the secret to a healthy digestive system and regular stools. “Eating whole foods that contain natural sources of fiber such as fresh fruits and vegetables is key to staying regular and supporting digestive health,” Hanks suggested. Fiber (which is also found in whole grains, legumes, and other plant foods besides fruits and vegetables) is a type of carbohydrate that the body can’t digest, so it passes through the intestine and helps push waste out of the body. If protein is the key nutrient for healthy muscles, fiber is the key nutrient for a healthy gut. Try high-fiber produce like pears, avocados, berries, artichokes, Brussels sprouts, and chickpeas.
In addition to fiber, fruits and veggies are powerful foods for the digestive system because they contain many other beneficial ingredients as well. “In addition to being high in fiber, fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants and a high water content that reduce inflammation, flush toxins, and promote digestive health,” Hank said.
4. Take (or eat) probiotics
Cara Harbstreet, MS, RD, LD, swears probiotics are the secret to better regularity and overall gut health, and since they’re literally good bacteria for the gut, it makes perfect sense that they affect bowel movements. “By incorporating probiotics into your daily routine, your gut will be happier,” she said. “Consuming products rich in probiotics can support the recolonization of friendly bacteria and may limit the growth of other bacteria in your large intestine.” The gut needs to be in tip-top shape to have healthy bowel movements, and having a good amount of good bacteria in the gut is key to keeping it healthy. Talk to your doctor about taking a probiotic supplement or try foods that naturally have probiotics like sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, and fermented veggies.
5. Manage stress
Now that you know there’s a relationship between the nervous system and regular bowel movements, it’s probably no surprise that stress can be a major factor in any constipation. “When you’re highly stressed, your body will not feel safe enough to have a bowel movement,” Zellner explained. While it may sound silly to think of how safe the body feels when trying to poop, it makes a lot of sense biologically. If we were being chased by a tiger, the digestive system would slow down so that we wouldn’t have to go to the bathroom (or a bush?) while running. These days, the threat of tigers is relatively low, and stress looks more like work deadlines and busy to-do lists, but the body doesn’t know the difference.
To get curious about how stress is affecting your digestive system, start noticing if your regularity changes, i.e. if you’re more regular on weekends and less on weekdays, or if you go less often during busier times. “Meditation and quality downtime are important to keep the body in the rest-and-digest mode instead of stress mode,” agreed Dr. Alicia Armitstead, BS, DC, of Healing Arts NYC.
6. Try magnesium citrate
If you have chronic constipation or consistently struggle with irregular bowel movements, your doctor might recommend taking magnesium citrate. Dr. Alexandra Trevisan, a functional medicine physician and chiropractor based in Los Angeles, recommended a daily magnesium citrate supplement for ongoing constipation. “It works to relax the nervous system and bowels to get things moving,” she explained. “You can only go to the bathroom in a relaxed state (we call this a parasympathetic state), which magnesium citrate helps to facilitate.” As with any supplement or dietary change, talk to your doctor to find out if magnesium citrate would be beneficial for you and what dose is best for your body.
7. Create a routine
If your schedule looks different every day, meals are all over the place, and your bedtime or wake-up time is inconsistent, your digestive system might be confused. The truth is that to have regularity with our bowel movements, we need to have regularity in our lives. “Wake up, go to bed, and eat at the same time every day—including the weekend,” suggested Varsha Khatri, MA, SYT, MCMA, FNTP, a nutritionist and gut health specialist. “Having a consistent routine establishes healthier circadian rhythms, which will help to establish a regular time to have a daily bowel movement.”
Besides just regular sleeping and eating schedules, you should also have a poop schedule to ensure that your regularity is, well, regular. Zellner suggested finding the same time daily to set aside for a relaxed bowel movement. For example, take some time in the mornings to sit on the toilet and take some deep breaths (even if you don’t feel the need to) so your body starts to understand that it has the time to go.
8. Incorporate healthy fats
If you haven’t gotten the gist by now, what you eat is crucial to how regular you are. Unfortunately, it’s not a coincidence if you get a little backed up on vacations while eating unlimited pasta, alcohol, and desserts (guilty). Besides a high-fiber diet with fruits and vegetables, eating enough healthy fats can also help increase regularity. As Laura Zea, MS, explained, healthy fats help your large intestine’s motility. “If you are feeling constipated, a diet too low in fats may be responsible,” she said. Eat healthy fats like olive oil, avocados, nuts, and seeds with every meal to avoid getting backed up and help promote regular bowel movements.
9. Switch to room-temperature water
So we’ve already covered that the amount of water you drink is crucial for regularity, but thetemperature of the water you drink can also make a difference. “One of the best ways to stay regular is switching to room temperature or hot water instead of ice water,” said Dr. Ellie Heintze, ND, LAc, a naturopathic doctor and licensed acupuncturist. “Ice water can be like a shock to the system and might slow digestion, while the body uses warm or room-temp water more efficiently.” The most important tip is that your body is staying hydrated, so if ice water feels refreshing and room temperature water just isn’t satisfying, drink whatever water feels best for you. But if you enjoy warm lemon water or don’t mind drinking room-temp, try experimenting to see if it makes any difference for your body.
10. Move your body
Turns out, digestion is not just about what you put in your body but also about the way you move your body. “Exercise helps constipation by lowering the time it takes food to move through the large intestine,” explained Jennifer Robinson, MD, to WebMD. “This limits the amount of water your body absorbs from the stool.” In other words, bowel movements are more likely to be passed easily when exercising consistently. They will also move through the body more quickly. “A sedentary lifestyle can cause digestion disruption,” agreedLauren Twigge, MCN, RDN, LD. “An easy way to support healthy digestion (and stay regular) is by staying active.” Remember this: A sedentary life means sedentary stool.
11. Don’t forget to breathe
Yes, your bowel movements might even be affected by the way you breathe. Of course, our bodies know to consistently breathe without having to think about it (thank you, body!). But most of the time, mindless breathing is shallow and doesn’t get into the deep belly breathing that helps relieve tension. “Deep breathing helps relax the body and increase blood flow, making it easier to have a bowel movement,” Zellner advised. This is why diaphragmatic breathing is often prescribed to GI patients, and the4-7-8 technique has been suggested to help ease constipation. Deep breathing is another way to give your digestive system a little extra love and relieve any stress (even if it’s subconscious stress or tension) that might be contributing to constipation.
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Eat fruits, nuts, grains, and vegetables
This adds bulk to your stool, which stimulates the bowels to move and propel your stool forward. Foods that contain fiber include: fruits, such as strawberries, raspberries, and apples. nuts and seeds, such as pistachios, almonds, or sunflower seeds.
Eat high-fiber foods such as whole-wheat grains, fresh vegetables, and beans. Use products containing psyllium, such as Metamucil, to add bulk to the stools. Try to drink 2 to 3 liters of fluid a day (unless you have a medical condition that requires you to restrict your fluid intake).
Whole wheat bread, pasta, bran and cereals – Adding weight to stools to speed up passing through the intestines, whole wheat foods are a great way to encourage bowel movements. A clever way to add even more fibre to your diet is to choose whole wheat bread and cereals that contain nuts and seeds.
How to Empty Your Bowels Without Straining - YouTube
Try to poop at the same time every day (such as in the morning at home, after you eat breakfast). This can help to train your body to go at the same time in a place where you're more comfortable. Go to the bathroom when you feel the need. Try to not hold it in or put off a bowel movement.
- Increase your fiber intake. Adding fiber to your diet increases the weight of your stool and speeds its passage through your intestines. ...
- Exercise most days of the week. Physical activity increases muscle activity in your intestines. ...
- Don't ignore the urge to have a bowel movement.
Lemon water. Lemon (and other citrus fruits) contain high doses of vitamin C, as well as water-soluble fiber. Citrus can also sometimes stimulate your colon. That's probably why some people use warm lemon water as a way to get things moving when constipation becomes a problem.
The fats in olive oil can help smooth the insides of the bowel, making it easier for stools to pass. It can also help the stool hold in more water, keeping it softer. One tablespoon of olive oil, taken on an empty stomach in the morning, may relieve constipation for many healthy adults.
- #1. Metamucil.
- #2. Benefiber.
- #3. Citrucel.
For most people constipation rarely causes complications, but people with long-term constipation can develop: haemorrhoids (piles) faecal impaction (where dry, hard stools collect in the rectum) bowel incontinence (the leakage of liquid stools)
Enema and laxatives
The next step may be to evacuate the stool with a combination of enemas and oral laxatives. An enema is an injection of fluid into the rectum. Rectal enemas are usually given first. That is followed by an oral laxative (usually polyethylene glycol).
- Broccoli. There are so many different ways to add broccoli to your diet. ...
- Dark, leafy greens. Eating dark, leafy greens like spinach, kale, and chard is a great way to cleanse your colon. ...
- Milk. You can use milk for more than just your morning cereal. ...
- Raspberries. ...
Fibre-rich foods with a high water content, such as raw carrots, apples with the skin or peel on, and avocados, are all great sources of fibre to help get things moving, says Dr Christine Lee, a gastroenterologist at the Cleveland Clinic.
“Drinking early morning coffee works synergistically with gut motility to create healthy bowel movements,” Pasricha says. Another effective trick is a glass of warm salt water (with a little lemon to improve the taste). Although it won't “detox” your body as some claim, it definitely helps get things moving.
Place a firm pillow between your knees and hug one to support your spine. While you sleep on your left side at night, gravity can help take waste on a trip through the ascending colon, then into the transverse colon, and finally dump it into the descending colon — encouraging a trip to the bathroom in the morning.
Constipation occurs when bowel movements become less frequent and stools become difficult to pass. It happens most often due to changes in diet or routine, or due to inadequate intake of fiber. You should call your doctor if you have severe pain, blood in your stools, or constipation that lasts longer than three weeks.
Most professionals recommend spending no more time on the toilet than it takes to pass a stool. Studies have shown that the average bowel movement takes 12 seconds. Sometimes it does take longer, however, so at maximum, you should not spend more than 10 minutes on the toilet.