Constipation and Bowel Retraining


As most of you know, naturopathic doctors LOVE to talk to you about your poop almost as much as we love to talk about kale. We want to know all the details! Color, consistency, regularity… the reasons for this are many, but pooping plays an important role in your health. It helps with ridding the body of cellular waste, excess hormones, and other byproducts of physiologic processes. Your stools should be formed, easy to pass, medium brown, and occur 1-3 times/day. But what do you do if you’re not regular? Is there a way to treat it without doing laxatives? The answer is yes! There is a way to restore bowel regularity. The step wise process below will help set your body up for easy regularity.

But first, a note on laxatives,  fiber, and hydration. Laxatives can be very helpful, but they also can have complications. If you take too much, or the laxative is too strong, you can have diarrhea. In some people they cause painful cramping and urgency. Not fun! The other problem with laxatives is that people can become dependent on them and unable to have a bowel movement without the stimulation of the medicine.

Fiber is important for helping have regular bowel movements. Food sources include vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. However! If you are already constipated, adding more material may not be a good thing. Stick to leafy greens for added fiber if you are struggling with constipation and add in more of the others after you have a bowel movement.

Hydration is also important! Did you know your body uses your colon as a fluid reservoir? If it needs water in other places, it takes it out of the colon, making your stool dry and hard. Staying well hydrated will help to make your stools soft and easy to move!

And now for what you actually came for: bowel retraining! This step wise process will help retrain your bowel function to occur with regularity and completion. If you don’t notice it working right away, don’t give up! Some people can take 4-6 weeks before their body gets the memo and they notice an improvement in their bowel function.

  1. Pick a time of day that you know you are consistently available for 5 minutes every day. For example, right after you wake up, or maybe at lunch. The nervous system governing your digestive tract will function optimally if it ‘knows’ it will have the opportunity to move at a certain time of day.
  2. Use a squatty potty, blocks, or bricks to elevate your feet when you’re sitting on the toilet. When you’re squatting, it allows the puborectal muscle that maintains continence to relax, allowing for more complete elimination.
  3. Pick out some relaxing entertainment to enjoy while you’re in the restroom. I recommend against social media, because it can be a bit of an emotional roller coaster: one friend is celebrating a new baby in the family, the next is angry about a bill congress passed, then someone else’s dog died, then another friend got a job they wanted. That’s a lot of ups and downs that your brain and gut’s neurology is responding to. Try a book of poetry or short stories, or some peaceful music.
  4. Now, for those 5 minutes, just sit on the toilet. Don’t push, don’t strain, just sit there with your knees up and enjoy relaxing with your entertainment. At the end of 5 minutes, get up, suit up, flush the toilet, wash your hands, and leave. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve gone or not. The idea is to train your body and brain to recognize these signals as an indication that it’s a good time to move your bowels.

If you are dependent on laxatives, you can continue them with this method, and slowly taper them off when you begin having regular bowel movements. You may want to consider trying a gentle bowel moving tea before going to bed, so your bowels are primed to go as part of that 5 minutes in the morning. If you go longer than 3 or 4 days without a bowel movement, see your healthcare practitioner for assistance.

As usual, this post is for general information purposes and does not constitute a personal recommendation or prescribed plan. There are many things that can contribute to bowel irregularity, such as those listed above, food sensitivities, or other more serious health concerns. If you would like some help with your digestive concerns, please make an appointment. I love helping people with digestive concerns, including constipation, diarrhea, Crohn’s, IBS, IBD, UC, and others, so please don’t be shy! 🙂

Happy healing,

Dr. Tremblay

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