Constipation is a common digestive problem that most of us will have experienced at some point in our lives. Constipation can have many causes, the most common of which are not eating enough fibre, not drinking enough fluids, or as a side-effect of some medical conditions or medications. In some circumstances, a combination of these factors may cause constipation.
If you feel like you’re going to the toilet less often than usual to empty your bowels, are finding that passing stools has become more hard or painful, are straining more or unable to completely empty your bowels – it is very likely that you are constipated.
Here are five diet and lifestyle tips to help you manage your constipation:
1. Increase your intake of fibre
Fibre is the edible part of a plant that moves through our digestive system undigested, therefore helping to move things through the digestive system by adding bulk and softening stool. You should generally aim for 30g of fibre per day. It is vital to remember to gradually increase fibre alongside an adequate intake of fluids in order to prevent further symptoms such as wind, bloating and diarrhoea. High fibre foods include fruits, vegetables, beans, pulses, oats, nuts, seeds and wholegrain cereals.
Some examples of these foods are:
Wholemeal or granary bread, wholegrain or brown rice, wholegrain pasta, potatoes with skin
Oats, barley, quinoa, buckwheat, freekah and wheat bran cereals
Lentils, beans and peas
Fresh and dried fruit and vegetables – the skin of fruit and veg contains lots of fibre
Linseeds and chia seeds (whole or ground) - it would be best to start with a ½ teaspoon a day and build up to 1 tablespoon per day. Ensure you are having at least one glass (300mls) of fluid with each tablespoon of linseeds or chia seeds.
2. Increase your fluid intake
Aim for at least 2 litres or 8 glasses of fluid per day. Your fluid intake does not have to made up of only water. Other suitable fluids include juice, squash, milk, herbal tea and decaffeinated hot drinks.
3. Exercise regularly and keep active
Physical activity helps move things through your digestive system, which means this can aid more regular bowel movements. Try to find a form of activity that you can manage and enjoy! Any physical exercise counts, including walking. If this is an area you would like to work towards, maybe start by avoiding long periods of sitting down by taking mini standing/walking breaks every 30-60 minutes.
4. Toilet positioning and timing
It is important to listen to your body and follow its natural pattern. If you feel the urge to open your bowels, do it! You may be worsening your constipation by delaying or ignoring the urge. Also, the position you sit on the toilet can affect the speed and ease of passing stool. Check your positioning:
5. Use laxatives if necessary
Laxatives can soften stools and make them easier to pass. Some fruits and dried fruits contain sorbitol, which is a naturally occurring laxative. This can be found in prunes, apricots and pears. In some cases, you may need to make use of over the counter or prescribed laxatives. It’s important that this is discussed with your GP.
If you would like further diet and lifestyle advice, see your GP or get in touch with us for a more in-depth assessment and management plan from a Registered Dietitian.