I Am Constipated, Hear Me Moan

I am at my worst when I am constipated- and I will talk your ear off about it. Why? I’m a firm believer in the art of talking about poop ““ it’s such a common thing, but the conversations around it can be somewhat secretive, especially the issue of constipation. But I like to be open about it: “Hi! My name is Coco and I have about 2-3 inches of fecal matter compacted up in my lower intestine and not only does it make me feel like I’m carrying twins, but I’m also gassy, cranky, and it hurts.” Soon as you break that ice, people can turn into the Wikipedia of constipation cure-alls. The wealth of knowledge overfloweth and so will you soon enough.

First off – what is constipation?  Many of us know it as that brick-in-the-gut feeling we experience if we have eaten foods outside our normal diet, traveled, and been stressed or sick. There is dyschezia , your laymen’s constipation ( otherwise known as costiveness or dyssynergic defaecation ), and obstructed defecation. Dyschezia is your generic constipation caused by diet, hormones, or medication. Obstructed defecation is impacted feces – this is serious and while rare, is considered a medical emergency and usually affects those who have recently given birth, have structural damage in the large and small intestines, have colon-rectal cancer, or have abused laxatives.  If you suspect that you have impacted feces (haven’t had a bowel movement in two weeks, have severe pain and blood in what stool you are able to pass), see someone immediately.

Talking about constipation can be a grey area – everyone’s body is different, so the typical wisdom of going three times a week can be confusing to those who feel that their bodies aren’t on schedule. Some people go twice a day, some go every day, some three times a week. The key is to be able to track your cycle when you are at a “peak” mode or when you feel like you aren’t stressed, you’re eating well and are all together regular.

So how do you know you are constipated? It’s usually (and uncomfortably) obvious, but symptoms usually include gassiness, tender and irritated abdomen, straining during bowel movements, hard stools, and a swollen stomach. These symptoms can all come from multiple and varied reasons – from eating disorders to depression. But most often, constipation is caused by very basic things – not getting enough water, inadequate fiber in your diet, and lack of mobility. These things, while simple, can be easy to overlook, whether due to financial reasons, the stress of our everyday lives or just convenience. But eventually, we have to pay the piper with that uncomfortable feeling.

The easiest way to combat constipation is to prevention: fruits and veggies, whole grains, water, and walking are top-notch ways to keep your colon happy.  But what about when you just need relief? This is where we can get creative. My collection of constipation cures read like an encyclopedia, collected from many people from all over this great earth.

* Fresh fruits and vegetables: Lentils (legumes), brussel sprouts, grapes, cabbage, collard greens, beans, and berries, always have a magical effect on my delicate little intestines. Not only do they taste delicious, they are chock full of fiber and act like Hulk to a brick wall, Hulk-smashing the way into relief.

* Dried Fruits: Prunes = manna from heaven. Also, dried figs, apples, apricots, dates, plums and anything you can afford in your bulk food aisle. A key to remember – make sure they don’t have extra sugar added and if you can, avoid dehydrated food with sulfur dioxide (preservative that is somewhat shady).

* Water: Lots of water. Water is what your body is desperately lacking and the grease to your intestine’s wheels.

* Other Helpful Liquids: Electrolyte-rich liquids like coconut water and Gatorade will fill up you. Electrolyte imbalance happens if all hydration in your body goes towards trying to get the feces out of your digestive system, leaving you a bit groggy and tired feeling. Prune juice is a great alternative to getting fiber into your colon. Ginger tea or licorice tea soothe the irritation stomach while doing magic on your colon. Also, my personal miracle cure – coffee. A cup of strongly brewed coffee has more than once sent me racing to the bathroom in a fit of joy and fear.  If you aren’t a coffee drinker, try Yerba Mate and black or green tea. Kefir or goat’s milk are also two wonderful liquids chock full of good bacteria to help digest.

* Supplements: If you can, everyone should have a bottle of pro-biotics or acidophilus in their bathroom cabinet. These helpful little microbes eat away at the junk in your tummy and intestines and replace it with helpful bacteria, dedicated to your inner region’s health. Can’t splurge on them? Try plain, unsweetened yogurt or kefir. Fage and Lifeway are both great and inexpensive. If you want to be super fancy, you can order kefir grains online and make your own kefir (another article, another day) and save on money. Also, fiber pills are great to have around – Metamucil makes a one a day supplement, as well as a powder that keeps the belly happy. Always a key with taking fiber supplements – drink lots of water, otherwise, fiber can just build up and get “stuck” in your colon, adding to your distress.

* Let’s Get Physical: Go for a walk. Stretch. If these prove to be uncomfortable, try a colonic massage. Lie on your back and stretch as you can , slowly massaging your abdomen. Take three fingers from each hand and slowly put pressure on your lower abdomen and start rubbing in circles. If it hurts, stop. Try this for five minutes, stretch and repeat.

* I might hurt someone I’m so desperate: A homegrown cure of my mother’s – mix 2 tablespoons of sea salt into two hot cups of water (not too hot). Drink. Repeat twice. Now drinking this always brings feelings of total nausea and disgust, but this works.  The rest of the body can’t properly absorb the saline solution, so it acts as a waterslide for your pooping problems. The key here is to make sure you drink a lot of it, otherwise it just sits in your stomach and you feel sick. If this method sounds like slow water torture, Milk of Magnesia is a great alternative and acts in a similar manner.

* The sweet aftermath and where do I go from here: Again, get familiar with your triggers. Dairy gets you down? Try to avoid it or use products made with goat’s , rice, almond,  or hemp milk and beloved popular, favorite, soy milk.  These are all easier to digest than cow’s milk. White flour demons run amok in your belly? Whole wheat flour is the way to go – white flour, while it makes the most delicious pizza crust I have ever imagined, is the equivalent to glue. It has been processed to hell and lacks in the nutrients that whole wheat flour has. Incorporate probiotics into your daily routine – they keep you regular. Drink more water. Green and ginger tea once or twice a day can help you as far as cramps go.

Always avoid laxatives unless it’s an emergency. Laxatives can often aggravate your symptoms and make it harder for your bowls to empty themselves in the future. Laxative abuse is one of the worst things you can do to your bowels and it will cause long-term damage.  This includes emollient gels, glycerin suppositories, anything with sorbitol or polyethylene glycol, and “natural” laxatives like senna, castor oil and cascara. These act as stimulants and irritants, causing your colon to retract and fully empty –  a “You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here” cleanser, getting rid of good gut bacteria, electrolytes and leading to dehydration and diarrea. If you do need an “everything must go now” cure, use something that isn’t harmful, like Milk of Magnesia.

The encyclopedia of constipation is a full-time growing source and is always in need of more options and tried-and-true cures. As much as something might work for one person, it might not help another. What are some cures that have freed you up on the days where you feel like you have been carrying around two weeks’ worth of French fries and Pop-Tarts?




12 replies on “I Am Constipated, Hear Me Moan”

After I had my gallbladder out I couldn’t go. Until I would eat something that would trigger me and I’d go 7 times in 2 hours. And then I’d be stuck again for a few days until I ate the wrong thing.. I started taking Milk of Magnesia every night for a week straight (the lowest dose) and got regulated. It allowed me to poo every day, but still allowed for a trigger attack without the backlash.

I have finally figured out all of my triggers (well, most of them) and don’t usually have my constipation issues. Unless it’s right before my period.

I suffered with constipation problems toward the end of my senior year in college. I tried laxatives, drinking tea and other remedies until I came across an article about gluten sensitivity (not Celiac’s Disease). I cut out AP flour and eliminated pasta, bread, and other sources of gluten. So far, I haven’t had any of the symptoms and my changing moods have subsided.

I do! (And so does my boyfriend, on our second date he observed what I was eating and asked if I had IBS… it was a bit shocking and awkward). Have you read the book Eating for IBS? It really really helped me choose foods that were easy to digest rather than hard on it. Mainly, I cook without dairy, red meat, and butterfat, and try my darndest to avoid coffee… and that seems to make things better. Is there anything you do foodwise to help? I have also taken metamucil on and off throughout the years, though with the modified diet things are a lot more controlled and I don’t need it.

I haven’t! I mostly manage myself through trial and error- I stay as far away from most ground meats as I can, never eat large quantities of protein at any one time, and don’t have milk first thing in the morning if I can avoid it. I do okay with coffee if it’s first thing in the morning, though, because I’ve generally just arrived at work and am in a pretty good mood. Smoothies with lots of berries and spinach in them are also a godsend, they clean me out completely and my body is happy and regulated through the rest of the day.

My BF also likely has IBS, though he’s never been diagnosed. Worse than mine, too, since he has no concept of managing it yet. He doesn’t do much cooking for himself yet (lives at home), but we’ll get to a good management point together someday.

When and how did you develop yours? I started showing symptoms the summer after I flunked out of uni and had to petition to get back in- I was also working on my feet all day and would end up doubled over in pain behind my deli counter trying to catch my breath.

I agree with you about the smoothies! I actually just started having them this year, and they are excellent on the tummy.

I started having tummy trouble in about 8th grade, my Dad also has IBS so it wasn’t a huge surprise, but it didn’t get super bad till a couple of years ago- the summer between the first and second year of my masters’ degree. I got dysentry on a research trip, and even though I recovered from it in a month or so, things were never the same after that just a lot more cramping and pain, I had the battery of lovely tests done involving putting barium into either end of the digestive tract- and that was when I got the diagnosis. At that point, I started modifying my diet more agressively- I still have bad ibs days but they are farther spaced out now.

It’s kind of a strange thing to have, because there isn’t really anything you can take for it. (I was at one point perscribed a super strong painkiller- but that was a narcotic and not something I could take regularly and still be functional).

I in no way endorse this solution, but I always find that about 5 cigarettes in a row gets things moving. I’m convinced that I was skinnier when I smoked more regularly not because I ate less, but because I shit more.

Disclaimer: I am bad at science.

A (hopefully tactful) note about the last-resort saline solution: Be sure you have a few hours to rest and stay very near a bathroom. Saltwater truly liquifies the contents of your intestines, meaning that you’ll be passing whatever you’ve eaten in the past few days suspended in 16-24 oz of water. When you start feeling the need to go- run don’t walk. It may take a few trips to the bathroom. Afterward, your colon may continue to absorb whatever water you drink, so keep drinking pure water until you have to urinate so you don’t risk further dehydration.

Also, if you’re not home alone during this process, make sure the person living with you already loves you unconditionally. It’s extremely effective, but not pretty.

The first time I ever did the home saline mix I thought it would be a one go type of thing, easily managed and I would continue the rest of my day, care free.

I was wrong.

While it got rid of some nasty gunk, I pretty much camped out on my bathroom floor on a few towels, blindly calling out ” Why have you forsaken me ? ” to my cats who would enter the bathroom every now and then , but quickly flee. It’s not pleasant, but if you have been really sick or are just desperate, its a sure fire cure.

sigh, thank you for this article. people should talk about this more.
i get stressed out/anxious/depressed A LOT and it effects my GI tract hardcore.
i try to talk to my boyfriend about my constipation issues, but he’s never interested. ;)

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