Constipation Management Tips from a Registered Dietitian
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A Dietitians guide to help manage constipation

Person struggling with constipation

While it’s often a topic that can make people shy or embarrassed, I always joke with my clients that part of being a dietitian is talking about poop! What goes in must come out, and how our bowels move can be a key indicator for our overall well-being! Constipation can be a common gut complaint and affects millions of people worldwide. It’s important to understand all the factors that may contribute to constipation and identify a few key strategies to keep things moving smoothly. Read on to learn more if you’re wondering what a “constipation diet” looks like!  

What is Constipation?  

Constipation can mean a lot of different things to different people. The consensus for defining constipation comes from the Rome IV Diagnostic Criteria and includes:  

  • Having bowel movements less than 3 times in a week 
  • Straining or pain while having a bowel movement 
  • Feeling like your bowels have not completely evacuated  
  • Bowel movements are often hard, lumpy, or dry (Type 1 or 2 on the Bristol Stool Chart 

What Causes Constipation? 

Constipation can occur for a variety of reasons. Sometimes we refer to it as primary or secondary constipation. Primary, or functional constipation, usually occurs without any medical identified reason. Secondary constipation means that it is occurring because of an underlying medical condition (for example hypothyroidism, IBD, or diabetes) or perhaps in response to a medication, such as opioids or iron supplements. A few reasons I see functional (or primary) constipation in my practice include:  

  • A lack of fiber and variety of fiber in the diet 
  • Low fluid intake  
  • Reduced physical activity and movement throughout the day  
  • Stress and anxiety  
  • Hormone cycles (bowel patterns can change during the menstrual cycle!)  
  • Ignoring the urge to “go”  
  • Slow bowel motility  

Research suggests that identifying the right cause is essential for effective management of constipation. By addressing the root cause, we can develop a tailored approach to alleviate symptoms and improve overall bowel function. This is why a nutrition assessment can be so vital in your gut health journey, as your Dietitian can help you identify potential causes and work on solutions piece by piece.  

The Role of Nutrition in Constipation Management  

When it comes to managing constipation, dietary modifications can play a significant role. Below are my top tips to get things moving:  

  • Ensure fluid intake is adequate: Most adults need about 2-3L of fluid daily to help hydrate the body and lubricate the gut. If you are active regularly, your needs may be higher than this! Start by checking in with how much you’re drinking during the day and identifying where you may need to increase your hydration.  
  • Pump up the fiber: …But do it gently! Most North Americans do not eat enough fiber. Fiber helps with healthy gut motility and bulking up our stool. Ideally, we want to be eating 25-30 grams of fiber per day! Try adding 1-2 fiber rich foods daily for a week, and then gradually increase from there (partnered with enough fluid!) to allow the gut to adjust to this positive change! Fiber rich foods include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds!  
  • Try these foods to help constipation: Certain foods such as prunes, figs, and kiwis have natural laxative properties and can be beneficial for relieving constipation. Including these foods in your diet can provide additional support for bowel regularity. 

Other Lifestyle Strategies for Constipation Management  

In addition to dietary modifications, lifestyle changes can help manage constipation effectively. Here are a few tips to try:  

  • Embrace joyful movement: Regular physical activity stimulates bowel motility and promotes healthy digestion. Aim to incorporate movement throughout your day (besides just planned exercise!) most days of the week to support bowel function. 
  • Establish a bathroom “routine”: Try to make time for bowel movements at the same time each day, ideally after meals when the body’s natural reflexes are most active. It may take some time for your body to adjust to a new routine, so be patient and consistent. 
  • Build your stress management toolkit: Stress can impact gut function and contribute to digestive issues, so finding ways to manage stress is essential for overall well-being. Practicing relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing or meditation, can help alleviate constipation symptoms. 

In summary, constipation is a common digestive issue that can have a significant impact on quality of life. By understanding the underlying causes and implementing comprehensive management strategies, you can effectively alleviate symptoms and improve bowel function. Working with a Registered Dietitian who specializes in digestive health is a great first step to getting you more regular! Contact us today to book a gut health assessment!  

Want to make sure you are following a diet to help manage constipation? Our Dietitians can help!

Book an appointment with a Registered Dietitian on our team to help you personalize the advice for your own needs.  We specialize in weight concerns, meal planning, eating disorders, sports nutrition, digestive health, pediatric nutrition and more!

Find out more about our Dietitian Consulting for Digestive Issues

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