It is the most wonderful time of year, right?! While this time of year can spark holiday joy, it can also come with holiday stress, which can cause or worsen constipation. No one wants this gift of constipation this holiday season, so what can you do to keep your bowels joyous during the holidays as well?
First, let’s talk about bowel health and what is considered “normal” for our bodies.
For most people, natural bowel movements occur anywhere from 3 times per day to 3 times per week.
Bowel movements should be formed, soft and smooth, like a snake or the shape and consistency of a ripe banana, and should be easy to pass, without straining or pain.
You should feel completely satisfied after emptying your bowels.
Having hard and firm stools that are difficult to pass, or feeling like you have to go multiple times a day to feel that you are completely empty is an indication of constipation, even if you are going “regularly”. Incorporating these tips this holiday season can help to keep things moving into 2024!
Build a Good Bowel Routine
Our bowels love a routine, and this is one reason why we might struggle with constipation during the holidays, due to the shifts in our diets and travel. Try your best to stick to your routine to help keep you consistent. For example, if you are a morning pooper, try to wake up a little earlier to give yourself enough time to have breakfast and a warm cup of coffee, tea, or water with lemon. Drinking a warm beverage and eating will stimulate your digestive tract and encourage the bowels to start moving. After your breakfast, go sit on the toilet for 10 minutes, with or without an urge. This will encourage your body to respond routinely. And remember, your bowels do not like stress! So if you wake up feeling stressed or are rushing out of the house to get the day started, your bowels are less likely to move before you leave.
Pro tip: At night when you go to bed, try to massage you belly to stimulate movement in your bowels to be ready for a good poo in the AM.
Pay Attention to your Stool Consistency
The consistency of our stool can tell us a lot about the status of our bowel health. Ideal stool consistency should be smooth, formed and soft (like a snake or ripe banana). The Bristol Stool Scale is a great way to monitor the consistency of our stool, with the ideal poop being Type 4 on the Bristol Stool Scale. We want
our stool consistency to be just right - not too hard and not too loose. If your stools are too hard, it is important to drink plenty of water - about half your bodyweight in ounces is a good goal. Carry a water bottle around with you to help encourage and remind you to take sips throughout the day. You can also add a magnesium citrate supplement to help draw in more water to your bowels.
If your stools are too loose, increasing your fiber intake from natural food sources such as fruits, vegetables, seeds, and whole grains will help bulk up your stool, making it easier to pass. You can also try adding a supplement like psyllium husk or Benefiber. Most brands also make convenient travel packets!
Bowels Are High Maintenance
Our bowels are very high maintenance. When they tell you they need to go to the bathroom, it is important that you listen. Consistently ignoring the urge to go can cause or worsen constipation. Your bowels also do not respond well to stress. With all the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, it can be easy to fall off of our self care routines. Make sure you are still prioritizing time to check in with yourself, whether that be setting aside a few minutes to focus on your breathing, or going out for a 10 minute walk, it is so important to take care of your body and mind during this time of year. Movement can be a great way to incorporate both self care and improve the motility of your GI tract. Especially if you are spending a lot of time sitting while traveling, get outside and go for a walk - your body and your bowels will thank you!
How You Poop Matters
Believe it or not, there is such a thing as optimal toilet positioning to help you poop! Using a stool or squatty potty under your feet so your knees are higher than your hips allows your pelvic floor muscles to lengthen and makes the angle of your rectum more vertical for your bowels to empty more easily. Using the power of your breath can also help lengthen the pelvic floor muscles and reduce straining. Think “blow as you go” - start with a big inhale down into your pelvic floor, then exhale as if you are blowing out a birthday candle when you poop.
Get Help From a Pelvic Health Therapist
If you are struggling with constipation regularly, or even just during this time of year, including a pelvic health therapist on your team can help get you back on track. Pelvic health therapists can assess your pelvic floor muscles to make sure they are functional and healthy, and help you come up with a bowel
routine that works for you!
Dr. Becca Jones, PT, DPT, CSCS, is a 2016 graduate of New York University with her Doctorate of Physical Therapy. Her passion for supporting people through their pregnancy and/or post partum journey inspired her to specialize in pelvic health. Dr. Becca believes in providing holistic, individualized care in order to restore comfort and build confidence to get people back to what they love.