Although I do enjoy writing full on research reviews and such, my 'wellbeing' articles seem to be going down well too. We've looked at the winter blues as well as getting off to sleep and today I'd like to tackle another common complaint that Modern Man (and Woman, you too) seems to suffer from: bowel trouble.
Since as early as I can remember (so some 28 years or so ago) right up until I left home to go to uni I can remember having constant bowel problems: constipation, diarrhea, stomach cramps and bloatedness. I visited many specialist nurses and practitioners to try to get to the 'bottom' (lol) of the problem, and ultimately to no real avail. In fact, during the later years of school I was visiting the loo perhaps once every three or four days.
Many (in fact, most) of my clients and people I speak to complain about having some sort of gut distress (I don't go up to people in the street and ask how their poo is... ). While the causes can be many and varied I thought I'd share a few tips with you that have helped me and others with the problem.
0. LOOK AT YOUR POOP!
So rule zero, before anything else, you need to look at your poop. As a nation of animal lovers we are always walking round picking up after our dogs and cleaning out litter trays, hamster cages etc and most of us can recognise a cow pat (and in fact, if you grew up in the country side you'd know a few other poops as well!). Yet when it comes to looking at our own poop people recoil in horror and discussion is banished from polite society.
Poop and pee are nature's way of letting you know what's going on inside, like daily x-rays of your guts. There is important information in there, and while I don't advocate a Gillian McKeith style poop collection and sifting operation you should certainly be aware of what a normal poop looks like for you. Medically, 'normal' is described as sort of blimp or submarine shaped (without the fins, could you imagine that!), 'nutty' in colour (but presumably not taste... ) and should be a little buoyant. It should not stink and require HAZMAT suits to use the bathroom after you, and should not be very loose, watery or hard little pellets (like rabbit poos). It most definitely should not be difficult to pass, neither should it come upon you without warning.
Having said all that, your poop will be almost unique to you. You should learn what it looks like as it will give you an idea as to what's going on inside, and what changes you may need to make. Get friendly.
So you've just come out of the bathroom after another towel-rail grabbing experience, feeling like you've run a marathon and passed a small car. Pooping should be easy (and actually quite enjoyable... ) and those of you who find it a constant struggle almost definitely need more fibre.
In fact, without even meeting you, I'm going to take a wild guess and say you need more fibre. The Govt (bless em) tell you you should be aiming for maybe 15g a day. Let me tell you, that's nothing, and will leave you with burst blood vessels and bloodshot eyes in no time. The Govt KNOWS most of us are lazy and unconcerned with things like this, so putting a daily target of 40g would just cause most people to throw their hands up and do nothing.
Well, 30g is probably not enough for most people. On a daily basis I get between 45g-50g. Now that may well be too much for some as my calorie intake is quite high, but almost certainly you need to be eating more fibre.
Fibre (roughage) will increase satiety with meals and leave you fuller for longer. It positively affects insulin resistance, blood pressure, cholesterol ratios, body fat percentage and can even help those with diabetes control blood sugar levels. There is no reason not to be consuming more of this.
Getting fibre is easy too. Forget about all those £5 a go ispaghula husk supplements (unless of course you've been recommended them by your doc) and senna based laxatives. If you are having to take something like this on a regular basis then that should tell you something's wrong. My favourite source of fibre is oats (porridge) and I have myself a helping morning noon and night time (and if you have almond or hemp milk with, even better!). That does add up to a fair few calories (about 600 in total) but should still fit in comfortably with most peoples diets.
If your of a paleo bent and don't like consuming grains, sweet potatoes (with the skins, yummy), legumes and pulses are all high in fibre. So is a lot of fruit. Many people are uncomfortable eating too much fruit now because of all the negative press surrounding fructose, but nature provides a package that limits fructose intake by providing a large amount of fibre. Bottom line (lol) if you like apples and they help you poop (as they do me!) then eat them. There are many lists of high fibre foods, I'll let you go find your own.
Interestingly, those suffering from watery stools may (MAY) benefit from increased fibre as often watery stools are a result of too much sugar and fat being passed into the colon, and water being absorbed via osmosis into the gut.
Fibre does decrease 'transit time' (i.e the amount of time it takes for food to go in one end and out the other) and this CAN lead to problems in absorption, especially if you are suffering from Chrons, Celiac Disease or some other absorptive disorder. If in doubt, always check with your GP.
As with most things biological, routine is essential. Identify when you 'want' to go for a poop: for me its always 9:00 am and 5:00 pm every day. My eating is consistent and so are my poop times. Like going to sleep, once you establish a routine and stick with it, you'll find half the battle is over.
Also, not everyone's routine will be the same. I normally poop once or twice a day. Yours may be more or less, but always without pain and stress.
Goes hand in hand with No 2, with a routine comes certainty and relaxation. Its very hard to poop while stressed, and worrying about it seems only to make it worse. Don't force it, let it come and most importantly GO WHEN YOU NEED TO. Don't hold it in (or wind either for that matter) and let your body establish a natural rhythm (its trying to, believe me).
There are more neurones (brain tissue) surrounding your guts than are in your spinal cord. Its a very powerful, competent computer. Let it figure out what to do and listen to what it tells you.
I also found being more open about this problem helps greatly as it removes the stigma and stress you attach to it in your mind. As the book says, Everyone Poops (can you believe someone needed to translate this!) and pretending that you don't will only make matters worse.
Exercise helps everything, pretty much. So go do some. I found that Ayurvedic poses (especially the squat) were particularly helpful in relaxation and establishing a rhythm. Also I found sitting upside down on the sofa with your butt in the air was real good for trapped wind (for me, not for those around me).
One word of advice though. Don't poop right before leg day. Trust me on this.
Drink some more. You probably need it anyways. Ironically, diuretics (like caffeine or alcohol) may help you poop as they will promote water re-absorption in the colon. Don't rely on it though.
6. Less Sugar
And indeed less processed rubbish. More one for the loose stool people. Processed food high in sugar and salt with promote water re-absorption into the colon and make your poops watery.
I mention IBS as many people I speak to have been 'diagnosed' with IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome). IBS is a catch-all diagnosis of exclusion, that is to say the conversation goes a little like this:
Patient, "Doctor, I have bloating and constipation all the time, as well as stomach cramps"
Doc, "Hmm, do you have Chrons?"
"Do you have Celiacs?"
"Do you suffer from diverticulitis?"
"Ah, then you may be suffering from IBS!".
Now, IBS is a real condition, but EVERYONE'S bowel is irritable if you put the wrong stuff into it. Some people cant tolerate spicy foods (even though they say they can), some dairy, sometimes its more specific (I cant STAND celery). This does not mean you are suffering from IBS. Indeed taking a good look at your food and eliminating poor food choices goes a long way for some to helping with the symptoms.
It may be you are intolerant of a particular sugar or protein in foods. Sugars and proteins that are not tolerated (digested) well will pass into the gut where your natural flora and fauna with feast and produce large amounts of gas, leading to bloating and pain. Common intolerances include lactose, casein, gluten, oggliosaccharides (in legumes, amongst other things) and an elimination diet can help to source the problem. As always, if in doubt (or indeed in serious pain) go see your GP.
8. Tight Fitting Clothes (especially underwear)
So I thought I'd finish off with the resolution of my own problem. As I mentioned before I suffered badly with all the symptoms above for many years, until I went to uni. Now, without sugar coating it too much, I turned into pretty much a disgusting slob within hours of first getting my room key. I did no clothes washing and very quickly found myself on the last pair of emergency boxers. These were without holes (!) but pretty much knackered in every other respect (including, importantly, the elastic). With nothing else to go with I wore those (not, I have to admit, for only one day either... ) and found, miraculously, that almost all symptoms had vanished OVERNIGHT! Imagine, years of pain and problems eradicated thanks to some loose pants!
For whatever reason my guts are sensitive to having restrictive clothing around the waist. That little extra pressure is enough to throw the whole thing out of balance. Now I always mention this to my clients (not the whole story mind) and some (not many, but a significant proportion) report that symptoms are improved with slightly roomier undies. So its something to think about, but not too much.
Let me know how you get on as I'm always happy to talk poop matters (no photos though please).
Written by John R Underdown, BSc, MSc, PGCE
I am a highly experienced and certified personal trainer and coach looking to help those who want it.
Come and find out more at http://www.tailored-personal-training.com/