Next time that tired, bloated, all-around weighed-down feeling won’t give, ask yourself one question: When’s the last time you went to the bathroom? That’s what we thought.
Constipation can be the root of today’s tight waistband, tonight’s restive sleep, and even tomorrow’s acne. But remember, this too shall pass—with the help of these expert tips. They’ll give you relief today while preventing hold-ups tomorrow.
Don’t skip meals—seriously.
“Eating stimulates the reflex that causes stuff to move forward in the gut,” says Joanne A.P. Wilson, MD, a gastroenterologist, and professor of medicine at Duke University Hospital in Durham, NC. And when nothing moves, you won’t poop. Give your system the kick it needs early with breakfast. Research suggests eating a breakfast that includes protein can help you avoid the sugary treats that fuel weight gain. (See the 10 best foods to eat to avoid constipation—and the 10 worst.)
Up your fiber intake slowly.
Too much fiber all at once will get things moving, but not without bloating, gas, and possibly diarrhea. If fiber hasn’t been your friend in the past, try a supplement like Metamucil, Citrucel, or Fibercon.
Go easy on bran.
Fiber creates soft, mobile stool, says Elaine Feldman, MD, professor emeritus of medicine at the Medical College of Georgia. But you don’t have to choke down a box of bran flakes every day. Three daily servings of veggies, two of fruit, and some whole wheat bread should be enough to move things along. Rhubarb, artichokes, and nuts are also all constipation busters.
Try a natural laxative.
“If you have mild discomfort from constipation because you’re traveling and can’t get to the gym or eat your fruits and vegetables, try a glycerin suppository, milk of magnesia, or prune juice,” Dr. Wilson says. “Sometimes even a warm cup of broth will help your bowels move more quickly.”
Have a cup of joe.
Research from the UK—and lots of anecdotal reports—suggest a cup of caffeinated coffee can stimulate bowel movements. While experts are still arguing over how coffee works its magic, a little java may be worth a try if you’re backed up (and don’t have issues with caffeine).
Flush it out.
Drink six to eight 8-ounce glasses of water daily to soften the stool, says Robyn Karlstadt, MD, a gastroenterologist at Graduate Hospital in Philadelphia. Keep an empty 64-ounce soda bottle filled with water at your desk and try to finish it by the end of the day.
Schedule your toilet time.
Waking up, jumping in and out of the shower, and getting your grab-and-go breakfast on your way to the office is great for productivity, but not for your gut. Eating in the morning is like a wake-up call for your colon, and public bathrooms are not usually conducive to the quiet time you need to do your business. Schedule a time in the morning to go in peace, says Nicolette Francey, MD, a professor of medicine at New York Medical College. “Usually, the bowel is ready to expel its contents about half an hour after the first meal.”
Sit, don’t strain.
Trying to force it won’t relieve your constipation—in fact, it could make things much worse. You put yourself at risk for developing hemorrhoids or a protrusion of the rectal tissue, also known as prolapse of the rectum. If you really can’t go after 15 minutes, get off the pot.
Put your feet up.
“If you’re constipated, propping your feet up on a stool with your knees bent while you sit on the toilet will straighten the angle of your bowel and help you pass stool more quickly,” says Jacqueline Wolf, MD, a gastroenterologist and associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.
When all else fails, move around.
Experts aren’t completely sure why, but exercise stimulates bowel function. Walking, swimming, or doing any other aerobic exercise for 30 minutes three times a week could be enough to put an end to constipation. Just remember to stay hydrated.