The pursuit of regular bowel movements can be a brutal journey. 
But it doesn’t have to be.
One topic that doesn’t get enough air time is something most of us do every day; poop. Adults should be as comfortable discussing their natural bodily functions as they are about sharing their children’s fecal failures on social media, yet most of us are as silent as the grave when it comes to our own bathroom blunders.
Now, I’m not saying I want to hear about the giant turd you did after dinner the other night. But what I’m curious to know is how often you go? If you consider your poop normal? What causes irregularity for you? Or have you ever seen a doctor about your poop?
I wanted to write about this topic because it’s an issue I have personal experience with, and I know I’m not alone.
Comparing menstrual cycles is a standard affair between friends that can often put a gal at ease if she’s dealing with strange symptoms. Imagine the comfort we could find from an open discussion around our taboo bodily functions.
The truth is everybody poops. But the scientific reason why we need to poop, according to a study on defecation physiology (1), is:
Defecation is necessary to expel undigested portions of food and metabolic waste products like stercobilin from the body in the form of stool. Stool also contains bacteria and cellular debris from the gastrointestinal tract.
If we don’t poop, we could die. And if we don’t fart, we could end up in hospital (2,3).
When it comes to constipation, there are two kinds; chronic and IBS-related constipation. Between 24 and 45 million Americans suffer from IBS, and four million suffer from chronic constipation. That’s a lot of people dealing with a consistent physiological issue that can cause all kinds of physical, mental, and emotional discomfort.
IBS is genetic but can also be sporadic in those who are diagnosed and can be catalyzed by stress or an illness. There is no cure, but you can manage symptoms through diet, lifestyle, or medication. Chronic constipation is usually caused by poor diet and lifestyle or a health issue and is not considered genetic (6, 7).
Although physical health plays a crucial role in going — or not going — number two, mental and emotional health can have even more significant effects.
Interestingly, more women suffer from IBS and chronic constipation than men, although it depends on the country. In Asian countries, the ratio is a relatively equal split between men and women, yet in the United States, the ratio is 2:1 (4).
Why does constipation occur more in women? Here are what the experts think:
• Women’s digestive systems are slower than men’s.
• Emotions can affect digestion.
• Women tend to hold it in.
• Stress can cause internal tension.
• Women’s Digestive Systems Are Slower
Women and men are physically different. Well, uh, duh. For one, women’s digestive system is slower. We produce less stomach acid, and our stomach empties slower than our male counterparts. Additionally, women have a longer colon than men (10). So everything takes longer, which I guess can back up from time to time.
Emotions Can Affect Digestion
Almost every woman will experience hormonal issues at some point in her life. Hormones hit us at puberty and stay with us until we’re done with menopause. That’s almost 50 years of mood swings, fatigue, weight fluctuations, hot flashes, and emotional rollercoasters.
Women are also constantly scrutinized for their appearance, which weighs heavy on our confidence and self-worth.
All of the emotional experiences that women continuously go through in life can weigh heavily on our hearts — and our digestion.
Women Tend to Hold it In
Poop and fart-shaming are a thing (9). And some experts have suggested that many women experience embarrassment about normal bodily functions, so whenever they feel the urge, instead of relieving themselves, they hold it in (3). Holding it in when your body is telling you to go is a one-way ticket to constipation.
Stress Can Cause Internal Tension
Then there are other life stressors. Fighting for equality. Career stress. Financial problems. Trying for a baby. Giving birth to a baby. Being a mom. Buying a house. Moving. Pandemics. Going back to work after taking a mommy gap in your career and wondering if they’ll hire you. Am I too old? Is my work experience dated? No, you’re not. And maybe, but keep going.
When we’re stressed, our body’s cortisol levels spike, creating anxiety. Tension also takes hold in all areas of our body, including the muscles in our digestive tract and colon. Hello, constipation.
Studies on women’s emotions show that we are inherently more sensitive and experience more intense emotions than men (5). So it’s probably a reasonable assumption to say that our sensitivity and emotions affect our ability to perform in the erm… lavatory.
Most of the studies I found suggest that psychological factors (AKA our emotions) have a far more significant effect on digestion and constipation than physiological factors (8). A little food for thought.
For me, I can go weeks without a hiccup. Life is fantastic. But one stressful event, one minor change in my diet, or one weekend away with too many mimosas, and I’m back at square one. And it doesn’t matter if it’s going to be the best day of my life; my day has started out as complete and utter shit — and not the good kind.
If you suffer the occasional chronic constipation or struggle to stay regular, these four tips work for me. This advice is from my own experiences and is not necessarily suitable for everyone, nor are they treatments for IBS. These are also lifestyle changes rather than quick fixes.
• Drink Water
• Increase Your Vegetables
• Get On a Poop Schedule
• Reduce Anxiety and Slow Down
Reduce Anxiety and Slow Down
This is far easier said than done. But, as I’ve just pointed out, our emotional state can significantly affect our digestion. I always thought I was a super chilled-out person until a therapist casually told me I was a “terribly anxious person.” Ha, who knew? She suggested I practice daily mindfulness, which I suggest you also do.
Give yourself some time every day to breathe and be still. Switch off from devices, spend time in nature, try meditation and yoga, and notice things around you. Be present and in the moment. Your work will still be waiting for you. Just take ten minutes for yourself.
This was so hard for me to do initially, but once I started to feel more calm and collected, I now can’t go a day without it.
Drink Water
This one should come as no surprise. Drink water. It’s so simple. But I never did. I would go a whole day, and the only time I’d drink water was at the end of the day when I was completely dehydrated. I’d down a few glasses of water before bed and then wonder why I couldn’t pass a stool to save my life.
You’ll have to hack this if you’re not usually a water drinker. I got an insulated cup with a metal straw, and I keep refilling it throughout the day. If you’re not into plain old water, try adding fruits, like lemons, strawberries, and watermelon, or try an herbal iced unsweet tea. Don’t add artificial sweeteners or sugars, as they can dehydrate you.
Increase Your Vegetables
This wasn’t very difficult for me to achieve, as I am primarily plant-based. However, there was a moment when I noticed that vegetables were a crucial component in staying regular.
Every time I’d visit my in-laws, my diet would consist of the world’s best bean, cheese, and fajita tacos — but not a green vegetable in sight. I’d always end up backed up for at least a few days, and I’d be miserable. So, to avoid said misery, I now substitute tortillas and sometimes even fajitas for vegetables, and I haven’t looked back.
Get On a Poop Schedule
I struggled for years and years to stay regular. In fact, I remember as far back as elementary school, I always had trouble doing da caca. I believe a big reason was that my life wasn’t on a set schedule. All through my 20s, I worked long hours, and I always had two or three jobs at a time.
Then, seven years ago, I met my husband. When he started sleeping over initially, I noticed he had a very regimented morning schedule. I found this concept so foreign, but I knew he didn’t have bathroom issues like me, so I started to take his lead.
Lo and behold, my body started to learn. For the first time in my life, I had some control over my bowels.
These things will not only help with regularity, but they are also foundational habits that will change your life.
So there you have it! Happy pooping, friends.

References

You may also like

Back to Top