When it comes to your health, nothing’s taboo—including poo—and for good reason.
But while constipation might not seem like a major problem, it’s usually a sign that there’s something else going on in your body, says Kristin Koskinen, RDN, LD, CD. And while turning to medication like laxatives may be an easy solution, it’s important to figure out why you’re suffering from constipation, both so you can treat it and avoid uncomfortable bouts in the future.
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“I like to get to the root issue and resolve it,” says Koskinen. “What’s causing the constipation? Diet? Lack of exercise? Chronic dehydration? Could it be a medical condition like irritable bowel syndrome?”
If you’re dealing with chronic constipation without relief, try talking to your doctor—it may be a sign of an underlying condition. But if you’re like most adults who deal with constipation here and there, it could just be a sign that it’s time for a lifestyle change.
As it turns out, the best treatments for constipation are also great practices to prevent it from recurring. So, if you’re feeling stuck (heh, literally), here are a few of the best ways to get things moving again.
1. Eat a kiwi (yes, way).
If you’re dealing with constipation, what you eat (or don’t eat) matters. Bryan Tran, D.O., recommends you avoid processed foods—which are often stripped of fiber—and opt for unprocessed snacks instead. Not only will this help treat and prevent constipation, but it will also leave you feeling full longer since dietary fiber has a positive impact on satiety.
Another great way to treat constipation?
“Onions can also have a laxative effect,” Koskinen says. “Eating a sautéed onion can get things moving right along.”
Kiwi is another great source of extra fiber—which can help get things moving. Studies suggest that green kiwifruit is especially good at increasing frequency, stool volume, and softness—as well as making it easier to, well, go—thanks to a handy little enzyme that stimulates your upper gastrointestinal tract.
2. Consider using psyllium.
This is a soluble fiber that can pass right through your digestive system, and it’s been shown to increase stool frequency. You can get it in pill or powder form—but it can also block some fat-soluble vitamins, so avoid taking it too close to mealtimes (and maybe avoid taking it regularly too). And be sure to drink plenty of water with it—which leads us to the next note.
3. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate…
“We hear that you should drink more water all the time, but here’s a very valid reason why hydration is important: The water from the colon is pulled back into the bloodstream when the body isn’t getting enough fluid from external sources. This leads to hard, slow-moving stools,” Koskinen says. She recommends trying warm lemon water if you need a little flavor in your H2O.
Not sure how much water you should be drinking? Here’s a good guide.
4. … but conversely, drink some coffee.
Need an extra boost? Studies suggest that drinking coffee (even decaf) can help get things moving again, but make sure you aren’t drinking too much since caffeine is a diuretic and can actually leave you dehydrated. Koskinen recommends steering clear of other caffeinated drinks if coffee isn’t your thing.
5. Jump on the probiotics bandwagon.
6. Up your fiber intake (but not too high).
“Your grandparents may have called it roughage; the technical term is dietary fiber. Insoluble fiber (meaning it doesn’t dissolve in water) provides bulk to stool, which helps to speed it along to a timely exit. Soluble fiber dissolves in water and helps to draw water in, which makes stool soft,” Koskinen says.
While studies show that dietary fiber does help ease constipation, the amount recommended daily varies. Try incorporating some high-fiber foods into your diet—especially fruits, vegetables, and whole grains—and make sure you don’t overdo it. Research suggests too much fiber can have the opposite effect, so you’ll want to aim for 25 grams of fiber per day for women and 38 grams for men.
7. Do your breathing and get a massage.
It might sound weird, but there’s some evidence that doing breathing exercises, exercising, and getting massaged may help increase frequency (but you’ll still need to change your diet to see more change).
8. Hit the gym.
As it turns out, exercise is good for *all* kinds of health—especially digestive. “Walking, running, and strength training are all excellent promoters of bowel movements,” Tran says. “Exercise aids with mechanical digestion and breakdown of food, helping you to pass stools.”
One study showed that adding 60 minutes of exercise just three times a week was enough to significantly improve digestion over a 12-week period, meaning it might be time to get moving if you want to get things, erm, moving.
Bottom line? Dealing with constipation isn’t fun, which is why prevention is also a great cure. It may sound repetitive, but—when it comes to your digestion—the same things that get things moving again are also what keep it going over the long term.
“To prevent constipation, aim to eat at least 35 grams of dietary fiber per day,” Koskinen says. “Drink more water (aim for half your body weight in ounces as a general rule) and move more.”
Jandra Sutton is an author, historian, and public speaker. She lives in Nashville with her husband and their two dogs, and Pluto is still a planet in her heart. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.