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Occasional Constipation: How to Identify and 7 Ways to Help
Pooping (and how often you’re doing it!) might not be the most comfortable-to-talk-about subject. But it’s actually a great indicator of your health! If your bowel movements are becoming irregular or infrequent you might be experiencing what’s known as occasional constipation. This is often a sign from your body that something is off in your diet or routine.
Did you know that even a healthy person may experience occasional trouble with going to the bathroom?1 So if you’re experiencing difficulty going number two, know that you’re not alone!
But what exactly is occasional constipation and is there anything you can do to combat it? Join us for this deep dive as we cover some important topics surrounding your bathroom habits.
What Is Occasional Constipation?
There’s a difference between chronic and occasional constipation. Chronic constipation is a disease state often associated with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). This is when you’re having fewer than three bowel movements a week or finding it difficult to poop, and this problem persists for longer than a few weeks.2 3 If this sounds like what you are experiencing, we recommend you seek the advice of a medical professional as soon as possible.
Occasional constipation, which we’re discussing in this blog, is less severe and can happen to anyone. Occasional constipation is when your bowel movements become less frequent or more difficult than usual. This often happens because of changes in your routine or diet that throw off your body’s digestive processes.2
But what is “normal” when it comes to pooping? Well, that depends on you and your lifestyle. Some people go number two multiple times a day while others only a few times a week. This is all “normal” as long your pooping schedule remains relatively consistent.2
Signs of Occasional Constipation
- You’ve had fewer bowel movements than usual this week
- A day or two where your stools are hard, dry, and/or difficult to pass (meaning you have to strain really hard to go to the bathroom!)
- You are having multiple type one or type two stools on the Bristol Stool Chart (below)
- Sometimes you feel blocked or plugged up, even after going number two
Here’s what each type of stool on the chart means:
- Types one and two are signs of occasional constipation
- Types three and four are normal
- Types five, six and seven are varying stages of diarrhea
How Does Food Pass Through Your Digestive System?
To understand occasional constipation it’s first important to understand how your digestive system works. Anything you eat or drink travels through your digestive tract. This is a highway of organs responsible for breaking down, digesting, and absorbing nutrients from your food. After that, your digestive system removes any waste the body no longer needs.6
After food passes through your mouth and esophagus, the digestive process begins with your stomach. Digestive juices, like stomach acid, start breaking down the food, which then moves to your small intestine, the site of nutrient absorption.6
Anything that’s not absorbed by the small intestine is passed on to the large intestine, also called the colon, for waste disposal. Your large intestine absorbs water, turning your waste into a stool that you eventually pass through your rectum.6
If any part of this process moves too slow, this can cause a backup in the system resulting in problems like occasional constipation. For example, if waste spends too long moving through the colon, it absorbs too much water creating a dry and hard stool that’s more painful to pass.2
What Can Create a Backup in Your Digestive System?
But what leads to digestive discomfort? There are several reasons why this might happen:
A Low-Fiber Diet
A low fiber diet can lead to digestive concerns like occasional constipation. Because your body can’t digest fiber, it’s crucial for bulking up your stool and helping move things along in your digestive system. This helps promote greater regularity in your bowel movements, helping prevent occasional constipation.7 8
Your digestive system needs water to make your stools soft and easier to pass. This means that if you’re dehydrated, there’s less water available to loosen up your stools, and this can make going number two extra difficult.
Lack of Exercise
Exercise doesn’t just move your body, it moves things along in your digestive tract. When you remain sedentary for most of the day, your body’s digestive processes slow down and this can impact your bathroom habits.
By getting up and moving, you help speed things up. You also strengthen the muscles responsible for moving things along, making the whole process smoother and more efficient.
Changes to Your Routine
There’s a reason why you tend to feel occasional constipation after a big trip or a long day of traveling! Shifts and changes to your routine throw off your digestive system. This includes changes like shifts in diet, exercise, stress levels, or sleeping schedule. Keeping and maintaining a regular routine helps keep things regular in the bathroom as well.
Holding Bowel Movements
When you have to go but you don’t relieve yourself, this can cause problems. You’re plugging up the system, sending your stool back to the large intestine.
If it stays there for too long the stool dries out and gets hard, making it difficult to pass when eventually you let yourself go. Holding bowel movements every once in a while is fine, but making this a regular habit could cause complications.
As you age your metabolism slows down. The muscles responsible for moving things along the digestive tract start losing their strength. In other words, the process of digestion is not as efficient as it once was when you were younger. This can result in occasional constipation. As you age your metabolism slows down. The muscles responsible for moving things along the digestive tract start losing their strength. In other words, the process of digestion is not as efficient as it once was when you were younger. This can result in occasional constipation.
You’re also less active as an older adult, meaning that your body isn’t getting as much exercise throughout your day. This can add to your occasional constipation complications.2
7 Ways to Keep Your Bowels Movement More Regular
Almost everyone struggles with occasional constipation at some point in their life. Luckily there are things you can do to help keep your bowel movements regular:
- Drink more water:Prevent dehydration and help support healthy bowel movements by drinking adequate amounts of fluid every day. Limit your intake of dehydrating beverages like alcohol and caffeine-containing choices.2
- Exercise regularly:Build movement into your daily routine!
- Add more fiber foods to your diet:Fiber-containing foods include whole grains (like whole-wheat bread or brown rice), bran cereal, prunes, legumes, beans, vegetables, and fruits.7 Here are some ideas for high-fiber foods (like OLIPOP!) that you can easily add to your diet.
- Cut out unhealthy fats:Fried foods and other foods that contain unhealthy fats, may have some unsavory effects on your bowel movements.
- Keep a food diary:If you’re not sure which foods are blocking up the works, use a food journal to identify possible trends between food and bathroom behaviors.2
- Stick to a routine:Do your best to stick to a routine like waking up and falling asleep at around the same time each day. Maintaining this kind of schedule, especially while traveling, can help create a routine for your bowel movements too.
- Invest in a toilet stool:Positioning your body in a squat position makes bowel movements smoother and easier.
When Should You Call Your Doctor?
For most people, occasional constipation is an uncomfortable but not serious health concern that is often addressed using one of the solutions above. But sometimes constipation doesn’t go away with a home remedy, and it’s time to bring your doctor into the conversation.
- Severe pain while going number two
- Blood in your stools
- Constipation that lasts longer than 2-3 weeks
- Sudden or unexplained changes to your stool
It might feel uncomfortable to discuss your bathroom habits with another person, but if you’re in pain or experiencing difficulty, your doctor is your best resource for helping to address the problem and ease your discomfort.
Occasional Constipation: The Takeaway
Lots of people struggle with occasional constipation. It’s a side effect of many possible diet or lifestyle changes like low fiber consumption, dehydration, aging, a lack of exercise, a medical condition, and so on. Luckily, there are steps you can take to get things moving again like exercising, drinking plenty of water, and adding more high-fiber foods into your diet.
But if things don’t improve, schedule time with your doctor. They can work with you to find the root of your occasional constipation, and offer solutions.
It might be uncomfortable to talk about, but pooping is something you should feel comfortable doing. So if you are struggling with issues in the bathroom, it’s time to push past the discomfort and start the conversation.
And don’t forget about OLIPOP! We’re your microbiome-supporting, fiber-loving soda that can help keep your digestive system on track. Learn more about OLIPOP and what makes us healthier than your average soda.
* This article is not intended to provide medical advice, please consult with your doctor or a qualified healthcare practitioner for any medical advice.
- Constipation. (n.d.). Johns Hopkins Medicine. Retrieved May 26, 2022, from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/constipation
- Constipation; Symptoms, Causes, Treatment & Prevention. (2019, November 7). Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved May 26, 2022, from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/4059-constipation
- Khatri, M. (2021, November 15). What Is Constipation? WebMD. Retrieved May 26, 2022, from https://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/digestive-diseases-constipation
- Constipation - Symptoms and Causes. (2021, August 31). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved May 26, 2022, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/constipation/symptoms-causes/syc-20354253
- DerSarkissian, C. (2022, January 16). What Kind of Poop Do I Have? WebMD. Retrieved May 26, 2022, from https://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/poop-chart-bristol-stool-scale
- Your Digestive System & How it Works. (2017, December). National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Retrieved May 26, 2022, from https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/digestive-system-how-it-works
- Fiber. (2022, April 26). Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Retrieved May 26, 2022, from https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/carbohydrates/fiber/
- Sweat, W., & Manore, M. M. (2015). Dietary Fiber: Simple Steps for Managing Weight and Improving Health. ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal, 19(1), 9–16. https://doi.org/10.1249/fit.0000000000000091
- Lewis, S. J., & Heaton, K. W. (1997). Stool Form Scale as a Useful Guide to Intestinal Transit Time. Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology, 32(9), 920–924. https://doi.org/10.3109/00365529709011203
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