You remember Goldilocks, right? She's the fairy tale character who fussed and picked over the items in the Three Bear's home. One porridge was too hot, one was too cold; one bed was too hard, one was too soft; two chairs were simply too big. She had to try multiple things before she could find just the right one.
Well, I think I might just be the Goldilocks of constipation relievers.
When it comes to finding the right fix for my finicky digestive system issues, I've tried a lot of options and I've been pretty dissatisfied. Some work far too slowly, others work way too aggressively. Others are too much of a time or financial commitment.
But unlike Goldi, who found her "just right" chair, porridge, and bed in one afternoon, it took me decades to get in a regularity routine that was a good fit for me. (For more on the things I've tried, read Part I of "Let's Get Things Moving In Here" .)
I've been on a hunt to "Get Things Moving" most of my adult life. Finally, at the half-century mark, I believe I might have hit on the right mix of elements for my singular system.
1. Eat "Real" Food. I took a long, hard look at my nutrition. And you know what I saw? A bunch of crap! No wonder, my actual crap was not coming out so smoothly. The main gist was that I wasn't eating a lot of real food. What's "real" food? The kind that comes from the ground, a tree, the ocean, etc. Instead, my microwave was getting quite the workout, I was skipping meals or just eating bars which is virtually the same thing, and often the only veggies and protein I got were in the salad bar at work, much of which was processed. My stomach hurts just remembering those years of mistreatment. Plus, there was such a lack of variety in my diet--not to mention lack of nutrition--I'm bored just thinking about it.
Today, I'm what is referred to as a Pescatarian, which means I don't eat any meat except fish. I eat a rainbow of vegetables at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as a variety of whole grains. I soak my lentils, black beans, and chickpeas and cook them on the stove top. My snacks are heart-healthy and brain-activating choices, like walnuts, pecans, and pumpkin seeds. I enjoy good fats, like avocados, nut butters, eggs. Guess what I've found? My butt and belly fair much better eating this way. Shocking!
2. Reduce Stress. In Part I of this blog, I alluded to underlying issues that I would need to address if I ever wanted to really get my digestive and butt health in good shape. One of the areas I needed to give attention to was the amount of stress that I had allowed to infiltrate my life and it was messing with my system.
Medical News Today reports, "High levels of stress can cause or aggravate gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea, stomach pain, and changes in bowel movements, which can include constipation." No kidding! At one of the worst times in my butt health, I was employed at The Coca-Cola Company, a very cool place to tell people you work, but it came with a lot of pressure and responsibility. I'm sure some of the constant stress I felt was self-inflicted but the competitive and Type A environment didn't help. So, I left and went into the health and wellness field. I traded in the money, benefits, and perks of corporate life for the far lower anxiety/higher pleasure work environment of personal training, spin instruction, and reflexology practitioner. Of course, it wasn't that simple, but I made the transition and it was the best thing I had done for myself up to that point in my life.
Making a dramatic choice like this, which involved having to move in with a friend, pinch every penny, give away my cat, start from scratch again, might seem like it would cause more stress than good. But this new path was so right that I felt an immense weight come off my shoulders. Former colleagues that I ran into couldn't believe the change in how I looked - healthier, younger, happier. I certainly felt better--a lot of the tension I was holding in my body left.
Obviously, a big life change like this isn't always possible or even necessary to take a proactive stance on stress. I also make sure to incorporate lots of stress-reducing activities for the mind and body, like walking outdoors, doing yoga, meditating, infrared sauna, chiropractic, massage, writing, and spending time with friends and family.
3. More Fiber, More Fiber, More Fiber. Around 2016, my general practitioner referred me to a specialist to discuss the surgical options available for the hemorrhoids that had plagued me off and on for 20 years. While the doctor had an incredibly kind bedside manner and was a wealth of information, the outcome of our meeting was that I was going to try to avoid having him do anything invasive to my bum, by any means necessary.
According to the Dr., one key to my digestive health was to have enough fiber. If you're curious why, it's because dietary fiber increases the weight of your stool and speeds its passage through your intestines.
I assured the doc that my daily nutrition was filled with fiber. I mean, look up any top ten list of fibrous foods, and I eat every single thing on it--multiple times per day. But, the Doctor was adamant that it still probably wasn't enough fiber, and that I was likely underestimating my intake. One big positive for me in following his advice was that I would be able to give up the daily stool softener I had been using since having my daughter, which I'm sure it doesn't surprise you had fired up my hemorrhoid situation.
If you're not familiar with stool softeners or how they work, they are supposed to be used only temporarily to relieve constipation. Stool softeners work by drawing fluids into your stool, which is supposed to make them softer and easier to pass. However, I'd been taking them for 5+ years and was starting to be concerned about taking these pills for the rest of my life. Who knows what the long-term effects could be? And if there was a more natural way, I was all for that. So, I was happy to remove the softener and add a little more fiber.
Once again, I assumed the role of Goldilocks, trying all different brands and types of fiber. I went through a lot of unpleasant experiences, including bloated and gassy nights, trying to find the right balance of effectiveness, comfort, price, and taste appeal. I landed on a CVS store-brand called "Easy Fiber" with an ingredient list of one: Dextrin. Why do I prefer it? First off, it's super easy--I mix it with a tall glass of water and have it with dinner. But if I wanted to, I could add it to tea/coffee, yogurt, or whatever I please because it dissolves entirely in food and beverages. There's no gross taste or texture; in fact, there's no flavor to it at all. And, unlike some other supplements, it doesn't clump and feel nasty going down. It's also sugar-free, non-GMO, and gluten-free.
Most importantly, I wake up in the morning ready to GO! It's a running joke in my family that when momma wakes up, clear out of the bathroom because it's go-time.
I share my Get Things Moving program not because it's right for everyone, and certainly not because it's the perfect plan. I often find myself tweaking and testing things...adding/deleting foods from my diet depending on how they affect my belly and butt; evaluating my stress levels, what's causing stress, and how to manage it better; adjusting when, with what, and how much dextrin I'm having at night.
In other words, it's an ongoing process, but one that I finally feel I might be making progress at!
Please note: It's critical to consult with your physician before making any changes to your nutrition, physical activity, prescription and non-prescription drugs, and any other similar changes you make to your life.