So here's the deal. I'm going to write honestly about how I've become regular for the first time since high school. But there's a warning. This is all way TMI. If you don't want to know so much about what I do in the bathroom, please do us both a favor and stop reading now. And if you're a close friend or family member who I probably don't want to know about this, you can also stop reading. I'll let you use your own judgment to determine if you think I would care. (Although chances are, I don't.)
Now below is a pretty photo of Oatmeal Raisin Cookies. Enjoy the photo and decide if you want to scroll down. Because after that, everything's fair game.
"I struggle every day with what my purpose in life is. How am I meant to make a difference? If nothing else, when all is said and done, I hope that I shall be known as the woman who taught you how to poop."
Who said that? I did. This morning, after realizing that maybe my purpose in life is just to be honest. That perhaps all of these strange health issues I deal with have simply been given to me so that I can learn how to deal with them, and then share my story with you. Or at least I like to think there's some sort of divine reason. I try to find purpose in everything; it makes the difficult parts of life much easier to handle.
Okay, I know why you're here, so I'll get to it. Here's my little disclaimer. I just wrote a long ass post about how you need to listen to your own body and not just blindly follow someone else's rules. That applies here. I'm going to list everything that has made a difference for me, but know that my body is only my body. I can't tell you that this post will be the answer to all your bathroom woes. But I can hope that it helps.
Now first, let's talk about a term that will be very important here. PTPD. Post Traumatic Poop Disorder. It was coined by my sister to describe that awful feeling after you've had a bowel movement, but you feel like you're not really done and the rest is just stuck in there. To her, it was an occasional problem. To me, it was every single day. I've had PTPD every time I've gone to the bathroom for just about the last...um...I don't know...13 years? So that's what my constipation was like. It's not that I couldn't go every day; It was just always unpleasant, always required straining like a woman giving birth and being told to PUSH, and always left me feeling unsatisfied.
This finally changed in the last month, and I can tell you that although a little PTPD still lingers here and there, I actually feel pretty normal these days. Well, at least in that area. I'm still dealing with other health issues, and I feel I have to tell you that having regular bowel movements has not stopped me from being bloated. I'm not as bloated all the time, and I feel much more comfortable, but clearly there are still many digestive issues that need to be dealt with. Yet it's all a process, and this is one more box I can check off. Daily awesome poops? Check!
Poop. Are you as tired of reading that word as I am right now? I hate saying bowel movements. It sounds so clinical. But any other word just sounds gross. We called it pooping in my house growing up, so that's what I say. One of my best friends calls it shmooing, and that's actually my favorite term, but then no one knows what you're talking about when you say you have to shmoo. And any other word either sounds silly or crass. Sigh. And so here I am, halfway through a post in which I have yet to tell you anything, and all I can think about is that I wish there was a better word for this...this "activity" that we do in the bathroom. But I suppose any word we give to it would eventually take on an icky connotation. But I digress...
Here, in no special order, is the list of factors that have finally cured me of PTPD. Most of the ideas on this list are nothing special and nothing that you haven't read before in relation to constipation. But they're here because despite being told to do most of these things over and over, I realized that it was the combination of doing EVERYTHING on this list EVERY DAY that made the difference for me. So like all else in life, there's no magical cure. You just have to do the work. Oh and by the way, doing the following activities daily might also make you happier, healthier, and probably lose weight while you're at it. No joke.
- Eat vegetables at least twice a day, and make sure that one large helping consists of raw leafy greens. For years, I ate cereal or yogurt for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch, and then only had vegetables with my dinner. It never occurred to me (this was before I became a nutrition-loving food-blogging nut) that I wasn't eating enough vegetables. But there you have it. Simple, obvious, and the solution to so many problems in life. I've noticed that if at least one of my meals each day includes a large salad with leafy greens of some sort, I'm pretty much guaranteed a satisfying trip to the bathroom.
- Eat a high fiber meal or snack every day. Eating leafy greens alone doesn't do it for me. I also need to include the following for breakfast or a snack:
- I eat about 4 tablespoons of ground flax or chia seeds every day. I mix them into some combination of: baked sweet potatoes or cooked brown rice with non-dairy milk, unsweetened applesauce, gluten-free oats (raw or cooked), and/or avocado. More often than not, I stir together unsweetened applesauce, raw oats, and ground flax seeds, adding a little stevia in if I'm in the mood. If you don't eat grains, I recommend applesauce, sweet potato, or winter squash plus ground flax or chia seeds. You can add a little water or milk and mush it all together.
- Avoid any foods you're sensitive to. This seems like an
obvious one to me, but I think we tend to forget that it really makes a
difference. Sometimes we don't know what we're sensitive to, but other
times we do, and we're just pretending we don't. Ask yourself honestly
if there's something you know your body doesn't like but you're eating
it anyway. Then ask yourself what you would rather have. The food you
should avoid or regular bowel movements? It's your decision.
- Avoid sugar. Again, just ask yourself what's more important
to you. Sweets or regularity? You might find you'd rather suffer from
constipation than give up your desserts. And that's okay. But just be
honest with yourself if that's how you feel.
- Drink at least 64 ounces of water a day; more if you're working out. You'll have to pee a lot. Deal with it.
- Move your body! Getting your blood flowing works miracles. Yoga, running, and even just standing in one spot and bouncing up and down all work for me.
- Go to the bathroom immediately any time you feel the urge! I played soccer when I was in high school, and I always had to use the bathroom right after school. But I was too uncomfortable pooping in the public bathrooms where everyone would know what I was doing. So I always held it in during practice. Can you imagine what that did to my digestive system? It's no wonder I have problems! Now, I find a bathroom any time I need to. However, I'm still working on this because I find it almost impossible to go if I know someone is nearby. Freud would have a field day with me.
- Stop straining and start breathing. This is the most important thing on this list. I'll repeat it. This is the most important thing on this list. Think about it. When you're constipated, what do you do? You sit on the toilet and strain and hold your breath. This is absolutely the last thing you should be doing (not to mention that all that straining could literally lead to a brain aneurysm). The more tense you are, the less your body is able to function properly. So sit back, relax, and do some nice belly breaths. You know, those ones where you breathe in slowly through your nose and watch your stomach fill up, then breath out equally slowly and watch your stomach go down. It's multitasking really. You get 5 minutes of daily meditation and a satisfying bathroom break at the same time. I have no doubt that this one change has made the biggest difference for me. It might feel foreign to you at first because you're so used to forcing your bowel movements. But eventually, all it will take is a few relaxing breaths and everything will just flow naturally. No more PTPD. If you can't go after some time, your body's just not ready. Try again later and don't force it.
- Set up a schedule. In order to be regular, it helps to have a "regular" bathroom schedule. Set aside 15 minutes 2 or 3 times a day, and plan on sitting down on the toilet whether you have the urge to go or not. Don't force anything. Just sit and relax and breathe. If you go, great. If not, you'll try again later. I find that first thing in the morning and after dinner are the best times for me. Eventually, you won't need a schedule (or 15 minutes), but it can be helpful in the beginning.
- Keep some reading material in the bathroom. We all know people who keep magazines in the bathroom, and it always seemed funny to me because it's like they're announcing to everyone that they spend a long time on the toilet. How embarrassing! But now that you've read the last bullet point, you know I've clearly spent a lot of time in the bathroom. My secret is up! So I'll tell you another secret. I keep a romance novel and/or self-help book in the drawer next to the toilet. Pulling out a good Nora Roberts or Martha Beck book immediately puts my brain in vacation mode and makes me feel relaxed. This also keeps me from getting bored and impatient, which allows me to relax more. Which allows me to breathe, which allows me to...well, you know.
- Squat. Okay, go with me on this one. If you can tell you sort of have to go, but it's just not going to happen, squat down like that guy on the right side below and hang out for a while. Again, use it as an opportunity to multitask. Grab a book or watch TV for about five minutes. Or use the time to stretch your inner thighs by placing your palms together and pressing your elbows against your inner thighs. Usually if you squat long enough, you'll suddenly have a strong urge to go to the bathroom. That's when you GO!
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