Are You Constipated?

Lentils 1 by michaelaw. small

My sister reminded me a few weeks ago of what our grandmother used to say about mean people. If someone is disgruntled, then they must be constipated. That is probably right on target. People should be naturally pleasant. It’s when our crazy thoughts lead us into the “Grumpy Gus” routine of yelling and complaining and stomping our feet. The ritual of throwing tantrums must be a dance asking for help. “Pay attention to me! I’m making the loudest noise!” That sounds like a two-year-old. Wonder where they get it from?

Remember Gomer Pyle from “The Andy Griffith Show,” who went into the marines and got his own show? We should be more like Gomer Pyle, a nice, friendly person, who is just trying to do his or her best. He is definitely not constipated. I’m sure he got a lot of good constipation relief advice from his grandma. Grandmas are great, aren’t they? On the other hand, Sergeant Carter, the mean drill instructor, is probably constipated all the time. This Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant continues to try to make Pvt. Pyle’s life as miserable as he can, because he can’t stand a recruit liking him—and not afraid. Pyle is too nice. He can’t be a good marine. Can he? I think Pvt. Pyle proves him wrong every time! Let’s face it. It takes all kinds of personalities to make the world go round.

Some people spend their time making the lives of others miserable. That’s a lot of negative energy nobody needs, especially for the person emanating it, because he or she is carrying it around and trying to unload it on everyone else. When we say someone is full of “doo doo,” we are saying they must be constipated. They are just trying to alleviate their constipation and are calling for help. That’s a good one to tell the kids. Let’s get to the “bottom” of constipation.

What causes constipation? There are many, many possible causes:

  • Too much dairy such as milk and cheese is a cause for constipation.
  • Iron and calcium are two minerals that often cause constipation if taken in high doses, such as in multivitamins. If you don’t need the extra iron or calcium, then don’t take it. There are multivitamins that do not contain iron, which is usually the culprit. If you are a menopausal woman or a man, you do not need iron unless you have a condition that requires it. Talk to your doctor.
  • Chocolate may not be the sole cause of constipation. However, in some people, it may be a significant contributor.
  • Using too many laxatives is another way to constipate yourself. Believe it or not, that is a side effect of laxatives. I prefer not to use any drugs to alleviate constipation. There are so many ways to do it without drugs.
  • Depression can actually be a cause of constipation. Depression is a condition in which the body’s metabolic processes slow down. The movement in the intestines to eliminate waste is one of these processes.
  • Hypothyroidism can also be a cause of constipation for the same reason depression causes it.
  • Diabetes and neurological disorders such as multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease may be associated with nerve damage in the digestive system and, therefore, would be possible causes of constipation.
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) may have constipation as one of many symptoms.
  • Medications often cause constipation. Check those labels for contraindications! Antacids, blood pressure and allergy medications, antidepressants and painkillers can all cause constipation.
  • The most well-known cause is not practicing the three F’s.

Discover the three F’s plus one and see what foods promote regularity in Food Stuff.

Food Stuff

There are so many foods that keep your bowels moving that there is no reason to be constipated unless you have a disease. To figure out the best way to alleviate constipation, you have to pay close attention to what you are consuming, whether it be food, medications or supplements. Try to keep a diary and note your bathroom habits. After a week or two, you should be able to see a pattern. During this time, isolate any suspected sources. Now, let’s look at the three F’s:

  • Fluid.       In order for you to have regular bowel movements, you must have enough fluid to hydrate your body. The best fluid to drink is water. Caffeinated drinks such as coffee, tea and soda pop work against you hydrating your body. The sports drinks are good hydrators only if you are participating heavily in sports or some heavily physical activity. You normally would not need the additional calories or electrolytes. To determine how much water to drink per day:
    1. Take your body weight in pounds.
    2. Multiply it by 2/3.       The result is the number of ounces to drink per day.
    3. Add 12 ounces for every 30 minutes of physical activity you do to accommodate sweating.

For example, someone who is 150 pounds would drink 100 ounces (12 1/2 cups) in a day.  If this person bikes for 30 minutes, then the total would be 112 ounces. Note that this is a high estimate since you eat foods that contain a lot of water such as soup or fruit or vegetables like cucumbers, tomatoes and spinach. The water content in your food counts as about 20% of your daily consumption of water. You are well hydrated if your urine is colorless or light yellow.

  • Fiber.       The typical American diet does not offer enough fiber. Therefore, there are a lot of Americans who are walking around constipated. There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber is great for holding water to keep the stool soft and flexible. This allows the stool to go through your intestines easily. Good sources of soluble fiber: oats, as in your morning oatmeal and oat bran; legumes such as Navy beans, lentils and kidney beans; fruit like berries, oranges and apples; vegetables like carrots, celery and green beans; and psyllium. Good sources of insoluble fiber: vegetables such as broccoli, carrots, cabbage, celery and dark green leafy vegetables; fruit such as grapes, apples, oranges and berries; nuts like peanuts, pecans, almonds and walnuts; seeds like flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds; whole grains such as brown rice, barley, quinoa and whole wheat. According to the American Dietetic Association, adult women should have 25 grams of fiber, and adult men should have 38 grams.
  • Fizzical Activity. The last “F” is not a properly spelled word, but sounds like the word physical to help us remember what to do to have regular bowel movements. Physical activity promotes the physical movement of the smooth muscle of the intestines to eliminate waste—stools.       If you are not moving, your intestines tend not to move. If you watch animals, you will notice that they sometimes walk around before having a bowel movement. This is a good lesson for us to learn. Move to move your bowels.
  • I’ll add a fourth “F”: Fun. Since depression may be a cause of constipation, we have to make sure that we are enjoying our lives by doing something fun every day. It doesn’t have to cost anything. It just should be something we enjoy and makes us smile. When you smile, your intestines get moving.

Since I am one of those people who have a neurological disorder that causes constipation, I have to do a little bit more. I eat lots of fiber and get plenty of water. My physical activity level is not as high as I would like, so I must make adjustments. There is one sure fire way to get my bowels moving no matter what. Oatmeal doesn’t do it, and green leafy vegetables don’t do it—even if I eat 9 cups of raw green leafy vegetables in the day. This is where my grandmother’s wisdom pays off. The secret natural laxative is prune juice. If my bowels haven’t moved in a day or two, then I will drink a cup of prune juice, sometimes with my 9 cups of raw green leafy vegetables and some frozen mixed berries. I am guaranteed to have a bowel movement that same day. Not everyone can handle 8 ounces of prune juice, so start small—maybe 1/4 of a cup—if you are unsure. Prunes work well, too. I like to put chopped prunes in my oatmeal instead of raisins. This is less forceful way to encourage a bowel movement. Prune juice packs a bigger punch.

Choose the fluids, fiber, physical activities and fun that fit your needs the best. Until next time, stay regular!

In Good Food We Trust,



Photo courtesy of michaelaw.


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Renee Paden About Renee Paden

Renée graduated with a Master’s Degree in Nutrition from Bastyr University in 2010, after over 20 years in the IT corporate world. Her first nutrition teacher was her grandmother, who showed her how to prepare a balanced plate. Renée spent hours in the kitchen with her grandmother, learning the importance of our relationship with food. She wants everyone to understand how urgent it is for our families to appreciate real food. Our lives depend on it, literally.

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