Many people prefer not to talk about their bathroom habits. But the truth is, your bowel movements (or lack thereof) play a big role in your health. They impact how you feel, your energy, digestion, and more. So it’s something we really should be talking about. Constipation is defined as having hard, dry stools that are difficult to pass, or having fewer than three bowel movements in a week. If that’s you, keep reading ‒ because you’re not alone.
Why Can’t I Poop?
Constipation is quite common and can occur for a lot of different reasons, such as:
Too much or too little fiber in your diet
Lack of physical activity
Tight pelvic floor muscles
Pregnancy or breastfeeding
Improper toileting techniques or posture
Delaying bowel movements when you feel the urge to go
Is There a Right Way to Sit on the Toilet?
Unless you’re potty training a toddler, most people don’t think much about how to physically go to the bathroom. But proper toileting technique can make it easier to have a bowel movement. Try these if you’re dealing with constipation:
Use the bathroom when you feel the urge. Don’t delay a bowel movement if possible.
Place a small stool or box underneath your feet. Rest your feet on something that makes your knees sit higher than your hips. This relaxes your pelvic floor muscles and makes it easier to pass stool.
Sit up straight. Rather than slouch, lean forward and rest your hands or elbows on your thighs. Keep a straight, neutral spine as you lean.
Take a few slow, deep breaths. Inhale, expanding your rib cage and belly. Then keep your belly expanded as you gently exhale.
You can try making a “shhh” sound as you exhale. This will help your pelvic floor muscles stay relaxed and help you go.
It may also help to imagine yourself having a bowel movement.
Don’t strain or push too hard. This can weaken your pelvic floor muscles and lead to hemorrhoids and incontinence. If you don’t have a bowel movement within 10 minutes, leave and return when you feel the urge again.
What Else Can Help Me ‘Get Regular’?
The following diet, exercise, and lifestyle tweaks may also help relieve constipation.
Drink up. Hydration is key to regular bowel movements. Try to drink half your body weight in ounces of water each day. (If you weigh 150 pounds, that’s 75 ounces.) If that’s too challenging, you can always start with a more achievable goal and work up to it.
Eat a well-balanced, high-fiber diet. Include foods like beans, bran, whole grains, and plenty of fruits and veggies. Women should aim for 25-30 grams of fiber per day, and 30-35 grams per day for men. You could also take fiber supplements.
Have a warm breakfast and warm beverage in the morning to help stimulate digestion.
Avoid constipating foods. Unripe bananas, white rice, apples (without the skin), white toast, alcohol, caffeine, and processed foods may contribute to constipation.
Set aside time for undisturbed visits to the toilet, such as after breakfast or dinner. But don’t just sit on the toilet unless you really have to go.
Get moving! Exercise can help move stool through your system. Try to get at least 20-30 minutes of daily movement.
Consider self-abdominal massage. You can ask your Hinge Health physical therapist for additional information on this.
Starting Pelvic Floor Exercises
There’s one other practice that can help prevent and manage constipation: pelvic floor exercises. Pelvic floor exercises are not just Kegels. Rather, they include a variety of moves that help strengthen and relax the muscles of your pelvic floor, which support your pelvic organs (bladder, bowels, etc.).
Reach out to your Hinge Health physical therapist or coach if you’re interested in adding pelvic floor exercises to your current routine.
To make bowel movements easier, avoid delaying when you have the urge to go and straining or holding your breath when using the toilet.
Staying hydrated, eating high-fiber foods, and staying active promotes optimal bowel health.
Pelvic floor exercises and deep breathing help relax your pelvic floor muscles, which helps with bowel movements.
Çalişkan, N., Bulut, H., & Konan, A. (2016). The Effect of Warm Water Intake on Bowel Movements in the Early Postoperative Stage of Patients Having Undergone Laparoscopic Cholecystectomy: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Gastroenterology Nursing, 39(5), 340-7. doi:10.1097/SGA.0000000000000181
Bae, S. H. (2014). Diets for Constipation. Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology & Nutrition, 17(4): 203–208. doi:10.5223/pghn.2014.17.4.203
Cleveland Clinic. (2019). Constipation | Cleveland Clinic. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/4059-constipation
Constipation. (n.d.). Hopkins Medicine. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/constipation