Hippocrates said it, and I must agree: All health begins in our gut! How is your gut? And more importantly—how is your poop?
You don't need to spend money for a fancy microbiome test. You simply need to stand up and look at the toilet next time you have a bowel movement. Is your poop soft and snake-shaped, or is it hard and pebbly?
Our colon is home to 100 trillion bacteria, yeasts, and parasites that either help us run our bodies more effectively or gum up them up, making us feel poorly. Having the right mix of microbes makes it much more likely that our biochemistry is happily humming along. Our energy is up, our mood is good, and we feel great. But if we have the wrong mix of microbes, the transit time through our bowels slows. The stool becomes hard and dry. We are more likely to have excessive inflammation and less effective processing and elimination of toxins.
Constipation is a very common problem today. Many children have severe constipation, passing small, hard, pebbly stool. It is not uncommon for people to tell me that they may have a bowel movement once a week or less. Those people are usually miserable. More belly pain. More headaches. More problem with severe menstrual cramps. More problems with erectile dysfunction. And a lot more irritability.
Are you one of those people who have been pooping rocks for much too long? Here are a few things you can do to get things moving along more smoothly. The goal is to have a soft, snakelike poop every day—or even two or three times a day!
1. Remove gluten from the diet.
Sensitivity to gluten may be adding to the constipation trouble. Read labels and remove wheat from your diet for a month and see how you feel.
2. Focus on vegetables instead of grain-based products.
When you would normally eat grains, try to instead consume more nonstarchy vegetables (think cauliflower rice, broccoli pizza crust, or a green smoothie for breakfast). This will massively increase the amount of fiber you're consuming, which is critical to a great poop.
3. Limit sugar and other sweeteners to no more than 1 teaspoon per day.
Don't have artificial sweeteners of any type, as they encourage constipation-promoting microbes.
4. Eat a no-grain or a low-grain diet.
If you do eat grain, limit it to gluten-free grains, and ideally consume no more than one serving per day.
5. Have a goal of eating 6 to 9 cups (measured raw) of nonstarchy vegetables and berries each day.
No need to stuff yourself—the idea here is to replace as much of the non-helpful foods you consume with vegetables and berries, as their additional fiber will help feed the healthy microbes in your gut. Also, try to add in more raw vegetables or boiled root vegetables that you have allowed to cool, and eating cold. When you eat the cooled, cooked starchy vegetables, the carbohydrates act as food for the good bacteria in your gut, allowing them to flourish.
6. Add in chia or flaxseed puddings.
This is a great trick for easing stubbornly hard bowel movements—plus, they're easy to make and delicious. Stir 3 tablespoons of chia seed or ground flaxseed with 1 cup of water, nut milk, or coconut milk and let sit for 10 to 30 minutes before serving. You can increase the puddings as needed to have a soft bowel movement daily. Using prune juice and chia seed or ground flaxseed makes a tasty pudding that many enjoy.
7. Add magnesium.
If you're still having trouble, add 400 mg to 800 mg of magnesium in the form of magnesium citrate, magnesium glycinate, or milk of magnesium each day. The magnesium pulls water into the colon, softening the stool. Since many of us are low in magnesium, adding in the supplement can be good beyond just the health of your gut.
8. Eat more fermented foods.
Consuming foods like kimchi or sauerkraut on a daily basis increases the diversity of the gut microbes. Work your way up to 1 cup or more of fermented vegetables daily.
9. Have a hot beverage ritual.
Have a hot beverage and attempt to move your bowels the same time every day. Your body will learn the pattern and be more likely to have a daily bowel movement if you set up the pattern.
10. Put your feet up.
Pick up a stool or a short box to rest your feet on as you sit on the toilet. By elevating your feet 4 to 6 inches from the floor, you'll suddenly be squatting instead of sitting. When we squat, the pelvic muscles that hold our poop back are pushed out of the way, and it is much easier to empty the bowels.
If you want even more gut advice, my mbg class on gut health helps you rebalance your gut to balance your hormones, state of mental health, and more. In the meantime, try making as many of these changes as you can, and happy pooping!