Struggling to get things moving is a very common issue for most Americans. If you're feeling backed up, there could be a number of reasons why. Maybe you've had a stressful week at work, been spending a lot of time traveling, or been eating more junk food than usual.
Since nobody wants to feel crampy and bloated or strain with all their might for minimal reward, we polled the experts and dug into the research for the 16 best ways to get things moving—fast.
How to make yourself poop
If you're backed up, here are a few ways to help get things going fast.
Drink plenty of water
If you're dehydrated, sometimes drinking a nice tall glass of water is enough to stimulate your bowels and get things moving. Adequate water intake is also essential for avoiding a future bout of constipation.
How much water are we talking? "One helpful ratio is to convert your weight into kilograms, and that's about how many ounces of water you need at a baseline—not including exercise," says functional medicine doctor Wendie Trubow, M.D. So, a 150-pound person would need about 68 ounces (or 8.5 cups) of water per day, and more with exercise.
Take psyllium husk powder
Psyllium husk is a potent, natural source of fiber (7 grams per tablespoon) and has been shown to help combat both constipation1 and diarrhea2. Specifically, it's considered a bulk-forming laxative, which means it absorbs liquid and swells to form a gel. This gives your poop more bulk and mass and helps get things moving through the digestive tract. Psyllium husk powder can be mixed with water and taken before or between meals to promote regularity—follow dosage instructions on the package.
Drink a cup of hot coffee
Warm beverages in general may be superior to cool beverages for stimulating your bowels, but coffee in particular seems to pack an extra punch—and not necessarily due to its caffeine content. Though researchers aren't exactly sure why, one study3 found that regular coffee and decaf coffee "induced a desire to defecate" among participants, while hot water alone did not.
Take a magnesium supplement
"I like the powder form so that I can adjust the amount I take," says Trubow. "This can be titrated up until it's effective. You may need more depending on the time of month as some women get constipated based on fluctuations in their hormonal cycle."
Make flaxseed tea
Take a spoonful of MCT oil
Oils have long been used as a mild natural laxative, but MCT oil may be particularly effective, as it contains isolated fatty acids that are more quickly digested. A number of functional medicine practitioners recommend taking MCT oil if you're constipated. "I'd start with one-half to one teaspoon of MCT oil and work up as tolerated/needed," says Trubow.
"Triphala capsules can act as a nice 'bowel tonic' if you take it one to two times daily before eating," says Singh. "It is an ayurvedic herb that has been used for ages to help with digestion5." Literally translating as "three fruits," triphala 404 is a traditional herbal blend of three fruits (amalaki fruit, bibhitaki fruit, and haritaki fruit) that are native to India.
Get in a squat position
Using something that elevates your feet slightly while you're sitting on the toilet, like a Squatty Potty, creates proper anatomical alignment, allowing for easier and more complete evacuation. Remember, before we had toilets, we used to squat down to defecate, says Trubow.
All exercise, particularly cardiovascular exercise, can increase your metabolism, which increases intestinal motility (i.e., intestinal contractions that allow you to poop).
It has long-term beneficial effects for your digestion, too. "Exercise also helps cultivate a diverse and strong gut microbiome," says Singh. "So we want to exercise and move regularly since this will aid in digestion and overall health." Just remember, exercise is dehydrating, so be sure to guzzle down adequate water.
Take a deep breath
"When you are stressed, it activates the sympathetic fight-or-flight response, which lowers parasympathetic response," says Trubow. "A sympathetic response inhibits defecation. Although there are a few people who will get diarrhea when stressed, it is significantly more likely to cause constipation."
Give your colon a massage
Massaging your lower abdomen can help stimulate your bowels, says Trubow. That not doing the trick? One study6 found that massaging your perineum—the area of skin between your vagina and anus—with your index and pointer finger can help counter constipation because it stimulates certain pressure points. Not necessarily the first natural remedy we'd choose, but desperate times call for desperate measures.
Eat more fiber
This is an obvious long-term strategy for promoting regularly, but it can be an effective in-the-moment strategy as well, especially if you're worried about quick-fix remedies.
Ramping up your intake of nonstarchy vegetables and fruits is a good idea, and incorporating particularly high-fiber options like raspberries (which pack 8 grams per cup, or 32 percent of your recommended daily fiber intake).
Almonds are also a great choice, containing both fiber and magnesium.
Try this recipe
Eat some olive oil
As functional physician Bindiya Gandhi, M.D. writes on mindbodygreen, olive oil has mild laxative effects—enough to be beneficial for someone struggling to pass hard stools. One study found that patients undergoing dialysis were able to alleviate constipation by consuming olive oil daily.
Gandhi recommends eating 1 tablespoon of high-quality extra virgin olive oil daily—either by itself or in dressings, smoothies, etc.
Work with essential oils
Use a laxative
Singh is not opposed to using stool softeners or laxatives to get the momentum going. Once you do, you can use one of the more subtle strategies above to keep yourself regular. Potent natural laxatives like senna tea can be particularly effective, but you don't want to overuse them.
Use enemas as a last resort
If all else fails and you really need to get things moving, enemas can be useful too. "I like enemas because they simultaneously empty out the colon and also encourage the colonic muscle to remember that its job is to contract," says Trubow. "There are all types of fancy enemas, but a water one is fine to start with."
Ultimately, though, "we want to know why you have these problems and try to get to the root cause and address the issue so that you don't need to take these types of things regularly," says Singh.
When it's time to see a doctor
If you're not able to get back to a healthy bowel movement range (pooping one to three times a day is ideal), despite making some of the changes above, you should definitely see a doctor who can help you determine the cause of your constipation and appropriate course of action.
Sometimes it's nothing to be concerned about; other times you might be dealing with a neurological condition that affects the digestive system; pelvic floor dyssynergia, a condition involving how the muscles and sphincters work and coordinate together; or a hormonal imbalance such as estrogen dominance that requires a bit more professional guidance.
Any change in bowel habits, especially when there are other concerning symptoms like weight loss, bleeding, and abdominal pain should definitely be evaluated by a gastroenterologist.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the fastest constipation relief?
Using a stool softener, laxative, or enema is a fast way to get constipation relief. However, these are only temporary solutions, and they won't treat the root cause of your constipation.
What drinks make you poop immediately?
Try flaxseed tea: 1 to 2 tablespoons of crushed flaxseeds steeped in 2 cups of water for 10 minutes. This mild stool softener will lubricate and soothe your large intestine.
What foods help you poop?
High-fiber foods, olive oil, and MCT oil will all help promote healthy bowel movements. For a quick way to combine these ingredients, try a smoothie with leafy greens, almond butter, raspberries, MCT oil, banana, and a liquid of your choice.
If you're dealing with constipation, you aren't alone. Try utilizing one of these 16 natural remedies to achieve healthy, consistent bowel movements—your body will thank you!
Stephanie Eckelkamp is a writer and editor who has been working for leading health publications for the past 10 years. She received her B.S. in journalism from Syracuse University with a minor in nutrition. In addition to contributing to mindbodygreen, she has written for Women's Health, Prevention, and Health. She is also a certified holistic health coach through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. She has a passion for natural, toxin-free living, particularly when it comes to managing issues like anxiety and chronic Lyme disease (read about how she personally overcame Lyme disease here).