We’ve all heard it before: If you want to cure your constipation, you need to eat more fiber! It sounds like great advice and it does help people every day. In the United States, most people eat only 15 grams of fiber a day or less instead of the recommended 30 grams!
But what if you are already getting plenty of fiber in your diet?
As someone whose diet consists mostly of fruit, vegetables, oatmeal, and beans… I get plenty of fiber. I’ve done all the high-fiber diets. Have you tried any of these?
- plant-based whole foods only
- raw food only
When I was living each of these diets, they contained tons of fiber and little to no processed food, and I still had issues from time to time. How much more fiber could I possibly eat in a day?
After listening to all the advice out there about consuming more fiber to ease my pain, I began questioning what I was being told. Can too much fiber cause constipation?
It sounds counter-intuitive, but after just a bit of research, I found that my hunch was true. Eating too much fiber could potentially make constipation worse in some people. And you thought eating all those whole grains and veggies was helping you get your digestion back on track! Have all your efforts actually caused you more pain?
Let’s clear a few things out. I mean up.
Don’t Skip The Beans Just Yet
Fiber is not bad for you. I know there is a lot of conflicting information and fad diets out there. Most of the time they shouldn’t be used long-term or should only be used for people with certain conditions for pain and symptom management. If you are considering going on a restrictive diet it’s always best to do so under the supervision and guidance of a doctor or certified nutritionist. Instead of going to extremes, taking a balanced approach is a smart way to go.
Let’s just take a look at fiber’s health benefits.
- regulates blood sugar levels
- balances cholesterol levels
- stimulates the intestines
- feeds good gut bacteria
- reduces risk of diabetes
- reduces risk of certain cancers
- AND promotes regular bowel movements… usually
To figure out why fiber usually helps with constipation and yet sometimes exacerbates it, we need to know the source of the fiber we are getting.
Limit Processed Food
If you get most of your fiber from sugary cereals, pasta, bread, and fiber bars you may want to cut back on those a bit in favor of:
Prepacked and processed foods often contain a lot of salt, sugar, endocrine-disrupting oils, and things you can’t pronounce. We don’t need all that extra stuff running through our bodies causing havoc.
So once you make the switch to whole foods, it may help you to know how fiber works. There are actually different kinds of fiber. As the name suggests, soluble fiber dissolves in water and creates a gel-like substance. Insoluble fiber doesn’t dissolve in water. It bulks up and moistens your stool making it easier to pass through your digestive tract so you don’t poop little pebbles.
Fiber is also your gut bacteria’s preferred food. Without it, they starve off and your body suffers from poor digestion and a weakened immune system.
Get Moving With More Water
Both types of fiber slow down your digestion, which is probably why it’s so good at preventing diabetes as it slows the absorption of sugar and prevents blood sugar spikes. However, if it slows down digestion there’s the possibility of things hanging out longer in your colon, drying out, and getting backed up.
So if we aren’t getting lubrication through drinking enough water, there’s potential to exacerbate constipation. It could lead to hard, dry, small stool that’s tough to pass. We are dehydrating our system with all those dry carbs and no water.
Make sure as you up your dietary fiber, you are drinking more water than you normally do. There are some guidelines that have been put out there about exactly how much water you should consume according to your sex and weight but I haven’t found these to be useful at all. In fact, using a water tracker app caused me to overhydrate with some nasty effects.
We need to start becoming more aware of our bodies’ thirst signals and just go with that. It may take some time to retrain ourselves and maybe in that way a water tracking app can help at first to remind you to drink water if you have trouble remembering. Just don’t drink if you’re really not thirsty. If your pee is clear, you’re probably drinking too much water.
*Side note: Don’t buy single-use plastic bottles at the grocery store. It isn’t good for you with all the chemicals leaching into the water through the plastic, and it isn’t good for our communities of humans, animals, and plants either.
I have been using the same Klean Kanteen water bottle for about a decade and a half now. It doesn’t die! I can’t even begin to calculate how much money I’ve saved by not continuously buying bottled water that was stolen from other people’s land.
Also, coffee doesn’t count as water intake. It’s a diuretic that can cause dehydration which can – you guessed it – exacerbate constipation.
Get All Your Macros
If you’re a whole-foods plant-based health nut – which is my tendency as well – you may be clogging up your system with too much food (or mostly carbs, right?) for it to handle at once. You have to eat larger portions of food to feel satisfied when the food you eat has a lower amount of calories.
Perhaps you could eat less volume if you were eating more healthy fats and lower the portion of carbs just a bit, as that would keep you satiated for longer.
Carbs are not bad. In fact, most carbs contain lots of fiber. But when it’s the only thing you’re eating, it can really start to cause problems. If this is your issue, remember: fat is not bad. We actually need it in order for our bodies to absorb nutrients.
A diet too low in fat can have a negative impact on your mood and mental health. Our brains are made up of mostly fat so give it those healthy Omega-3s.
Some good sources of healthy fats:
- extra virgin olive oil
- hemp hearts, hemp seed oil
- ground flaxseed (remember to grind the seeds and then refrigerate)
- fatty fish like tuna and salmon
- nuts and seeds, nut butter
- eggs (if you raise them yourself or grab them from the non-factory farm across town)
- organic whole fat *plain* yogurt
Make some room in your diet for all the macros. Subtract some of that carb space on your plate and add a little fat and protein. Balance is key.
The way society is structured today (especially 2020 and beyond) has led humans to become more sedentary than ever in our history. With this comes a lot of health problems, and when it comes to constipation, it doesn’t help the situation.
Letting your body go stagnant holds everything up. All of our body systems crave movement and that includes the digestive system. Some types of exercise that can help are cardio, certain yoga poses, and just plain walking. We should all be getting 30 minutes of exercise a day even if we have to break that up into 10-minute sessions.
In addition to your cardio (which could just look like dancing around the house to your favorite music for a half-hour), incorporating yoga poses like Pavanamuktasana or Wind-Relieving Pose – yeah, you heard me right. Also, Cat Cow Pose and Malasana or Deep Squat Pose.
All of these stimulate the bowels.
Finding The Balance
Eating only fiber (aka carbs) can clog you up! So if you think that eating too much fiber could be the culprit for your potty issues, try all of these remedies out.
Make sure you’re eating a diet balanced by all 3 macronutrients, get exercise every day, watch your portions so you don’t overload your system, limit your intake of processed and prepackaged food, and remember to hydrate!
If you find that you need a quick fix now as you are working on rebuilding your lifestyle check out these safe, yet effective laxatives with natural ingredients.
Tell us what areas you need the most improvement in to get yourself to better digestion in the comments!