By Sheryl Kraft
You may be all go-go-go this holiday season, busy with traveling, parties, late nights and fun. It's energizing, in a way.
But not everything in your body can keep up with your busy schedule.
Take your bowels, for instance: instead of being on the go right along with you, they may be sending out a different message.
Constipation happens for many reasons, and it's not surprising that the havoc of the holidays is among them. Stress, changes in your normal routine, dehydration, certain foods, ignoring the urge to "go," a disrupted sleep schedule: these can all contribute to this all-too-common problem.
What's considered "normal" varies widely from person to person; but in general, if you pass less than three stools a week, your stools are hard and dry or you experience a lot of straining when you try to go, you can probably join the ranks of the constipated.
The good news? While it's a club you'd rather not belong to, it's usually just temporary. The (not so) bad news? It can take a little while to get your digestive system back in working order.
READ: The Top 2 Ways to Improve Digestion
Chances are good that when you get back into your routine and tweak some lifestyle habits you'll alleviate the bothersome problem.
It's a pretty easy fix – you have our word.
Eat more fiber. The American Dietetic Association's recommendation for between 20 to 35 grams per day far exceeds the 5 to 14 grams that most of us eat each day. The culprit, many times, is a diet rich in refined and processed foods. Good sources of fiber include beans, whole grains, brown rice, popcorn, nuts, baked potatoes with skin, berries, oatmeal and vegetables. And don't forget these dried fruits, most of which are loaded with fiber: prunes, dates, raisins and apricots.
Drink enough. That's not a signal to double up on your eggnog (sorry!), but it is possible to get relief with fluids like water and juice. The reason is simple: liquids add fluid to your colon and bulk to your stools, making them softer and easier to pass. And since things like alcohol and caffeine can be dehydrating, if you're a fan of either, it's important to remember to drink plenty of water. (It's important to drink plenty of water, period.)
READ: How Much Water Do We Really Need to Drink?
Move your body. By decreasing the time it takes for food to move through your large intestine and limiting the amount of water absorbed from the stool into your body, exercise is a powerful tool to avoid constipation. And when your breathing and heart rate are pumping away, the natural contractions of your intestinal muscles are stimulated to help move stool out quickly.
READ: Get Motivated: The Workout You Won't Cancel
Sometimes, constipation remains stubborn and chronic. When should you see a doctor? The Mayo Clinic offers this helpful advice to make sure it's not part of a bigger problem:
See a doctor if you have:
- An unexplained onset of constipation or change in bowel habits
- Severe symptoms lasting longer than three weeks
- Intense abdominal pain
- Have blood in your stool
- Rectal pain
- Constipation that alternates with diarrhea
- Unexplained weight loss