With social distancing and stay-at-home orders in place throughout much of the U.S., pretty much everything about our daily lives has changed—including our bathroom habits.
That’s right, quarantine constipation (along with other digestive issues) is a very real thing—and you’re not the only one having trouble going.
“Many people who had no problem going to the bathroom before the pandemic are now finding it harder to go with regularity,” says dietitian Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D.N., author of Read It Before You Eat It ,
The culprit? A complete and utter change in routine.
You see, our bathroom habits are influenced by exercise, eating, sleep, and stress management habits and practices, says Taub-Dix. Considering the coronavirus pandemic has thrown off all of those things, it’s no wonder our digestive systems are going haywire.
Luckily, there are plenty of natural ways to manage stress and digestion—and, yes, relieve quarantine constipation. Here’s what eight nutritionists and functional medicine experts recommend.
1. Load Up On Fiber
Global pandemic or not, the main reason people experience constipation is lack of fiber, says Dr. Josh Axe, D.N.M., C.N.S., D.C, member of The Vitamin Shoppe Wellness Council and co-founder of Ancient Nutrition. (In case you need the refresher, fiber is an indigestible nutrient that passes through our digestive tract and adds bulk to our stool.)
While the American Heart Association recommends we get 25 grams of fiber a day, “most people get around half of that, which makes stool harder to pass,” Axe says.
For that reason, your first step in combating back-up is upping your intake of fiber-filled foods. Incorporate plant foods—like flax seeds, chia seeds, veggies (especially green, leafy ones), beans, nuts, and seeds—into every meal.
2. Nosh On Prunes
If there’s one quick fix for constipation, it’s prunes (a.k.a. dried plums). “As conventional wisdom says, prunes really do help relieve constipation,” says Taub-Dix.
Why? In addition to offering nearly four grams of fiber per serving (five prunes), the fruit also contain a sugar alcohol called ‘sorbitol’. “Sorbitol cannot be completely digested, which means it passes right through the body, having a natural laxative effect,” she explains.
In fact, one small 2014 Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics study concluded that “dried plums are safe, palatable, and more effective than [OTC laxatives] for the treatment of mild to moderate constipation, and should be considered as a first line of therapy.”
Your move: Eat five prunes a day with an eight-ounce glass of water.
3. Drink More Water
“Most people who are spending their days at home don’t have the work water cooler or their desk water bottle to remind them to drink enough water,” says Taub-Dix. The result? Dehydration, which can lead to less frequent bowel movements.
Read More: Are You Dehydrated Without Even Knowing It?
“When you’re dehydrated, there’s less water available to keep stool soft and moving, resulting in stool immobility,” explains nutritionist Lisa Richards, C.N.C., creator of The Candida Diet.
To ward off constipation, drink half your body weight in ounces of water each day, she says. (A 150-pound person, for example, should drink at least 75 ounces per day.)
To get in the habit, keep two water bottles at your home workspace or on your coffee table to remind you to drink up, Taub-Dix says. (Or, download a hydration app like iHydrate, WaterMinder, and Daily Water Tracker Reminder.)
4. Have A Cup Of Coffee
As if you needed another reason to brew yourself some coffee, sipping a cup of joe is a well-known constipation remedy that actually works, according to Taub-Dix.
For starters, “the coffee counts as part of your daily fluid intake,” she says. (Yep, it’s just as hydrating as water, according to one 2014 study published in the journal PLoS One.)
Plus, because of its caffeine content, coffee is also thought to stimulate the muscles in the digestive tract, which literally keeps food moving.
If you’ve previously found that drinking coffee jumpstarts your system, Taub-Dix recommends having one cup in the morning.
5. Feast On Fermented Foods
Though frozen veggies are hard to come by at the supermarket right now, fermented foods—like kimchi, kefir, sauerkraut, tempeh, and kombucha—may be easy to find. They’re also great for your gut.
“Fermented foods are rich in probiotics, which have a positive effect on digestion and regularity,” says Axe.
Constipated or not, Axe recommends consuming two servings of fermented foods each day.
If you can’t find fermented foods at your grocery store, consider a daily probiotic supplement.
6. Cut Back On Booze
If you’ve found yourself drinking more alcohol in quarantine than you did pre-pandemic, you’re not alone. An increase in alcohol consumption could be contributing to your infrequent trips to the bathroom.
Alcohol decreases the secretion of antidiuretic hormone (ADH), which is the hormone that signals the body to hold onto water, explains Taub-Dix. The less ADH someone has, the more they urinate, which decreases the fluid available to keep your digestion moving.
The solution: Limit alcohol consumption as much as possible. When you do drink, pair it with a big glass of water or a serving of water- and fiber-dense fruit like watermelon, orange, or cantaloupe.
7. Find A New Exercise Routine
With gyms and fitness studios closed until further notice, many people have pressed pause on their workout routine. However, “physically moving your body keeps things moving through your digestive system,” says Axe.
Luckily, it’s easier than ever to find workouts to do at home. Whatever your fitness level or exercise goal may be, there’s an online workout out there for you. A simple walk outside will also do the trick.
8. Step Up Your Stress Management
No doubt these are stressful times—and research has linked anxiety with constipation. According to Axe, excessive stress and digestion struggles are also linked.
When you’re stressed, your body goes into a “fight or flight” response. This increases blood flow to the muscles, brain, arms, and legs, and diverts blood flow from the intestines, Axe explains. The “fight or flight” response also increases the release of something called, “corticotropin-releasing factor” (CRF), which slows bowels down, he says.
Plus, high levels of stress have been shown to decrease good gut bacteria, which also keeps us regular.
Not to mention, “stress can also trigger people to eat less healthy fibrous foods that contribute to regularity,” says Axe.
His go-to for reducing stress: yoga. In fact, it’s been scientifically proven to reduce stress. Try implementing three to five yoga sessions into your routine per week, but note that you’ll feel the stress-relieving benefits after just one session.
When To Call A Doctor
Since constipation can be be a symptom of serious health conditions like gastrointestinal cancer, thyroid disease, irritable bowel syndrome, and diabetes, Taub-Dix recommends ringing your doctor if you’ve been constipated for longer than a week.
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