You’re not alone. Constipation is one of the most common digestive problems, affecting up to 20% of Australian men up to 12.9% of Australian women.
But it can mean different things for different people. One person’s constipation may mean having a bowel moment fewer than three times per week, says Doctor Satish Rao. Another’s might be pooping three times a day, but still having “incomplete evacuation,” or a feeling of pressure, like you didn’t get everything out, he says.
Constipation can make you feel bloated, gassy, and generally pretty crappy—and it can raise your risk of unpleasant conditions like hemorrhoids, too.
Increasing your fibre, drinking more fluids, and taking probiotics can help you in the long-term, says Dr. Rao — but if you need a faster fix, try these 5 tricks to get pooping right now.
1. CONSTIPATION CURE: DRINK SOMETHING HOT
A hot beverage can stimulate your digestive system. This kicks off something called peristalsis, the process that causes your intestinal muscles to push faecal matter forward to your rectum, says Dr. Rao.
Any hot beverage — including regular old water — will likely trigger some kind of contractions in your gut, but if you want the biggest bang for your buck, make it coffee.
In Dr. Rao’s research, he discovered that caffeinated coffee sparked contractions in the gut that were 60 percent stronger than hot water, and 23 percent more intense than decaf coffee.
Compounds in coffee likely trigger the production of certain hormones in your body that help the pooping process, Dr. Rao says.
Drinking coffee might bring a mental benefit, too: One study found that nearly a third of people expressed “desire to defecate” within 20 minutes after having coffee.
Try to take in your cup roughly 30 minutes before you head to the bathroom—that should give it enough time to start working, says Dr. Rao. For some people, though, the effect could be much speedier.
And pair your beverage with a fibre-rich breakfast like whole grain cereal or oatmeal with nuts, says food scientist and dietitian Joy Dubost. While the hot beverage sparks your digestion, the fibre can help bulk up your waste so that it gets pushed forward effectively.
2. CONSTIPATION CURE: POP A SQUAT(ISH)
Think of your normal toilet position: You’re probably hunched over on the can, right?
That’s bad news for pooping: “The toilet has been a curse for mankind,” says Dr. Rao.
That’s because when you sit, the puborectalis muscle — which helps you maintain continence by creating a kink between the colon and rectum — only partially relaxes. But when you squat, the muscle fully relaxes. As a result, your rectum shortens, which allows for more adequate evacuation of your stool.
Now, this doesn’t mean you should perch on your toilet seat to pop a squat—unless you want to make a mess and sprain an ankle.
Instead, consider a step stool that you place around the base of the toilet. You put your feet on the platform, which raises your knees above your hips, mimicking the squatting position.
Or, you can save some cash and build your own: Just look for a step stool that’s 9-inches tall so it will put your knees in the correct position.
Then, once you have your setup in place, make sure you’re in and out — no scrolling through your Facebook feed: Spending too much time on the toilet can actually make constipation worse. The longer you sit, the more the contractions of your intestinal muscles fade, says Dr. Rao. That can lead some people to start pushing to try to push out their poop, which can trigger the development of haemorrhoids.
3. CONSTIPATION CURE: GET UP EARLIER
When you hit the “snooze” button, you might be delaying more than you think.
Morning tends to be the best time for pooping, Dr. Rao says, because the colon wakes up “with a bang.” It begins contracting immediately, which turns on your “time to poop” signals and makes it easier to go.
If you mute that by sleeping later than usual or rushing through your tasks, you risk turning off that signal.
“Your body has certain rituals and programs,” he notes. “If you let it do its job, then it will. But if you ignore those signals, they’ll fade away and they won’t come back.”
As a result, you won’t feel the pooping urge, and that can lead to bloating and discomfort. Or, worse, you might try to force it and then start straining.
So if you know you have to poop before leaving the house—say, if you’re on your way to race or a long outdoor hike—make sure to get up a little earlier than usual so you have some unstructured, relaxing morning time, says Dr. Rao.
That way, when the poop urge comes, you’ll be able to heed it—and take care of it, stat, before it fades.
4. CONSTIPATION CURE: VISUALISE THE DUMP OF YOUR DREAMS
It sounds crazy, but there’s actually some benefit to imagining yourself successfully completing a blissful poop.
In fact, Dr. Rao often uses visualisation techniques with his patients. That’s because your mind/body connection can be used to loosen your pelvic floor, which is often too tight in people who have problems with constipation.
Sling-shaped pelvic floor muscles hold your pelvic organs—like your bowel and bladder—in place.
“Imagine that area of your body as a dam holding back water,” he says. “If you gently open a lock in that dam, you’ll get the flow you want.”
Consider setting aside the same time each day for this exercise—ideally, in the morning when you’ve already had some coffee—so that you can establish a regular pooping habit.
Sit on the toilet, breathe deeply, and recall the feeling of relief that comes with an epic poop. That physical sensation of relief is related to your pelvic floor relaxing. With each exhale, imagine that muscular sling releasing.
Remember not to sit for too long—try just a few minutes at first—but it’s possible that you’ll retrain your body with just a few sessions.
With enough visualisation, you can recalibrate the muscles to open when you choose, Dr. Rao says: “You have more power over the situation than you think.”
5. CONSTIPATION CURE: MASSAGE YOUR PERINEUM
If mind tricks aren’t working, you may need to take a different approach. Spoiler: it’s very hands-on.
The technique involves massaging your perineum — the stretch of skin that extends from your anus to your vagina.
In a UCLA study of 100 people with constipation, those who used the technique reported more improvement in bowel function and greater feelings of wellbeing than those who didn’t use the perineum trick. The researchers believe that putting pressure on your perineum may help break up hard stools and relax your anal canal, making it easier to poop.
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This article originally appeared on Men's Health