When it comes to bowel movements, we would all like to be “regular”. But everyone’s bowel habits are different, and what’s normal for one person may not be normal for another.
Not everyone has a bowel movement every day for example. Let’s say you only have a bowel movement 3 times a week. If that’s your normal pattern, you’re still not constipated. So how can you tell when you are? As a rule of thumb, if you haven’t had a bowel movement for more than 3 days or have small, hard, dry stools that are painful or difficult to pass, you’re probably constipated.
With diarrhea, you have the other extreme. Stools are loose and watery and can cause painful gas and cramping. Fortunately, most bouts of diarrhea only last a few days and go away on their own without treatment. However, you should see your doctor if you are losing weight, seeing blood in your stools, or have trouble eating or swallowing.
Here are some ways to keep the going good:
- Get enough fibre. Fibre is crucial to a well-running digestive system. There are 2 types — soluble (mostly found in lentils, peas, oats, fruits, and vegetables) and insoluble (typically found in whole grains and breads). Each has its own benefits when it comes to digestion. Soluble fibre slows digestion1 and helps you absorb nutrients from food. Insoluble fibre provides bulk to stool, helping the stool pass more quickly through the intestines. When introducing more fibre into your diet, do it gradually. Getting too much too soon could cause gas, bloating, and diarrhea.
- Try a nutritional supplement, such as Ensure® Protein Max, which contains 3 g of scFOS fibre. ScFOS fibre has been shown to help maintain regular bowel movements.2
- Stay well hydrated. Our bodies need water to digest food. Unless you have a condition that requires fluid restrictions, experts recommend 12 cups of fluid a day for the average male and 9 for the average female.3
- Keep moving. Regular exercise can help keep your bowels moving along as they should.
- Go easy on the laxatives. Although they can help out in the short term, using them over the long term can impair your body’s ability to have a normal bowel movement. When misused or overused, they could even lead to chronic constipation. Ask your pharmacist or physician if you have questions on the topic.
- Dietitians of Canada, “Food Sources of Fiber”, http://www.dietitians.ca/Your-Health/Nutrition-A-Z/Fibre/Food-Sources-of-Fibre.aspx. Accessed October 31, 2016.
- Tominaga S et al. Effects of ingested fructooligosaccharides on stool frequency in healthy female volunteers: A placebo-controlled study. Bioscience Microflora 1999;18:49-53.
- Dietitians of Canada, “Guidelines for Drinking Fluids to Stay Hydrated”, http://www.dietitians.ca/Your-Health/Nutrition-A-Z/Water/Why-is-water-so-important-for-my-body---Know-when-.aspx. Accessed October 31, 2016.