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Tips to Manage Constipation This Holiday Season

By: Caroline Hodges, PTA, Pelvic Floor Therapist

As we transition into the Holiday Season, days may bring joy as we visit with friends and family, enjoying holiday feasts and festivities. However, these magical changes in season also lead to changes in diet, daily routine, and stress levels, all of which affect bowel function. Luckily, there are things we can do to mitigate these disruptions, so you can focus on enjoying the most wonderful time of the year instead of worrying about the discomfort of bloating and constipation.

Tip #1: Drink Water!

As holiday celebrations commence, parties are filled with sweet treats and festive cocktails for all to enjoy. While these treats add to the magic of the season, they also contribute to your constipation. Drinking 48-64oz of water throughout the day can help to offset the increased sugar and alcohol intake, keeping your system running smoothly. Start your morning with a cup of warm water with lemon, then continue intake throughout the day.

Tip #2: Fill Your Plate with Fiber!

While the holidays are a time for sweet treat and cocktails, they also tend to be a big occasion for the coziest carb-filled meals, complete with mashed potatoes, macaroni & cheese, stuffing/dressing, and cranberry sauce. While those make fantastic additions to the festive feasts, try to fill ½ of your plate with veggies, like green bean casserole, roasted brussel sprouts, and glazed carrots, ¼ with protein such as turkey or ham, and the remaining ¼ with smaller portions of the carbohydrates.

Tip #3: Don’t Over Eat!

It’s no surprise that the majority of Americans report eating larger portions at celebratory meals and even select forgiving/ stretchy clothes to accommodate for the anticipated bloating. We tend to go back for seconds and thirds, not because we’re actually hungry, but because the aromas and variety of foods available are for the special occasion, so we gladly force larger portions than we typically would, feeling satisfied in the moment and like dead weight at the end of the night. Pace yourself, choose normal portions, and allow either one dessert option at a normal portion or a half portion of two different ones. Don’t “save room” for every dessert option!

Tip #4: Manage Stress with a Normal Routine!

It’s a very common time to travel or host a large gathering during this time. That can disrupt your typical routine and create excess stress, wreaking havoc on your GI system. Regardless of whether you're traveling or hosting, give yourself extra time in the morning to start your day without rushing through your “To Do” list of chores. Start the day with a cup of warm water with lemon and salt/electrolytes, eat a fiber and protein rich breakfast BEFORE starting your morning coffee, and allow time to use the restroom without the sense of urgency or pressure to have a bowel movement before leaving the house.

Tip #5: Daily Movement!

Whether traveling or hosting, you may be sitting for long periods at a time between car or plane rides, meal times, and hanging out with friends and family. Don’t forget that your body needs movement in order to help your bowels move, so assess what time you have available and integrate movement into your day. First thing in the morning and before bed at night (you can even do this IN bed!) are great options for any schedule, but walking after each meal for just 15 minutes can make a huge difference in bowels and blood sugar levels.

Tip #6: Use Healthy Habits on the Toilet

Due to the added pressure to complete a bowel movement while traveling or at someone else’s house, it’s common to try to force it by holding your breath, bearing down, and “panic pushing.” Instead, remember to relax, take deep breaths into your ribs and belly, and either use a travel squatty potty or flip the bathroom trash can on its side and place your feet on it to mimic the posture for a healthy, happy bowel movement.

Tip #8: Colon Massage!

Sometimes, even when doing all of the above, you may find your system backed up this season. An additional helpful tool that you can do anywhere is the colon massage. This is applying firm but careful pressure in clockwise circle starting at your sigmoid colon and working back to the cecum for the first round (think unblocking the road block and moving everything toward your rectum even while you work backwards), then following it from right to left for each subsequent cycle, as pictured. You may feel and hear gurgling, which is an excellent sign of peristalsis or movement of your bowels!

I hope these hints are helpful in allowing you and your family to enjoy the celebrations of the holiday season with more comfort and ease, knowing you can do so without constipation. Happy Holidays!

Caroline Hodges, PTA

P.S. - If you try all these tips and are still struggling with constipation, you may want to consider seeing one of our Pelvic Floor PTs!

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