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You, Unplugged: 6 Steps to Healthy Bowels

(Graphic: Kat Borosky/TueNight.com)

I’ve always been prone to painful poops. Growing up, my mom gave me tall glasses of prune juice to get things moving. By the time I was a teen, I popped Correctol any time my movements slowed down. Even into adulthood, romantic getaways and weeklong vacations created a digestive gridlock that rivaled LA freeways during rush hour. But it wasn’t until I was pregnant with twin boys that severe constipation, complete with bloating, cramps and excruciating pain, consumed my life.

Surging pregnancy hormones relaxed my muscles (including my bowels). Add to that a daily iron supplement to compensate for anemia, myriad constipating meds to manage pre-term labor and immobility due to physician-prescribed bed rest. My gut became a waste product traffic jam.

Unfortunately, advice for how to unplug isn’t exactly clear-cut. The doc told me to load up on fruits, vegetables and whole grains without explaining that certain foods within those categories can exacerbate the pain (think bananas, apples and potatoes).

Granted, my case was extreme — I took twice daily stool softeners to keep my bowels happy — but I also learned everything there is to know about which foods plug me up and which keep things moving (prune juice didn’t work; pears did).

Over time, stress, deadlines, even weeklong vacations didn’t derail my insides. In fact, I haven’t suffered a single bout of constipation since the birth of my boys. The kicker: I’m expecting again and have managed to stay regular for my entire pregnancy (six-plus months so far!). What can I say? The experience has made me somewhat of an expert on the subject. I’ve even counseled pregnant friends on how to get things going in the loo.

My six-step guide:

  1. Cut the crap – Refined sugar, soda pop, even too much dairy can result in digestive slowdown. If you’re already plugged up, nix these foods as your first defense.
  2. Fill up on fiber – Fiber is the stuff in fruits, vegetables and grains your body can’t digest. To get your daily quota of 25 to 35 grams, load up on kiwi, whole grain cereals, beans and legumes.
  3. Mind your “p” fruits – While all fruits are good for you, some are constipating (bananas, apples and grapes are the usual suspects). Your safety zone: P fruits. Plums, peaches, pears, papaya and pineapple are natural constipation-fighters. All are chock full of fiber and I suspect many contain enzymes and compounds that act as natural laxatives.
  4. Drink up – Like a water slide, fluids, especially water, propel food through the digestive tract. Can’t stomach water? Fiber-rich soups like minestrone, lentil and pea soup are your best bets. Just steer clear of constipating cream and cheese-based soups.
  5. Get moving – A brisk walk not only keeps you fit, but also encourages active bowels. Shoot for 30 minutes of activity, but even a 10-minute walk could do the trick.
  6. Take time out – Sometimes the pressure of pooping can exacerbate the blockage, especially if you live (or vacation with) friends or family members. Kick everyone out of the house (or hotel room) then hit the john. You might be surprised what comes out.

Still jammed? Break out the bran. Just add two to six tablespoons of bran to each meal, followed by a glass of water. The laxative effect may be delayed for three to five days, but eventually you will get relief.

Your At-A-Glance Gut Guide:
Foods that Plug You Up

–       Cheese
–       Bananas
–       Red meat
–       Apple juice
–       Butter

Foods that Help You Unplug

–       Yogurt
–       Kiwi
–       Salmon
–       P fruits – plums, prunes, prune juice, pears, peaches, pineapple
–       Cranberry juice
–       Peanut butter
–       Coffee

The information on this Web site is designed for educational or entertainment purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. Always discuss your health and any treatment options with your physician.

Filed under: Body

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Amy Paturel

Amy Paturel, M.S., M.P.H. writes about health, food and fitness for a variety of publications including Glamour, Health, EatingWell, Wine Enthusiast and Marie Claire. She also regularly contributes to websites including BabyCenter.com, EverydayHealth.com and SELF.com. You can find her on Twitter @amypaturel

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