A few weeks ago, when everyone was preparing for social distancing, the biggest poop-related problem was hoarding toilet paper. But now you might be experiencing another common issue: not being able to go. According to celebrity dietitian and F Factor founder Tanya Zuckerbrot, RD, there’s legit reasons you may be wondering, Why am I constipated right now? Here, she outlines the reasons, while giving solutions for each on how to get things moving.
Why am I constipated? There could be a few reasons
1. not exercising as much
While the connection usually goes unnoticed, Zuckerbrot says there’s a science-backed connection between being active and your body’s digestive system staying on track. “Studies have shown that insufficient physical activity and sedentary behaviors are associated with increased reports of constipation,” she says. “If we’re moving less, unfortunately, it means we may move our bowels less, too. Increasing physical activity can speed up transit time, meaning less water is reabsorbed from the stool, helping it to pass easily. Studies have also shown that by increased physical activity can help improve health of the gut microbiota, leading to overall strengthening of the gut.”
The dietitian-approved solution: “Aim for a 10 to 20 minute brisk walk daily to improve gut motility, and increasing frequency of bowel movements,” Zuckerbrot says, adding that if you add a 20 to 30 minute at-home workout on to that, it helps improve blood blow throughout the body and maintain muscle mass.
2. not getting enough fiber
It’s almost impossible to talk about gut health without bringing up fiber and Zuckerbrot says that if you’ve been relying on shelf-stable pantry items instead of fresh foods, you might not be getting enough. “When social distancing first became a reality, we all panicked and ran to the grocery store. What are the foods that flew off the shelves first? Non-perishable items like white bread, rice, and packaged snack foods,” she says. “Though these foods may last for a while in the kitchen cabinet, they are lacking the nutrient we know is guaranteed to keep you regular: fiber.”
The dietitian-approved solution: According to Zuckerbrot, you want to aim to get roughly 35 grams of fiber a day and recommends some easy swaps to get there. “Swap out your white bread for high-fiber wheat or a high-fiber cracker. Or add in non-starchy vegetables that you can find frozen so they’ll last,” she says.
3. not drinking enough water
“Proper hydration is integral to normal bowel movements,” says Zuckerbrot. Even if you’re stuck inside all day, you should still regularly be filling up your water glass. “In the large intestine, water is reabsorbed into the body and pulled out of stool, making it hard and difficult to pass. We need to make sure we’re replenishing that water and staying hydrated,” says Zuckerbrot, adding that water and fiber go hand-in-hand when it comes to keeping the digestive system functioning.
The dietitian-approved solution: Zuckerbrot recommends aiming to drink between two to three liters of water a day. “Set goals for yourself to finish your first liter by noon, your second by 3 p.m., and your third by 6 p.m.,” she says.
4. changes in sleep patterns
Getting too little or too much sleep can affect digestion, says Zuckerbrot. “Getting out of your normal routine throws everything, including your gut, out of its normal ‘rhythm,’” she says. “Circadian rhythm is our internal clock that helps to regulate our daily functions, including our sleep/wake cycle and our digestion.” So if you’re used to having a BM in the morning an it’s no longer happening, this could be why.
The dietitian-approved solution: “Get yourself back on your normal schedule,” Zuckerbrot says as to how to remedy the digestive woes a disrupted routine can cause. “If you’ve been having trouble sleeping due to anxiety, try setting aside an hour at the end of the day to decompress and engage in some self-care, such as watching a TV show you love, reading, or FaceTiming with loved ones.”
5. you’re feeling anxious
If everything related to COVID-19 has you feeling more anxious than normal, you definitely aren’t alone. Mental health and digestion are intricately linked, which means your worries could be affecting your gut health. “There is an higher prevalence of GI disorders among those who suffer from psychological disorders than in the general population,” says Zuckerbrot. “Anxiety and depression can manifest in the gut, causing smooth muscle dysfunction and leading to decreased gut motility. Especially if you find that your anxiety has increased with your recent changes in routine, combating it may help to improve digestion.”
The dietitian-approved solution: While you can’t change the state of the world, you can change how you react to it. “Implement a mindfulness or gratitude practice, journaling what you are grateful for, to reduce anxiety naturally,” Zuckerbrot suggests. “Getting enough sleep, eating regular balanced meals, and exercising are all building blocks to reduce anxiety.”