Constipation usually happens most often due to changes in diet or routine, or due to inadequate intake of fiber.
It’s 8 p.m. and you haven’t eaten since 12 p.m.
You know it’s dinnertime time, but the thing is…you’re not all that hungry. Couple this with the fact that you haven’t really gone to the bathroom since yesterday morning, and the last thing your body is telling you is, “I am hungry.”
To make yourself eat or not eat when you’re constipated?—That is the question.
THE (CONSTIPATION & APPETITE) STRUGGLE IS REAL
Constipation induced loss of appetite is real.
Your regular poop patterns are backed up and it feels like there’s a lot less room in your stomach to eat.
You wonder if eating another meal will just make things worse, overcrowding your gut even more.
Also, you get hungry, but get full just as fast—as if your body is playing tricks on you (and fights back) when you do eat.
You WANT to eat, but the whole gamble of whether or not you WILL have a golden poo that day is downright exhausting.
Maybe you should just snack?
Or eat prunes?
Maybe, sip a smoothie?
Or eat as normal—and pretend and hope it will all go away?
Aye, aye, aye!
You hate having to think so hard about it.
You are not alone.
GET THE FACTS
In an ideal world, we’d poop two to three times per day,30 to 60 minutes after every main meal, and move approximately a total of 12-inches of feces out of our body daily *without the use of coffee, supplements, laxatives, colonics, or any other methods).
However, this is not the case.
Approximately 99% of people will experience constipation at some time in their life—technically defined as a condition in which you have fewer than three bowel movements a week, or you experience hard, dry and small bowel movements that are painful or difficult to pass.
Constipation typically doesn’t just come from out of nowhere—like something you’re born with. Outside stressors that contribute include:
- Poorly chewed food
- Eating too fast or on the go
- Low-fat or low-carb diets
- Artificial sweeteners
- Travel (“traveler’s constipation”)
- Eating higher amounts of dry foods (nuts, bars, jerky, gluten-free products)
- Antibiotics, birth control, NSAIDS and other medications
- Bacterial overgrowth in your GI tract
- Low water intake (dehydration) or poor quality water
- Not eating enough
- Chronic stress (high-intensity workouts, low sleep, anxiety and mental stress)
- Sedentary lifestyle or overtraining
- Poor or slow GI motility (transit time)
- Hormonal imbalances
- Food intolerances
- Eating too many raw vegetables or dietary fiber at once
—Just some examples.
With such a wide array of triggers, it’s no wonder that constipation has become a “norm” for many people.
Leaving you with the same dilemma.
Will experiencing “normal” appetite, eating and bowel patterns EVER be in the cards for you?
The short answer: Yes, they can be.
Just like eating Big Macs and Dortio chips are not technically normal for humans (but have become “normal”), constipation does not have to be your normal either.
Before we talk about a few ways to help you address your constipation, what should you do when you’re constipated and not hungry?
EATING & CONSTIPATION
The reason why loss of appetite often strikes with constipation is often due to slowed GI-motility—it’s as if food is sitting there, undigested and taking it’s pretty (sweet) time moving through your system.
What causes slow GI-motility?
An overgrowth of unhealthy bacteria, low stomach acid, restrictive eating and/or an irritated intestinal wall can often lead to “sluggish digestion” and consequently, the appetite loss often experienced with constipation.
When the gut is imbalanced to any degree, this often sets the stage for other imbalances as well—both digestively (i.e. constipation) and nutritionally (i.e. nutrient deficiencies).
For instance, bacterial overgrowth in your small intestine may find your gut bugs completely happy campers, left feasting and eating residual, fermenting (undigested) food particles in your gut. This signals to your brain that something inside is getting fed, suppressing the hunger signals of otherwise hungry organs and cells, simply because these unhealthy bacteria have put a cap on the “norm” delivery of nutrients throughout your body.
Nutrient imbalances are another side-effect of poor digestion and a trigger for loss of appetite.
Particularly, those nutrients associated with energy, appetite and metabolism, including: Zinc, low Vitamin B-12 and lowered hormone levels (ghrelin—the “hunger hormone”).
In fact, a 2017 study in the Journal of Neurogastroenterology Motility (Monsinka et al, 2017) found that patients who were given gherlin treatment experienced improved GI symptoms and elimination.
Another study (Skrovanek et al, 2014), on the effectiveness of zinc for patients with Ulcerative Colitis (i.e. intense IBS), found that healing was positively connected to adequate zinc levels. Zinc is a mineral responsible for appetite regulation.
Cortisol levels (stress hormones) are another “elephant in the room” that must be addressed with constipation.
Simply put: When your body is stressed, cortisol gets out of whack.
Imbalanced cortisol not only can trigger constipation itself, but also perpetuate the lack of appetite you may experience with constipation since your body is in the midst of “running from a bear” (for dear life). (And the last thing your body wants to do when it’s stresses is eat while it’s running—Even though you may need to eat).
INSATIABLE APPETITE & CONSTIPATION
While lack of appetite is the common symptom we’re addressing here, others with constipation experience the opposite—
Regular hunger levels, numerous times throughout the day—only to feel bloated or more constipated shortly after eating, then dipping in energy again two to three hours later, hungry again, eating and perpetuating the cycle.
The hunger is there—but the ability to digest or “handle” the food is not.
Insatiable or frequent hunger followed by energy dips, fatigue, shakiness, bloating and/or constipation between meals is another direct sign, for some, that your blood sugar is imbalanced and something else is going on underneath the hood (malabsorption, bacterial overgrowth, fungal infection, low stomach acid).
Often times in this case, we are eating, but still starving—our cells and organs are not getting the nourishment they need simply due to the underlying gut imbalance—missing the mark every time.
Additionally, when we eat, we not only eat for one, but for trillions of gut bugs—both healthy and unhealthy.
If we are feeding more unhealthy gut bugs, rather than healthy balanced gut bugs, then our energy supply quickly runs dry—leaving you needing food within a matter of hours, even though you are still constipated.
SO, SHOULD YOU EAT IF YOU’RE CONSTIPATED?
The short answer: Yes.
Regular, balanced meals (in conjunction with a gut healing approach to your “gut issues”) is the best bet for helping your body heal from GI “issues” over time.
Although you may not always feel like eating—i.e. a growling or an empty stomach—it’s also important to recognize other signs of hunger that can help point you to nourishing your body (even if you’re apathetic to the thought of food).
Feelings like: Fatigue or sleepiness, increased thoughts about food around meal times, sluggishness, difficulty focusing or concentrating, shakiness, headaches, weepiness, and anxious thoughts can be other signs of hunger, and helpful evidence to motivate you to eat enough.
Interestingly, not eating enough food or nourishment for our bodies itself can also perpetuate constipation.
A study (Chun et al, 1997) of patients with anorexia and severe IBS found that, due to their lack of nourishment, they had a slower colonic transit time. However, when they started eating regular, balanced meals, their colonic transit time increased (i.e. their poop patterns improved).
However, this is not to say that being mindful of and addressing underlying gut issues is still critical.
Other studies of patients with eating disorders—both those with anorexia (lack of appetite) and bulimia (often associated with binge episodes and insatiable appetite)—have found that both populations have a higher incidence of constipation, bloating and other gut symptoms (both pre-and post recovery).
What this means for you, me and any of the average population? Whether you’re under-eating, over-eating or have ongoing “gut issues” yourself, there is often more to the story of healing from your gut issues than just “eating enough” or “eating the right foods.”
IBS, constipation, and frequent bloating can often stem to several of the GI imbalances we’ve already discussed (bacterial overgrowth, low stomach acid, nutrient deficiencies), and in order to heal, not just have “some relief,” the bigger piece of the puzzle may need to be addressed.
WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT
Healing from chronic constipation is no one-size-fits-all-approach, but here are a few starting points, and tips for eating enough—even when you’re constipated.
1. Address Stress.
The elephant in the room. Do a gut-check with yourself. What stressors are present in your life right now potentially contributing to constipation? Not just mental stress either. The big areas of influence to consider include:How much sleep are you getting? (Ideal: 7-9 hours)How much water are you drinking? (Ideal: Half your bodyweight in ounces of water)
What environmental toxins do you use or come into contact with daily? (Ideal: Least amount as possible. Glassware containers, stainless steel waterbottles, non-toxic beauty and cleaning supplies)?
How much are you moving your body?
(Ideal: Daily movement encouraged, and everyone’s threshold is different, but incorporating balance is essential—strength, conditioning, low-intensity aerobic work-walking, play, and flexibility—not doing the same thing every day)
How do you let it out or connect? (Ideal: Open communication and connection with people close to you in life; meaningful relationships; feeling of belonging)
Where is your fun? (Ideal: Not all work and NO PLAY; Taking time for YOU each week to do things that are fun and enjoyable).
2. Identify YOUR Food Intolerances.
Just because it’s healthy doesn’t mean it’s “good” for your body (right now). You can be intolerant to broccoli, apples, chicken or kale for all that it matters. Keep a mindful food log for the next 3 days to note how you feel around, before and after meals. (Fun fact: We often crave or think about foods we are intolerant to. This is your gut bug’s way of signaling to you: “Feed me!”)
Basic gut health is like taking a multi-vitamin or fish oil tablet you’ve been told to take for years (actually BETTER than those). Seeking to support a healthy baseline of gut health may be a missing link if you’re just trying to eat healthy foods alone. This includes:
- Drinking enough water.
- Chewing your food well.
- Taking a quality probiotic supplement
- Eating fermented foods and pre-biotic foods.
- Bonus: Apple Cider Vinegar (1 tbsp. in water before meals).
4. In-the-Moment Relief.
For those days constipation has ya down, try one of these arsenals:
- Yoga sun salutations, moving or going on a walk.
- Apple Cider Vinegar (1 tbsp. in water beforemeals)
- Ginger tea or kombucha
- Sauerkraut—2-3 forkfuls
- Squatting—and hanging out there for a minute (or a Squatty Potty)
- Mindfully drinking water throughout the day
5. Dig Deep.
Assess and address what else is going on. Make a functional medicine appointment (Austin and Distance appointments available) to figure out whats going on “under the hood” through an assessment and potential lab testing if needed to address the underlying gut issues that have been unresolved