Constipation Mistakes: The Most Common Ones to Avoid for True Healing
Clearing chronic constipation and healing a damaged gut is a journey full of trial and error, and lots of HARD work. After writing a similar post for gut mistakes more generally, I thought it was important to address those specific to chronic constipation.
Having healed my own gut and those of countless others, I’ve made and seen almost every mistake under the sun when it comes to chronic constipation. We’re all human, after all. But, if you are new to this journey, I want to help you learn from the experiences of those who’ve come before you and avoid some of the many pitfalls on the road ahead.
But before we do that, I want to be very clear that this post is for those with chronic constipation, the type that isn’t improved with simple, conventional remedies like drinking more water and eating more fibre. These just don’t work for those of us who have more going on in their gut, often to the confusion of family and friends who try to help.
So let’s get into it. Here are the most common mistakes I’ve encountered that I want to help you avoid while trying to clear and heal from whatever is causing your chronic constipation.
1. Relying on laxatives as the long-term solution
Laxatives can be an important part of treating chronic constipation, but only during the treatment phase. They are not, in themselves, the solution. This is particularly true of stimulant laxatives that work to cause bowel contractions through nerve stimulation, which may end up doing long-term structural and functional damage to the digestive tract.
And while natural herbal options, stool softeners, osmotic laxatives, bulking agents and sometimes prokinetic motility products all have their place in various treatment approaches, they should all only be used for a short period of time while the underlying cause is identified and treated. What I see often is clients that have become too dependent on such products for a long period of time. They have let their underlying digestive condition unknowingly deteriorate to the point where true gut healing is a lot more difficult than it could otherwise have been.
In some ways, this is also true of people using simple dietary interventions such as a morning coffee or prune juice to get things moving. These approaches may be effective in the short-term but may also be masking an underlying gut imbalance that needs to be properly treated.
2. Failing to uncover the underlying root cause / accepting a diagnosis of IBS
One of my core beliefs is that there is ALWAYS a cause for constipation. It’s very simple science: cause and effect. Yes, I know we don’t know everything, but the research community is working on that for us. So, if a practitioner ever tells you there is no identifiable reason for your digestive issues, I’d be seeking a second opinion, pronto.
An IBS diagnosis is a great example of a failure to understand the underlying root cause. I know there are many out there who were told the same thing that I heard, “We have investigated everything, nothing has come up. So, it’s all in your head”. Nope, it is not! Please find a new practitioner and be relentless in your pursuit for health.
Similarly, using symptoms alone to guess the underlying root causes of your constipation can be another recipe for disaster. There is way too much overlap in the symptoms resulting from parasites, bacteria, yeast, SIBO, dysbiosis, leaky gut, Coeliac Disease, IBD, hormone imbalances, etc. but all will need vastly different treatment protocols.
Again, if you are diagnosed without testing and your treatment isn’t working, it’s most likely because you haven’t identified the true root cause of your constipation. My motto: ‘test, don’t guess!’
3. Expecting a full recovery in 30 days
I really, truly wish this was the case! While short-term symptom management is achievable and important so you can get on with life, actually identifying and treating the root cause as well as healing the gut lining and/or digestive process can take many months, even years in some cases. This is especially true for those with chronic constipation and other issues involving leaky gut and autoimmune conditions that have likely existed for 5 to 10 years or more.
Let me be the first to admit this mistake. When I started on this journey in 2010 as a chronically constipated and bloated IBS sufferer, who had been struggling all of my life, I figured that once the poop started to move then I was done! I couldn’t have been more wrong and I am so thankful that the functional nutrition practitioner I saw for help was gentle in breaking this news to me.
A rule of thumb I like to use, to set expectations for my clients, is one month of healing for every year of being chronically constipated. It’s not perfect and everyone’s healing journey is different, but it’s a good place to start. As a society, we have been conditioned to expect quick fixes for health problems, usually in the form of a little white pill. But, as chronic disease becomes more prevalent and beyond the capability of conventional treatment options, most people are starting to realise true healing actually takes time.
This is particularly true of chronic constipation, because unlike a broken arm, you can’t just put the digestive system in a sling or a cast and not use it while it heals. It is in use almost all day, every day, so giving it the space to heal can be a difficult and delicate process. There’s no reason not to be optimistic, just be realistic about how long that might take… and no, sadly 30 days probably isn’t going to cut it.
4. Expecting diet changes alone to solve chronic constipation
This is a tricky one. As mentioned above, many people find relief in a daily coffee or morning prune juice. If this alone works for you then you probably aren’t what I would consider ‘chronically constipated’ just yet. While basic dietary approaches like these, as well as increasing fibre or hydration, can be effective in simple cases, these are NOT the chronic cases we’re talking about.
But, please be aware that a properly functioning healthy digestive system does not require coffee or prune juice to produce a well formed and frequent bowel motion. If this is you, it’s best to act now and seek out and heal the underlying gut imbalance before it becomes a more serious case of chronic constipation.
For those already suffering from chronic constipation then you will already likely be aware that your condition remains, almost regardless of what you eat. Some experience improvement with adding healthy fats into their diet , some experience improvement with lowering carbohydrates, some experience no relief no matter what they try. This is often because the common causes of chronic constipation, including gut infections, overgrowths and other microbiome imbalances, cannot be eradicated through diet alone.
5. Focusing on the minutia, without getting the basics sorted
I want to start by saying that I love forums and Facebook support groups and I am a member of quite a few. They give a sense of community and support like no other place for those who have a shared health challenge. However, head to any client-driven health forum and you’ll quickly find yourself fearing you have a whole range of extremely rare and complex issues and that even the smallest detail will make or break your healing.
I’m here to reassure you that before you get side-tracked down a very niche and complex pathway or before you begin to freak out about the smallest detail (I know I did this a lot), you need to get the basics right. These basics lay the foundation for healing and get you 90% of the way there.
You need to find out the major imbalances you have, spend 3-6 months reducing inflammation, re-balancing your microbiome, nourishing your body, supporting digestion and detoxification, and healing the gut lining. Only then, if you are still symptomatic, is it time to start digging deeper. And by this stage, you will understand your condition so much better for how it has responded to treatment, that you might know exactly where to look and/or test.
6. Not realising the importance of psychology and stress
While we know a positive mindset can help you heal (placebo effect, anyone?), stress and changes in your mood can do just the opposite. Stress in particular is bad news for gut healing. Amongst a whole host of other impacts, cortisol, our stress hormone, is released when you experience either physical, biochemical or mental/emotional stress. It impairs digestion and suppresses your immune system, neither of which are conducive to improving constipation.
Just like our physical health, we need to work on our mental health and managing this type of stress. Whether that is through a practitioner, educating yourself online or with books, or trial and error, it’s worth investing time and effort.
For me, I had to stop stressing about every tiny detail around food, practice radical self-care and just generally take a more relaxed approach to life (comes with age, maybe…). Even more than any other part, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach and it’s an ever evolving practice that can take you to some fun places. Think retreats!
It’s also a two-way street - what’s happening in our gut can directly impact our mood (I wrote a whole post about that HERE). So no, it’s not ALL in your head - I have myself and countless clients, with test results and actual healing who can testify to that - but that doesn’t mean it isn’t an important part of the healing process.
Mistakes are how we learn, they are a completely normal and expected part of the healing journey. Sometimes they hurt, but these are the lessons we remember the most and they are what I have tried to focus on here so we can all learn from those who have come before us. I truly hope you haven’t made as many as I did and that you’ve learnt a thing or two that might make your healing journey a little smoother, a littler shorter and a little less stressful.
If you need help to get things moving, feel free to download a copy of our FREE ‘CLEARING CONSTIPATION E-GUIDE’ (below) and if you need further help with getting rid of constipation and healing your gut, please head to the Work With Us page to learn more about how we work online with clients in many countries to test for and treat the many root causes of IBS symptoms and other GI conditions.
Keep searching, keep going with your healing journey and keep fighting for your health. I promise it will all be worth it.