Don’t Ignore this Body SignalNovember 2019
I’m the first to admit I have a public toilet phobia. I don’t like them, never have, never will. So when it comes to going to the toilet, I have always, ever since a young kid tried to hold on to a bowel movement. But here is why I have taught myself not to, and why I want you to as well.
Our body’s are finely tuned machines. They function without conscious thought. Take a moment to think about it, beyond chewing (which people forget to do anyway!) you don’t actually have any conscious involvement in your digestion. It happens automatically and subconsciously, food just magically works its way through the various organs of your body.
Then when it reaches the bowel, you will consciously take over again. For this part I am thankful! Imagine if we all just walked around with no control… but I digress.
Body signals you shouldn’t ignore
Our bowels give us a warning sign, in nutrition we call this the “urge to defecate”. For most people it will feel like a pushing and/or releasing kind of feeling. As the bowel constricts and relaxes it propels the stool forward, ready for excretion. Bet you never thought this much about your bowel movement before?
Anyway, you can consciously choose to ignore this signal and “hold on”. And for many people this urge or signal will go away. But you also may not get this urge to go again that day. If you regularly ignore this signal, you can actually give yourself a relaxed bowel. Basically a bowel that no longer exhibits signs of peristalsis – the contraction and relaxation movement.
With a relaxed bowel, you will commonly experience constipation. If there is no urge to go, guess what? You won’t go. This can lead to your body reabsorbing the water, toxins and waste it was trying to excrete. This contributes to an overall feeling of illness. This ill feeling is described differently by everyone, I call it the “urgh” feeling. Just a feeling of tired, bloated, heavy and full.
What can you do?
Step 1 is simple. Don’t regularly ignore the urge to go. There will be times you have to, for example when you’re in a meeting. But if you acknowledge and action the sign to go 90% of the time, you will keep this system functioning optimally.
If you feel like you do have a more relaxed bowel, you need to retrain your mind and body. Sit on the toilet every morning at the same time and try to go. This will take practice. It will take patience. You’ll probably feel silly. But you are retraining your body to do a function you have ignored for so long.
You can also try a squatty potty. Yep a potty for adults – how fun! But it is basically a foot stool that brings your body into an optimal bowel movement position.
Nutritionally you need to make sure you’re drinking enough water (2L / day) and eating plenty of fruits, vegetables and wholegrains to meet your daily fibre target.
One food that helps move the bowel for many people is the good ol’ prune. Eat a few prunes. Wait. Then when the urge comes, and it will, go to the toilet. Like anything, you don’t want to become reliant on using prunes to have a daily movement. Use them as a short term tool to help you retrain your body.
Until next time… x
Written by Jessica Worth, Nutritionist, Sydney, Northern Beaches, Mona Vale
Jess is a registered nutritionist who regularly undergoes continuing professional education to bring you the most up to date research and advice to guide you with your nutrition goals.