When you really gotta go, but ...

First, I tripped across a post on dooce.com. Then, I noticed the flurry (Flurry? Hell, avalanche.) of responses. And the topic seems to be all over the Internet lately: Posts, comments, even full-blown discussions on, of all things, constipation.

No joke. It's a big problem.

So, seeing as this is a blog about food, and seeing as constipation is directly related, let's talk constipation.

What is constipation?
Constipation, plain and simple, is the abdominal cramping and pain caused by not going as frequently and as easily as you need to.

So how frequently is frequently enough? Your body will tell you. Generally, at least every other day. And how do you define "easily"? Pain free. And without straining.

What causes constipation?
A bevvy of things. Some medications, such as pain killers and antidepressants can cause it. Iron supplements can cause it which is a problem both for women and vegetarians who have to work hard to get enough iron and often use supplements to help (on the bright side, however, I find the iron supplements - look for ferrous sulfate - from the health food store are much gentler on the system than the supplements from the drugstore).

Psychological issues can cause it. Such as repeatedly ignoring the urge to go when your body is telling you you have to (The best example of a person listening to their body came in the form of a comment yesterday. A woman wrote that she is a vegetarian after 4:00 because her body can't handle meat late in the day. I'm so impressed at how in-tune with her body she is.).

Constipation can also be a symptom of a more serious ailment. In this case, you would certainly be well advised to speak with your doctor.

And, of course, stress, travel, pregnancy, and anything else that wreaks havoc on our bodies, wreaks havoc on our system.

So what do I do about it?
If there is not a serious reason that calls for you to see your doctor - if, for example, you know you have not eaten enough fiber or you are going through a stressful period - than you can probably manage the occasional bout of constipation with exercise and fiber and liquids (bear in mind that I am not a physician and this is not medical advice - just information on what works for me).

The exercise part is easy enough to solve: Just do it. I take a one-hour walk every day. I do yoga once a week (and would do more, but time is not my friend). And I do some urban hiking whenever we get a sunny weekend.

It's not much, but it is better than nothing.

The food part is just as easy. It's as simple as getting more fiber into your diet.

The easiest way I have found to do this is to have at least a cup of fruit and a heaping teaspoon of crushed flax seed in my breakfast (think of it as God's little scrub brush). Throughout the day, I try to eat veg and more fruit and beans and whole wheats, but if all the fiber I manage to get is what I had at breakfast, I am going to be okay.

I start the day, every day, with a glass of soy milk. I start and end every day with a cup of tea. I try to drink one glass of juice every day to top up my vitamin C. And I generally keep a bottle of water near my desk and in my knapsack (I average 6 - 8 cups of water a day). It helps. So much so, that I notice a difference if I do not. A sharp difference.

Now that we've got that, erm, out of our system, I suppose a post on bathroom reading would be in order. I should think I'd be able to find a good list online.