Digestion and elimination is a complex process that we often take for granted, until it becomes uncomfortable, too seldom, or too frequent.
To help you learn how to avoid constipation, I will briefly explain the anatomy of the digestive tract and then focus on a few key points to help you work on your digestion and especially your regular elimination. For the purpose of this article, I will focus on the digestive tract and the problem of constipation. The education here is applicable even if you do not experience constipation. Also, understand that slow thyroid and other considerations like taking pain medications can also alter your digestion and elimination.
The digestive tract begins at the mouth and ends at the anus; this “tube” is called the alimentary canal. The alimentary canal is composed of the:
- mouth (for chewing and breaking down food, and adding enzymes for carbohydrate breakdown)
- pharynx (connects the mouth to the esophagus)
- esophagus (this is the tube to your stomach)
- stomach (where acid and enzymes break your food down)
- small intestine (mixes food with bile and pancreatic juices, this is where most of your nutritional absorption occurs)
- large intestine (waste is moved and water is absorbed)
- rectum (readies the waste to exit the body)
- anus (sphincter that controls the elimination process).
Other organs that have a role in digestion are the salivary glands, liver, gallbladder, and pancreas. These organs deliver enzymes and bile for the digestion of food.
4 Rules to keep a healthy alimentary canal and avoid constipation:
1) Eat Clean: The food you eat is important for timely and healthy digestion and elimination. If you are eating highly processed, sugary, and genetically modified foods your alimentary canal is going to be sluggish, toxic, slow, or inconsistent. Research which foods are good for digestion and constipation and stock up on them.
2) Drink Water: If you are not drinking adequate water for reabsorption to occur, your stools may become too hard and be difficult and slow to pass. Sodas, juices, and coffee do not count as water.
3) Chew your food: Peristalsis is a sequential movement that mixes and moves food and waste through your alimentary canal. The action of chewing stimulates the peristalsis of the entire alimentary canal. This is why I generally recommend that if you are having digestion and elimination problems to avoid protein shakes since chewing is not required and the movement of the bowels does not get stimulated naturally.
4) Schedule time for elimination: If you do not make time for bowel movements you will not be able to “go.” In other words, if you wait to go until you absolutely feel you need to, it is often “not good timing” and instead we “hold it.” This leads to an unhealthy process of reabsorption of the hydration from your stool, making your stool harder and more difficult to eliminate. Often, once you have time, you no longer feel the need. Schedule regular times at least twice a day to relax and have a bowel movement. Even if you don’t necessarily have a bowel movement, it is important to retrain your body. Eating meals on a regular schedule will help create an elimination schedule for your body as well.
Think of this like going to the grocery store hungry, or cooking dinner. If you wait until you’re absolutely hungry and no planning or timing was set aside, it would be likely that you would binge when you eat and buy unhealthy foods.
So remember, eat healthily, chew your food well, drink adequate water between meals, and make time for yourself to have regular bowel movements every day.
Yours in health and happiness,
Kristen Clore OTR
Nutrition Response Practitioner & Certified Wellness Coach