What is chronic constipation? It means you poop less than four times a week or just have a really hard time with the process. Fun fact: Women appear to get blocked up more often than men. (Thanks, nature—for not calling.)
Even if you're chronically blocked up, you might not feel super comfortable broaching the issue of bowel movements with anyone. If you haven't yet mustered the chutzpah to speak with a medical professional about your poop problems, consider the following safe and simple strategies to get things going again.
1. Take Your Time
Sure, we live in an age of instant gratification. But our GI tracts may not be as up to speed. One cause of blocked bowels is depriving ourselves of adequate time to let it all out.
Take some reading material with you on the next toilet trip—or, like 67 percent of a group recently surveyed on bathroom habits do, bring your phone. This can make staying seated less boring.
Of course, spending too much time on the toilet could be just as bad for you. Trying to poop for longer than, say, 10 or 15 minutes can lead to hemorrhoids. Forcing things can also increase your risk of this uncomfy outcome. If it's just not happening down there, wrap it up and try some other approaches first.
2. Schedule It
Another common contributor to stop-ups is not having a reliable stretch of the day during which you normally poop. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases pegs the 15- to 45-minute window following the most important meal of the day as prime time for colon clearing. So pencil in some time after breakfast if you can.
Don't hold your poop in any longer than you have to—i.e., no longer than it takes you to find the nearest Starbucks or free stall in the office restroom. Ignoring the urge to go can train your body to hold things in. So pull over to a pit stop at your earliest convenience when you feel that familiar rumble in your tummy or excuse yourself from a lengthy engagement when the urge arises. (A simple "Hey, I'm sorry, I need to hop on an important call," or, "You know, I think I left my wallet in the ladies' room" can help in situations that prove harder to wriggle out of.)
4. Drink Water
Not downing enough H20 may mess with your small intestine's ability to cap off the process of digestion. Though research in humans shows mixed results on just how dehydrated you have to be to staunch stool movement, it's better to be safe than sorry by sticking to the World Health Organization's recommendation of 2.7 liters a day for most women. (That's 11 cups, BTW.)
5. Consider More Coffee
Coffee triggers the same motions your bowels make when they're moving things out. And fast. The urge to go can be triggered within four minutes after polishing off a cup. Decaf also does the trick. Try drinking a large coffee first thing in the a.m. to loosen things up.
6. Keep Active
If you've ever had to peel off from a run (or jet to the bathroom during an exercise class) then, well, you probably already know exercise helps move things along. Head to the gym, out for a walk, or cycle through your favorite yoga routine if you've been couch-bound for too long.
7. Eat More Fiber
Yeah, yeah, you know you're supposed to eat more fruits and vegetables. (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend 2 to 3 cups of veggies and 1.5 to 2 cups of fruit every day.) But if you really can't get excited about kale, broccoli, and carrots—or if indulging your sweet tooth is just what's gonna get you through today—try snacking on dried fruits. These guys sneak more fiber into your system but (kinda sorta) taste like candy when you close your eyes. Or opt for whole grains—they're full of fiber and they're bursting with B vitamins and other minerals.
8. Say Yes to Yogurt
In the clear for lactose intolerance? Many types of this creamy treat contain high levels of the gut-friendly bacteria acidophilus, which clinical trials show keep all stages of digestion reliably smoother.
9. Monitor Any Meds You're On
Some drugs—especially painkillers (which you may have learned while watching the most recent Super Bowl ads) and antidepressants—cause a hold-up in your gut. Speak with your pharmacist or doc about whether you may need to adjust a prescription. You should also check the side effects of over-the-counter meds and vitamins. Calcium and iron supplements have been found to tighten things up in tummies, as have some antacids.
10. Check Your ThyroidIn addition to slowing down your body's metabolic functions over all, having an underactive thyroid also contributes to constipation. A quick blood test can test for the issue, which is more common among women and runs in the family.
11. Invest in Some HerbIf the above isn't working, consider asking your local health food store if they carry edible aloe vera, slippery elm, fenugreek, dandelion, sorrel, senna, or sea buckthorn. Alternative health sources suggest these herbs—many of which can be steeped as teas— help teach your tummy to resume regular activity again.
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.