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You know coffee’s on this list.
Constipation is one of the most common causes of bloating and doctor visits—at least 2.5 million people see their doctor each year due to this digestive issue, according to the Cleveland Clinic. You’re definitely not alone if you are one of them, and you’re probably also not the first one to google how to make yourself poop when the discomfort gets to you.
To know the best way to get things moving again, you’ll want to find out what’s behind the problem. FYI, constipation can be the result of dehydration, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), poor diet, and side effects from various medications, says Jean Fox, MD, a gastroenterologist at Mayo Clinic. Pelvic floor dysfunction is also a very important contributor that is often under-recognized, she adds. If you’re wondering how exactly you can tell if you have this issue, know that the benchmark is passing fewer than three stools a week, per Dr. Fox.
Constipation is frustrating and downright uncomfortable, but you can speed things up at home. The next time you need a quick fix, try one of these tips from doctors.
Fiber-rich foods with a high water content, such as raw carrots, apples with the peel on, and avocados, are all great sources of fiber to help get things moving, says Christine Lee, MD, a gastroenterologist at the Cleveland Clinic.
“When consumed, these foods create an osmotic gradient,” says Dr. Lee—that means they force more water to be pulled into the colon during digestion, which then helps ease and prevent constipation by helping things flow a little more smoothly.
You can get the same effects from a psyllium husk fiber supplement, says Dr. Lee. Look for a daily supplemental dose of six to nine grams of fiber, which are available over the counter.
Just remember: Eating a nutritious diet (which should naturally include some natural fiber found in food) is key, even if you decide to take a fiber supplement. You can’t just add a spoonful of Metamucil to a bottle of diet cola and expect your digestive system to work properly.
This is often the first idea that comes to mind if faced with the dilemma of how to make yourself poop. Warm beverages in general, particularly a hot cup of coffee or tea, in the morning, can help to get things moving, says Dr. Lee.
But coffee, in particular, is a must for anyone looking for how to poop immediately in the a.m. (especially runners, Dr. Lee notes, as it’s much more convenient to empty your stomach before you hit the pavement). The heat from the coffee can kick your gut into action, but the coffee itself and its high levels of caffeine are also “known to stimulate colon motility,” says Dr. Lee.
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Coffee can work warm or cold. But other cold caffeinated beverages, like iced tea or caffeinated sodas, won’t have the same effect.
4. Get a little exercise in.
Ever been in the middle of a run when you needed a bathroom—STAT? You’re not alone. That’s because “hiking, walking on uneven grounds, jogging, and biking can all increase your metabolism, which in turn increases intestinal motility,” says Dr. Lee.
Also important: If you’ve been busier than usual and have gotten into an exercise dry spell (and you’re noticing some bathroom issues), it might be a clue as to why you’re not pooping as much as you’d like. Making sure to incorporate even short, regular workouts into your routine could be the secret solution you need, she says.
5. Try massaging your perineum—no, really.
A technique in which you massage your perineum (the stretch of skin that separates the vagina from your anus), by pushing repeatedly on the skin with your index and pointer finger, can help to ease constipation because of the pressure points in that area, according to a 2015 study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine. (Similarly, massaging the same area can help promote down-there relaxation during childbirth to prevent tearing, per the study.)
In the study, participants who massaged the area to promote bowel movements experienced improved bowel function, compared to the group that didn’t do the hands-on technique. Also, 82 percent of those who did use the technique said they’d continue to use it long after the study was over. While more research is needed, it’s definitely worth a try when you’re at your wit’s end trying to figure out how to make yourself poop.
6. Try an over-the-counter laxative.
Polyethylene glycol 3350 (aka MiraLAX) is made up of compounds that are not digestible and not absorbable—which means they cause a diarrheal effect, says Dr. Lee.
At lower doses, it can help prevent constipation, and at higher doses, it can induce diarrhea. So you can adjust the dose you take if you want to get things moving just slightly without them getting disastrous, she says.
Dr. Lee also recommends talking to your doctor about trying prescription laxatives if none of the other methods work. “Prescription drugs are effective, but they can be expensive, so they should generally be left as a last resort after you’ve tried these other methods,” she says.
Another downside of laxative medications: Your body can get used to them, so eventually you might not be able to go poop without them if you use them too often.
The squatting position can be mimicked by putting a stool under your feet to raise your knees up, says Peyton Berookim, MD, the director of the Gastroenterology Institute of Southern California in Los Angeles.
Squatting modifies the anatomy by relaxing the muscles in that area while also elevating the part of your colon that makes for easier emptying of the bowel. “The closer you are to a full squat, the easier it will be to poop,” he says.
Applying moderate pressure and massaging your abdomen in a clockwise direction can help you move your bowels, says Dr. Berookim. Colonic massage has been shown to improve constipation, he says.
This can be performed by applying moderate pressure along the horseshoe shape of the colon in your right lower quadrant. Then continue moving up to the rib cage, across the stomach, and underneath the ribs to your left lower quadrant, which is the point where stool is emptied.
“One of the most common causes of constipation is dehydration,” says Dr. Berookim. “When the body is poorly hydrated, it will compensate by withdrawing water from the large intestine (colon) resulting in hard stools.”
A good rule of thumb is to drink one ounce of water for every two pounds of your body weight, he says.
Magnesium plays many crucial roles in the body—it supports energy production, as well as muscle and nerve function, but it can also help with constipation. “A magnesium supplement (400-800 mg daily) is safe for constipation in patients with normal kidney function,” says Dr. Fox. “This works as an osmotic laxative, drawing water into the bowel to provide a soft stool mass and increase bowel action.”
You can also get magnesium from food sources such as almonds, beans, fortified foods, leafy greens, milk, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.
If you feel backed up often, you may want to include beets in your weekly grocery list. “Beets are a superfood. Additionally, they are high in fiber, but also high in various sugars, including sucrose,” says Dr. Fox. “They probably work as a laxative both as a fiber supplement and also as an osmotic laxative much in the same way as prunes do.”
Kiwis can also do the trick. A recent study published by the University of Michigan showed that consuming two peeled kiwi fruit a day yielded similar results and were better tolerated by patients with constipation than fiber from either psyllium husk or prunes. “It is not clear why kiwi performed better because the fiber content is similar to prunes. There is some conjecture that it may be related to an enzyme called actinidin that is present in kiwi,” notes Dr. Fox.
These natural remedies are okay for regular use, says Dr. Fox, but she recommends mixing it up from time to time. “For example, try a kiwi with breakfast most days, then maybe make a beet salad once a week and take a magnesium supplement at bedtime as needed,” she explains.