Why You're Suffering From "Quarantine Constipation"

“So many people are having issues with their gut because of changes in their habits, routines, activity and added stress and anxiety as well,” Accredited Practising Dietitian, Nutritionist and digestive health and IBS expert, Marika Day, told Women’s Health. “It’s constipation for some people, diarrhoea for others and more bloating as well for a lot of people.”

There are a range of reasons behind why you might be experiencing changes to your bowel habits, but fortunately there are a few simple ways to tackle them.

1. Stress 

There’s a significant connection between our brain and our belly so the pandemic’s impact on your mental health can present in physical ways as well. 

“Our gut and our brain are constantly communicating with one another and what we see is a that when people are stressed and anxious they either have an increase in activity in their gut and for some it’s a decrease in activity,” Marika explains.

Although it’s not a hard and fast rule, Marika says generally anxiety sends the gut into overdrive and depressive symptoms slow the bowels down. Either way, our digestive system is not operating at its optimal state right now.

“When we are stressed, essentially our digestive system is not working at its full capacity because our body thinks we’re in a life or death situation, which in this case we potentially are!”

If the body registers a threat, it diverts blood flow and energy away from our digestive system and towards critical organs like your heart, lungs and muscles. Back in the day this would have been a tiger attack but right now it’s a more ongoing threat to our health and way of life.

To cut down on stress-related interruptions to digestion try some science-backed stress management techniques like breathing exercises and meditation. If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health reach out to services such as Lifeline on 13 11 14 or lifeline.org.au, and Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636 or beyondblue.org.au.

2. Diet

Much like breathing and blinking, snacking has become second nature in isolation. But replacing square meals with constant grazing not only impacts how we’re chowing down but what’s making it on our plates too.

“Most people are finding now they’re working from home that they’re going for more convenience-style foods, maybe snacking a lot more, and less routine with their actual meals,” Marika says.

When it comes to supporting our gut health through dietary fibre, we usually consume it in our breakfast, lunch and dinner options.

“Anecdotally I’m seeing people snacking more and having less vegetables and whole grains in their meals because they’re snacking on those convenient foods at this time.”

Constant snacking also means that our stomachs aren’t really getting a break to properly digest what’s already in there before we dumped another bowl of popcorn on top. Aside from focusing on regulating your eating habits and ensuring your plate features plenty of veggies, fruits, grains, legumes and seeds, Marika has a couple of effective additions to your diet.

“Two kiwi fruit a day, there’s a fair bit of research on it showing how effective it can be,” she says. “Skin on and all. It’s magic.”

Other foods you can sneak into your yoghurt or smoothies include psyllium husk, flax and chia seeds. 

3. Movement

The amount you move your whole body can affect how often your bowels move.

“A massive trigger for constipation is a lack of movement, the reason being is is reduces the movement through your organs and digestive system,” Marika says.

If you’re sedentary and sitting all day long, you’re bound to be blocked up. 

“We find something as simple as going for more regular walks, getting up and moving about through out the day can help to stimulate your natural peristalsis, the natural movement of the muscles in your digestive track, which helps to move stool along.”

Schedule in some regular exercise and set your alarm for every half an hour to remind you to stand and stretch.

4. Routine

Our bodies are big fans of knowing what’s in store for it, so if it doesn’t get it’s usual coffee and a walk to work it’s going to be wondering WTF.

“A lot of time people’s bowels will move in the morning and what’s happened is that we’ve seen a change in that morning routine potentially which has resulted in a change to the bowels,” Marika says.

While you might not be able to replicate your former am processes it’s just about making a new one and sticking to it as much as you can.

Seen a dramatic change in your bowels that just won’t budge?

Definitely call your GP. 

“If it’s new to you, it’s not something that happens from time to time, and it’s lasted longer than a week or two weeks and you haven’t seen any improvement, I’d be going to the doctor to get it checked up,” Marika says.

And take a squiz at Marika’s expert-approved Gut Started program designed to help you reduce symptoms of digestive discomfort and emotional eating, plus develop better routines, habits and coping strategies during this challenging time.

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