Constipation and weight gain often go hand in hand, but does one actually cause the other? The short answer is no, but if you're spending a lot of time in the bathroom and seeing the scale tick up, you should know about how these two things are connected.
Here's the breakdown on what typically causes constipation, how it's treated and how it's linked to weight.
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What Causes Constipation?
Infrequent bowel movements, a condition commonly known as constipation, is defined as having a bowel movement fewer than three times a week, according to John Hopkins Medicine.
Constipation is usually associated with hard, dry stools that are difficult and sometimes painful to pass. If you have to strain or bear down for longer than 10 minutes to go number two — yep, you're likely constipated. And beware — this could lead to tearing of the anal membranes and painful hemorrhoids (yikes!).
It's quite a common gastro complaint, too. At least 2.5 million people see their doctor each year due to constipation, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
The most common causes of infrequent pooping include:
- Low dietary fiber
- Inadequate water consumption
- Lack of physical activity
How Are Constipation and Weight Gain Linked?
Having infrequent bowel movements does not cause weight gain, but there's definitely a connection between the two.
That's because the most common constipation culprits — poor hydration, poor diet and lack of exercise — can also lead to weight gain. These behaviors slow your metabolism and lead to excess body fat, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"Proper nutrition is so important because it allows our bodies to be the most efficient, which means more regularity and more energy," Casey Chapman, MD, gastroenterologist at Baton Rouge General's Crohn's & Colitis Center, tells LIVESTRONG.com. "More energy means we can be more active and, in turn, burn even more calories. Look at it as a positive feedback loop."
3 Habits That Help Prevent Constipation and Weight Gain
1. Load Up on Fiber
Fiber, a natural remedy for constipation, works to cleanse the colon, binding solid waste with water and moving it through your digestive tract and out of your body. So, if you're not getting enough of the nutrient, your digestion slows down.
"Dietary fiber helps to increase the weight and size of your stool by keeping water in the GI tract," Dr. Chapman says. "Think of it as the great mediator of stool. When it's too soft, fiber can make it more formed, and when stool is too hard it can soften it."
So, how much should you be getting? "The recommended amount is 14 grams per 1,000 calories," Dr. Chapman says. "For most moderately active adults in the U.S., that translates to approximately 25 to 36 grams per day."
For reference, one medium pear contains 5.5 grams of fiber, while a cup of bulgur has 8.2 grams of fiber.
2. Stay Hydrated
Not drinking enough water on a daily basis can lead to dehydration, and dehydration leads to constipation.
"One of the many jobs our bodies have is to regulate the amount of water we hold onto for vital cellular processes," says Dr. Chapman. "One of the ways our bodies do this is by controlling the amount allowed in our stool."
If your body does not allow very much water in your stool — because it's needed elsewhere — then your stool may harden, resulting in constipation.
Dr. Chapman goes on to say that if you don't like water…well, there's really no substitute for it, so drink up!
"Avoiding soft drinks and even sports drinks is a good general rule of thumb, unless you are an elite athlete and need the sugar," he says.
If the taste of water doesn't thrill you, try adding fruit or opting for low- or no-calorie sparkling water.
When it comes to how much you should be drinking: "I generally recommend 64 ounces of water intake a day as the bare minimum, and half of your body weight in ounces daily as best practice," Dr. Chapman says.
Sound like a tall order? He suggests setting a specific goal for your intake and then carrying that amount of water around with you during the day, in a pre-measured container.
3. Keep Things Moving (Literally)
People who are physically active don't often have constipation, according to Harvard Health Publishing. Good muscle tone in general helps keep you regular, as the abdominal wall muscles and the diaphragm all play a crucial role in the poop process. Weaker muscles won't be able to get the job done well.
Indeed, a February 2014 study in PLOS One concluded that being too sedentary can slow down digestion, and irregularity could be prevented with physical activity.
According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, adults should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (think: walking, biking) or 75 minutes of high-intensity activity (HIIT, for example) weekly to reap maximum health benefits.
- John Hopkins Medicine: "Constipation: Causes and Prevention Tips"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Constipation"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Common Cause of Constipaton"
- PLoS One: "Physical Activity and Constipation in Hong Kong Adolescents"
- U.S. Department of Health & Human Services: "Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Preventing Weight Gain"
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.