What Not to Do When You’re Constipated

Medically Reviewed by Minesh Khatri, MD on March 17, 2024
4 min read

Are you constipated? You may be if you’re pooping twice or less a week, or if your stools are pellet-shaped, they're so hard and dry that they hurt, and you have to strain to pass them.

Everyone moves food through their bowels at different speeds. Some people might poop 3 times a day, while others regularly skip a day or two. Constipation usually isn’t serious, but it can be uncomfortable.

Changes in your behavior and diet often can be enough to unclog your digestive tract. But some actions can backfire and make it even harder for you to get back to a regular schedule.

To ease your constipation, you’ll want to change these habits:

Eat too much processed food. Foods that have little or no fiber sit longer in your intestines. The extra time lets your colon soak up more water. That’s a recipe for hard, dry stools.

Do this: Cut down on fast food, chips, hot dogs, and some microwave dinners.

Add fiber too fast. Eating fiber from fruits, vegetables, and other foods is really important. But add it to your diet slowly. Too much fiber too quickly can give you painful bloating and gas.

Do this: Aim for 20-35 grams of fiber daily, but add no more than 5 grams each day.

Drink alcohol. Booze zaps your body of fluids, which can make your stools hard -- and harder to pass.

Do this: Drink plenty of water instead.

Double down on dairy. Lots of milk and cheese can make your constipation worse.

Do this: Kefir may be a safe choice, though. The strains of bacteria in this fermented drink -- made with milk from cows, goats, sheep, or even soy -- may help relieve your constipation.

Skip your workout. Not moving around enough slows food from passing through your large intestine, or colon. That may be a root reason for your constipation.

Do this: Exercise regularly.

Rely on laxatives. They might help in the short term. But over time, laxatives can damage the nerve cells in your colon and interfere with muscle contractions needed to empty stools. Laxatives can become a habit, meaning you’ll need to use them before you can poop. These medicines come in pills, liquids, suppositories, and other forms.

Do this: If your doctor thinks that laxatives might help, follow their orders about what kind to use, and try your best to limit your use.

Take certain drugs. Many medicines can trigger constipation by slowing down stools as they travel through the body. These include sleeping pills, painkillers, some drugs for high blood pressure, and antidepressants.

Do this: Ask your doctor if one of your meds might be causing your constipation.

Avoid the toilet. When you’re constipated, your body may need more time in the bathroom, not less. Try to sit on the toilet for 15 minutes at the same time each day, even if you can’t “go.” It can relax your digestive system and cue your body for a bowel movement.

Do this: While on the toilet, you can try to rest your feet on a low stool or raise your knees above your hips.

Ignore your body’s signals. If you ignore that feeling that you need to go, those clues will get weaker over time. Your bowels should be most active first thing in the morning as well as about 30 minutes after you eat.

Do this: Listen to your body’s messages and head to the bathroom, even if you’re busy or feel awkward using a toilet outside your home.

Fast. You may think that cutting back on food will help “clear out” your colon. That’s not the case.

Do this: Eating, especially healthy whole foods that contain fiber, helps your body move stool.

Forget to manage your stress. Your colon is partly managed by your nervous system, which is like your body’s electrical wiring. If you feel stressed or anxious, your gut may feel it, too.

Do this: Talking to a therapist or learning relaxation techniques may help you feel better.

Brush off other symptoms. Sometimes constipation can be a sign of a more serious health problem, such as colorectal cancer. Also, not dealing with constipation early can lead to hemorrhoids, fissures or cuts in your bottom, and other complications.

Do this: If you have blood in your stool, are losing weight and don’t know why, or you’ve been constipated for more than 3 weeks after having more fluids and fiber, call your doctor.