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How To Use Bowel Retraining for Constipation

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Updated July 10, 2014

Office worker writing in diary

Keeping a symptom diary will help you to learn your body's biorhythms.

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Bowel retraining is a way to try to work with the body’s natural rhythms to establish a regular schedule of bowel movements. This may be of particular help to individuals who suffer from chronic constipation. The idea is to try to create the conditions that maximize the possibility of having a successful bowel movement. Before trying bowel retraining, it is important to get the OK from your doctor that this would be appropriate for you.

Difficulty: Average

Time Required: 30

Here's How:

  1. Keep a diary of bowel movements for two weeks.
    This information will be helpful in determining whether there are any particular times of day or specific situations in which your body is more likely to initiate a bowel movement.
  2. Establish regular and consistent meal times.
    Feeding your body on a regular schedule will encourage digestion to occur according to a more orderly pattern.
  3. Do what you can to contribute to the development of soft, well-formed stools.
    Drink plenty of fluids to keep your body well-hydrated to minimize the amount of water that the colon will need to pull out of stool matter. If your body can tolerate it, increasing the amount of fiber in your diet can also help form a soft stool. Sometimes fiber is better tolerated when it is increased slowly.
  4. Pick a regular time for your bathroom visit.
    It is important that you schedule time for your bowel movements every day at the same time. It may be challenging to balance your life responsibilities with the needs of your body, but whenever possible try to put your body first. Some tips:
    • If your diary revealed any kind of an established pattern, do what you can to respect this pre-existing natural rhythm of your body.
    • Morning is often an optimal time for most bodies.
    • Another advantageous time is 20 to 30 minutes after a meal.
  5. Prior to your bathroom visit, try to stimulate the gastrocolic reflex.
    This is a natural bodily response in which intestinal contractions are triggered by eating or drinking. Each of the following can serve to strengthen the intensity of colonic contractions triggered by the reflex.
    • Eat a large meal.
    • At this meal, consume foods with a high fat content.
    • Drink any kind of hot beverage.
    • Ingest caffeine, if you can tolerate the substance without irritating your digestive system.
  6. Make yourself as comfortable as possible as you sit on the toilet.
    Use relaxation exercises to keep your body calm and at ease. Listen to music or read something that is stimulating and entertaining.
  7. Use your abdominal muscles, not your rectum.
    Be careful not to try to force out the stool by putting unnecessary strain on your rectum. The goal is to work with your body as you feel the sensations of the colon trying to pass the stool. You may find it helpful to lean forward so that you can focus your effort on contracting the muscles in your lower abdomen.

Tips:

  1. Don’t be discouraged if you do not see immediate results.
    Chronic constipation has many causes and progress may come slowly. Remember that bowel retraining is not designed to cure your constipation; it is designed to try to set up the optimal conditions for your body to establish a more regular rhythm.

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