Constipation is never pleasant – especially when you’re on holiday – and it seems being backed up during a summer break is quite a common concern.
What is constipation?
It basically means you’re not pooing regularly enough. Stools may remain in the large intestine for too long, and may become very hard, large or small, and difficult – possibly painful – to pass. It can also cause bloating, pains and cramps and loss of appetite.
What causes it?
Constipation’s very common; most people experience it at some point in their lives. For some, it can be more of a chronic problem, and may be linked with other conditions, like IBS or other, more serious illnesses – so make sure you see your GP if constipation doesn’t clear up after a few days, especially if you’re also experiencing other symptoms such as weight loss, blood in the stools and fatigue.
Usually though, constipation is linked to dietary and lifestyle factors, like not eating enough fibre and not drinking enough fluids. It can also be triggered by changes in diet or routine (which explains why it often strikes on holidays), stress, being inactive, overweight or underweight, and ignoring the urge to go to the toilet when you need to.
Don’t suffer in silence
“Constipation is no fun, especially when it threatens to ruin your well-earned holiday,” says Kate Arnold, a nutritionist with 18 years’ experience specialising in gastrointestinal disorders.
“It can make you feel uncomfortable and just not yourself. The condition can usually be treated quite easily so there’s no need for it to become a problem, provided people seek advice early on and don’t suffer in silence.”
Top tips for managing constipation on holiday
Kate has the following advice for preventing and tackling the problem…
1. In the week before you go away, try and get a good bowel routine going. You don't want to go on holiday already constipated, as that might make you even more anxious.
2. As soon as you start travelling, whether by car, plane or boat, get up, stretch and walk around. The key is to get into a rhythm and don't sit down for long stretches.
3. It’s easy to start drinking alcohol early while getting into the holiday spirit. Try and have one glass of water for each alcoholic drink and keep hydrated at all times. Being dehydrated can cause constipation and bloating.
4. Try and eat at the same time as you do at home - this will help you stick to your usual regime.
5. Whatever the local cuisine, try and include fresh fruit, vegetables, some wholegrains and pulses in your diet. If you are struggling to find any fibre, eat apples or keep some oatcakes in your bag.
6. Probiotic yoghurts might also help prevent bloating.
7. Where possible, choose wholegrains like wholemeal bread, brown or basmati rice, and wholemeal spaghetti.
8. Keep moving and active, walking, swimming, even stretching, anything to help your gut move.
9. Avoid loads of white bread, pastries, cakes, and if you are on an all-inclusive holiday it is easy to be tempted to eat too much, which can lead to bloating. Choose wisely and don't overload your plate.
10. Certain foods can slow digestion: red meat, high fat foods and unripe bananas. Caffeine can have the opposite effect if you are dehydrated as well, so if you’re drinking coffee, drink a glass of water too.