What not to eat when you are constipated?

Stool Softener Foods that Avoid Prolapse Worsening

Many women are terrified of straining with constipation and worsening their prolapse problems.

Straining causes and worsens prolapse.

Stool softener foods can help avoid straining and promote recovery from common rectal problems (e.g. hemorrhoids, fissures and rectal prolapse).

Stool softener laxatives (Coloxyl or Colace) can cause unpleasant side effects including nausea, bloating, cramps and diarrhoea.

Read on below to soften your stool with:

  1. Best stool softener foods
  2. Foods that make stools hard (limit these)
  3. Best stool softener fluids
  4. Best stool softener fibre
  5. Bowel problems caused by too much fibre
  6. The best stool consistency for bowel movements

1. Best Stool Softener Foods

If your stool is too hard you may benefit from gradually increasing your consumption of foods known to soften the stool.

Foods that soften the stool include:

  • Vegetables – green beans, spinach, red capsicum, members of the cabbage family (cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprouts which can cause increased wind/gas production)
  • Fruit – fresh apricots, peaches, plums, grapes, prunes
  • High Fibre Cereals – bran, multigrain breads and cereals
  • Snacks – popped corn, chocolate
  • Spices* – chilli, curry
  • Fibre supplements – detailed below
  • Additives – artificial sweeteners* Sorbitol or Mannitol

*Can cause bladder urgency

2. Foods That Firm The Stool

Some foods are known to firm the stool. If you are trying to soften your stool you may wish to limit or avoid the following foods if they make your stool too hard.

Foods that firm the stool include:

  • Low fibre cereals – white pasta, boiled white rice, white bread
  • Mashed potato
  • Cheese
  • Bananas
  • White Marshmallows
  • Tapioca
  • Pretzels

These foods can contribute to constipation and straining.

3. Best Stool Softener Fluids

Fluid intake is also important in ensuring your stool is the right consistency. Your fluid intake needs to be adequate to soften your stool.

If you are increasing your fibre intake, commencing a fibre supplement or taking stool softener medications it is important to increase your fluid intake.

  • Water
  • Prune, orange or grape juice
  • Caffeine* containing drinks e.g. coffee, tea
  • Alcohol* (red wine or beer)

*Note – can cause bladder urgency

How Much Fluid to Drink?

While water is the recommended fluid of choice, herbal teas and foods high in fluid also contribute to daily fluid intake.

Most healthy women can aim towards 2 litres/day of fluid to increase the effects of fibre on stool consistency however this will differ for some individuals with medical conditions that restrict fluid intake.

4. Best Stool Softener Fibre

The fibre you consume affects your stool consistency and the movement of waste through the bowel (bowel motility).

Soft stool consistency is promoted by consuming approximately 25-30 grams of fibre/day. For healthy adults 25-30 grams of daily fibre intake includes:

  • 2 serves of fruit
  • 5 serves of vegetables
  • 4-5 serves of cereals

The fibre we consume can be grouped into two types; soluble and insoluble fibre.

Many foods contain both insoluble and soluble fibres and most healthy adults derive health benefits from consuming both types of fibre in their diet.


Insoluble fibre is the fibre that helps to soften stools. Insoluble fibre is not digestible and it increases the speed of waste movement though the body, a little like sweeping out the bowel.

You can often recognise insoluble fibres from their chewy fibrous texture for example fruit skins and vegetable peels.

Sources of insoluble fibre include:

  • Wholegrain foods e.g. brown rice, wholegrain cereal, wheat bran, wholegrain bread,
  • Fruits with edible skins e.g. pears, apples, stone fruit
  • Vegetables e.g. corn, spinach
  • Nuts and seeds

Two Problems With Too Much Insoluble Fibre

Too much insoluble fibre can cause different bowel problems for different women including constipation or diarrhoea. Eating the right amount of insoluble fibre in your diet for your body can take some trial and error to get right.

If you are increasing fibre in your diet, do this slowly to allow your bowel to become accustomed and reduce the risk of bloating and discomfort. If you are on a medically prescribed low fibre diet speak with your doctor for approval before making any changes to your fibre intake.

a. Constipation

If you are constipated or prone to constipation avoid the mistake of consuming too much insoluble fibre (and too little fluid).

While insoluble fibre softens the stool, it is not broken down in the bowel and if too much is consumed this fibre will actually slow down bowel motility, causing gas and bloating, abdominal pain and contribute to constipation.

To help constipation women often need to ‘clear the blockage’ or hard stool first with appropriate medication before increasing fibre. Once the hard stool has been passed, insoluble fibre is then gradually introduced into the diet to reduce the likelihood of becoming constipated in the future.

b. Diarrhoea

Consuming too much insoluble fibre can also cause diarrhoea in some women by speeding up bowel motility. Women with faecal incontinence problems typically need to reduce their insoluble fibre intake to help firm their stool and slow down bowel motility.


Soluble fibre absorbs water in the bowel forming a gel-like consistency.

Soluble fibre helps digestion and improves the absorption of nutrients. Soluble fibre can help to reduce diarrhoea if the stool is too loose.

Sources of soluble fibre include:

  • Oats
  • Pysllium
  • Fruit (e.g. oranges, passionfruit, avocado)
  • Vegetables – sweet potato, chick peas, baked beans, soy beans


Bulking agents/fibre supplements absorb water from the intestine helping to soften and gel the stool consistency e.g. Psyllium (Metamucil), Guar Gum (Benefibre), Sterculia (Normafibe). Bulking agents can help stool consistency long-term however they can cause worsening constipation of you are already constipated.

Ideally constipation should be addressed first with an appropriate laxative medication (speak with your health care provider) and then the bulking agent used as a preventative measure for long-term prevention of constipation.

5. The Best Stool Consistency for Bowel Movements

Bristol Stool Chart click to enlarge

Getting your stool consistency right is very important to overcoming constipation and straining. You can check your stool consistency using the Bristol Stool Chart.

How do you rate the appearance of your regular stool using this stool chart Type (1-7)?

  • Type 3-4 – soft well formed and smooth this is the ideal stool consistency that is easily passed
  • Type 1-2 – hard, cracked and/or lumpy stools are difficult to pass making you more prone to constipation and straining
  • Type 5-7 – not well formed and watery can cause diarrhoea and straining to empty completely

Key Points for Stool Softener Foods

Increasing your intake of these stool softener foods and fluids can help you soften your stool, reduce straining with constipation and the need for laxative medications.

  • Increase insoluble fibre (and fluids) gradually over time.
  • Avoid increasing your fibre intake when you are constipated which can worsen constipation and straining.
  • Choosing stool softener foods and reducing your intake of foods known cause hard stools can help you reduce constipation, straining and help you protect your pelvic floor long-term.

Next: 10 Essential Rectocele Repair Rules

ABOUT THE AUTHOR, Michelle Kenway

Michelle Kenway is a Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist and author of Prolapse Exercises Inside Out.

Prolapse Exercises is a complete exercise guide for women seeking to exercise safely and protect their pelvic floor.

We welcome your comments below

Please read our disclaimer regarding this information.

Copyright © Pelvic Exercises. All rights reserved

Michelle Kenway is a Physiotherapist, book author and exercise instructor for women. Her long-term experience as a Physical Therapist private practitioner and hospital-based Physiotherapist have provided her with unique understanding of the safe exercise, health and fitness challenges confronting women through the life stages.

Which foods are good for constipation?

Everyone’s bowels respond to foods differently, but the following healthful, natural foods can help to relieve constipation:

1. Water

Dehydration is a common cause of constipation, and drinking plenty of water can often help to ease or resolve the symptoms.

When a person becomes dehydrated, their intestines cannot add enough water to stools. This results in hard, dry, and lumpy stools and can lead to constipation.

2. Yogurt and kefir

Share on PinterestProbiotics may help to improve gut health.

Many dairy products, including yogurt and kefir, contain microorganisms known as probiotics.

Probiotics are often called “good” bacteria, and they may help to improve gut health and soften stools.

In a 2014 study, researchers investigated the use of an unflavored probiotic yogurt containing polydextrose, Lactobacillus acidophilus, and Bifidobacterium lactis to treat constipation.

The researchers found that eating 180 milliliters of this yogurt each morning for 2 weeks shortened the time it took waste to move through the bowels in people with chronic constipation.

3. Pulses

Most beans, lentils, chickpeas, and peas are very high in fiber, which is a nutrient that promotes good digestion and reduces constipation.

A 2017 study found that 100 grams (g) of cooked pulses provides around 26 percent of the daily fiber intake recommended in the U.S.

A 100 g serving of pulses also contains substantial quantities of other nutrients that help to ease constipation, such as potassium, folate, zinc, and vitamin B6.

4. Clear soups

Clear soups are nutritious and easy to digest. They also add moisture to hard, dense stools, which can soften them, making them easier to pass.

Warm liquids and foods are also generally easier to digest.

5. Prunes

Prunes and prune juice are a time-tested home remedy for constipation in many parts of the world.

Prunes contain a lot of fiber, a nutrient known to ease and speed up bowel movements. Prunes also contain sorbitol and phenolic compounds that may have gastrointestinal benefits.

A 2014 review concluded that eating prunes may increase the frequency of bowel movements and improve stool consistency in people with constipation.

In most of the studies included in the review, the participants ate 100 g of prunes daily, or about 10 prunes.

6. Wheat bran

Wheat bran is another popular home remedy for constipation. It is rich in insoluble fiber, which can speed up the flow of materials through the intestines.

A 2013 study found that eating a breakfast cereal containing wheat bran every day for 2 weeks improved bowel function and reduced constipation in healthy women who did not usually eat much fiber.

7. Broccoli

Broccoli contains sulforaphane, a substance that may protect the gut and ease digestion.

Sulforaphane may also help to prevent the overgrowth of some intestinal microorganisms that can interfere with healthy digestion.

In a 2017 study, healthy people ate either 20 g of raw broccoli sprouts or 20 g of alfalfa sprouts every day for 4 weeks. The researchers found that the people who ate broccoli sprouts had fewer symptoms of constipation and quicker bowel movements.

8. Apples and pears

Apples and pears contain several compounds that improve digestion, including fiber, sorbitol, and fructose.

These fruits also contain high levels of water, which can help to ease digestion and prevent constipation.

To get the most benefit from apples and pears, eat them raw and whole, with the skin intact.

9. Grapes

Grapes have a high skin-to-flesh ratio, which means that they are rich in fiber, and they also contain a lot of water.

To ease constipation, try eating a few handfuls of raw, washed grapes.

10. Kiwis

On average, 100 g of kiwi contains around 2–3 g of fiber, which can add bulk to stools and speed up the intestinal flow.

Kiwis also contain actinidine, an enzyme that promotes movement in the upper gastrointestinal tract, and several phytochemicals that may play a role in improving digestion.

11. Blackberries and raspberries

Blackberries and raspberries are rich in fiber and water, which can both ease constipation.

Try eating a handful or two of raw, washed blackberries or raspberries a day.

12. Whole wheat breads, cereals, and pastas

Whole wheat products are an excellent source of insoluble fiber, which adds weight to stools and speeds up the flow of materials through the intestines.

To get the most nutrients from whole wheat products, eat them raw or lightly cooked.

Whole wheat breads and cereals that also contain nuts and seeds pack even more fiber into each serving.

13. Olive and flaxseed oils

Share on PinterestOlive oil can ease the flow of materials through the intestines.

Olive and flaxseed oils have a mild laxative effect, which can ease the flow of materials through the intestines and relieve constipation.

These oils also contain compounds that improve digestion and have antioxidant, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties.

A 2015 study found that olive and flaxseed oils help to relieve constipation in people undergoing hemodialysis.

14. Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut contains probiotic bacteria that may help to improve digestion and reduce constipation.

These bacteria may also boost immune function and the digestion of lactose.

A 2016 study found that 2 tablespoons of homemade sauerkraut contain around the same amount of bacteria as probiotic supplements.

Diet Dos and Don’ts for Constipation Relief

Constipation Relief, Constipation Prevention

One of the healthiest steps you can take is choosing foods that relieve constipation or prevent constipation in the first place. You may already turn to foods that relieve constipation, such as bran cereal or prune juice. However, if you don’t yet have constipation symptoms, you don’t need to wait until they start to begin eating healthier.

Related: Exercise to Relieve or Prevent Constipation

You can get constipation relief or work to prevent constipation now with the right constipation diet. Follow these diet dos and don’ts.

Do …

  • Drink plenty of fluids. Getting the recommended eight glasses of water a day helps to soften your stool, making elimination easier. Drinking the right amount of fluids may also help stool leave the colon, Fortunato says.
  • Eat fresh and dried fruit. Fruit, especially dried fruit, is loaded with fiber and is one of the foods that help relieve constipation. Along with water, fiber helps give stool the right consistency to pass easily. Good fruit choices for a constipation diet are raisins, prunes, figs, bananas, apples, and applesauce.
  • Load your plate with vegetables. Vegetables are also high in fiber and can help prevent constipation. Pinto beans, legumes, salads, and raw vegetables are all high in fiber, making them great choices for constipation relief and prevention.
  • Fill up on whole grains for fiber. Look for whole-grain bread, oatmeal, ground flax seed, barley, and wheat bran cereal. Your goal should be to get up to 35 grams of fiber a day, and just one ounce of wheat bran cereal gives you 10 grams.

Don’t …

  • Rely on processed foods. Processed foods don’t have much fiber, Fortunato says. Eating too many of them can lead to constipation — better to go with natural foods like fruits and vegetables than to get your meals and snacks from a box or bag.
  • Drink coffee or caffeinated drinks all day. Caffeine is a stimulant so it can cause you to have a bowel movement. But it can also cause dehydration, which can have the opposite effect and lead to constipation, Fortunato explains.
  • Go overboard on dairy. Dairy on its own may not lead to constipation, but the lactose in dairy can produce gas and make you uncomfortable if you’re backed up already, Fortunato says. Also, foods that are loaded with cheese aren’t usually part of a balanced diet, so be sure to get the three recommended daily servings of dairy from healthy, low-fat sources, such as nonfat milk and yogurt.
  • Drink too much alcohol. Like caffeine, alcohol can dehydrate you and cause constipation. Limiting your alcohol intake can help relieve constipation.

If constipation is a problem, it’s better to see a doctor sooner rather than later, Fortunato says. In his clinic, he recommends that patients who are constipated work with a dietitian to change their eating habits and avoid future problems. A constipation diet full of fiber and plenty of fluids may be all you need to stay regular.

Is Coffee a Laxative?

Coffee is more than just a beverage; for many people, it’s their life’s blood. And while coffee is primarily known for “waking up” the brain, many people claim that their morning cup of java also energizes their bowels. So, what is it about coffee that makes some people run for the nearest toilet while others feel no impact? Read on to learn more.

The scoop on poop: Does coffee really affect your bowels?

In short, there aren’t recent scientific studies on how coffee influences bowel habits. But one 2015 study did point out that decaffeinated coffee had a significant effect on bowel movements for those with postoperative ileus, compared to caffeinated coffee and water. Postoperative ileus refers to digestive problems that occur after abdominal surgery. In this case, the patients studied had colon surgery.

There are some earlier studies from the 1990s that address the possible connection between coffee and digestion. According to a 1990 questionnaire study, drinking caffeinated or decaffeinated coffee increased rectosigmoid motility. This is the movement at the intersection of the large colon’s end and the upper rectum. The study found that this movement increased within four minutes in about 29 percent of participants, while drinking plain hot water did not have the same effect.

A 1998 study found that caffeinated coffee, decaf coffee, and a 1,000-calorie meal all stimulated the colon. However, caffeinated coffee stimulated the colon 23 percent more than decaf coffee and 60 percent more than plain water.

While coffee may have a laxative effect in some people, whether it’s the coffee or the caffeine is unclear. Coffee’s effect is not solely due to caffeine, since decaf coffee has shown the same or an even greater effect. In addition, most people don’t have to poop after drinking other caffeinated beverages, such as soda or energy drinks. Still, according to the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD), excessive consumption of any caffeinated drink may cause loose stools or diarrhea. And caffeine within coffee can act as a stimulant, which might induce bile production that increases bowel movements.

The IFFGD also indicates that some artificial sweeteners, and lactose, may have a laxative effect. Lactose is a type of sugar found in dairy products. If your body doesn’t make enough of the enzyme needed to digest lactose, you may experience symptoms such as diarrhea. Artificial sweeteners also can cause diarrhea. So, if you add significant amounts of cream and sugar to your coffee and find yourself on the toilet a short time later, it may be due to the lactose or other sugars, not the coffee itself.

What you sip and what it stimulates: The gastrocolic reflex

The simple act of drinking coffee or any other beverage in the morning stimulates a defecation reflex known as the gastrocolic reflex. This reflex helps jump-start your bowels whenever you eat or drink. No scientific evidence exists showing that this is why you have a bowel movement after drinking coffee. However, for people with irritable bowel syndrome that have a hypersensitive gastrocolic reflex, research suggests that the potential laxative effect of coffee may stimulate bowel movements after drinking a cup of joe.

Some people believe drinking a warm or hot drink upon waking stimulates the digestive system and leads to a bowel movement. According to gastroenterologist Felice Schnoll-Sussman in a Runner’s World article, “It widens blood vessels in the digestive system and helps increase blood flow and GI activity.” Since everyone doesn’t need to hit the bathroom after drinking a warm beverage, there may also be other factors at play.

The deal with dehydration: What about coffee’s diuretic effects?

It may be argued that coffee can’t be called a laxative because it’s a diuretic. In other words, if coffee makes you urinate more and lose fluid, it’s more likely to cause dehydration and induce constipation than trigger a bowel movement. Not so, per a 2014 study. Testing only males, this study found that a moderate intake of coffee does not lead to dehydration and may actually help people meet their daily fluid intake requirement.

Coffee as a colon cleanse: coffee enemas

A coffee enema is a colon cleanse. It’s a remedy said to relieve constipation and reduce general toxicity in the body. The process involves pumping a combination of cooled, freshly brewed coffee and water into your colon via an enema bag and then releasing it. Any subsequent bowel movements are likely caused by the sheer volume of fluid stimulating rectal muscles and not the coffee.

There’s no evidence that coffee enemas detox the body. Although, like a regular enema, they may relieve constipation. Coffee enemas can be very risky and, as with other types of colon cleanses, may cause:

  • electrolyte imbalance
  • infection
  • increased risk of dehydration
  • bowel perforations

It is much safer to use a commercially prepared enema that you can buy at the drugstore.

The takeaway

Older research has shown that both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee can have a laxative affect to some degree, while newer studies are geared more toward coffee’s specific roles in digestive health. It remains unclear why some people are affected while others are not. It may be due to the amount of coffee you drink, a preexisting bowel disorder, or other tummy stimulating compounds in your brew.

What’s crystal clear is that coffee isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. According to a 2015 Gallup poll, almost two-thirds of adults in the United States drink an average of 2.7 cups of coffee daily.

If you’re someone who struggles with diarrhea after drinking coffee, try to limit your intake or see if drinking half caffeinated coffee and half decaf reduces your symptoms. If not, see your doctor. You may need to avoid coffee altogether.

Researchers believe that the bowel-stimulating quality of coffee comes from caffeine and/or other substances contained within the coffee brew. Although there have been no large-scale studies on this subject, what we do know is that drinking coffee can stimulate movement of the colonic muscles, thus promoting peristalsis (the coordinated contraction and relaxation of intestinal muscles that causes bowel movements). One study noted that the magnitude of this peristaltic effect of caffeinated coffee is similar to one induced by eating a meal. It’s also 60 percent stronger than the effect induced by drinking water, and 23 percent stronger than the effect due to drinking decaffeinated coffee.

Aside from promoting bowel movements, coffee can also cause looser stools because increased peristalsis leaves less time for the colon to perform one of its key functions–reabsorbing water from fecal matter to produce well-formed stools. Be aware, however, that other common accompaniments to coffee can be culprits in this matter. Dairy products, excess sugar, even “sugarless” sweeteners like sorbitol (a well-known substance used as a laxative) can cause diarrhea.

This Is How Coffee Affects Your Digestion

It’s not just in your head; that rush to bathroom after drinking a cup of coffee is real. Coffee can definitely get our bowels moving, and knowing why coffee makes you poop can help you better plan your morning (a coffee trip after an early meeting or exam might be smart). It’s perfectly healthy to go to the bathroom a couple times a day, so drinking coffee can actually be beneficial for maintaining regular bowel movements. The tricky thing about digestion is that sometimes the body can act up, leading to pains, cramping, soft stool, or constipation, and unfortunately there are some serious effects of coffee on digestion that are to blame for tummy troubles.

“Your colon is a muscle, and since caffeine stimulates muscles, caffeine intake can stimulate peristalsis––the rhythmic contractions of the GI tract. This can result in diarrhea or loose stools for some or a comfortable bowel movement for others,” explains Lori Chong, registered dietitian at The Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center.

“Coffee has caffeine, and caffeine can boost your metabolism. Caffeine can act as a laxative. This is why drinking coffee can cause some people to have a bowel movement not long after consumption,” explain Dr. Charles Galanis, a Board Certified Surgeon in Chicago and Robert Dorfman, Research Fellow at Northwestern Division of Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery.

However, the opposite can be true as well. “Caffeine can act as a diuretic and increase urine production, thereby conceivably contributing to dehydration and possible constipation as a result,” Galanis and Dorfman say.

photo by pixelliebe via getty images

So, where do we go from here?

Drinking coffee will affect digestion, for sure, but taking these measures can reduce the likelihood of such bowel extremities. “It is therefore important to have adequate water intake to avoid such problems,” advise Galanis and Dorfman. Plus, digestion can slow when drinking coffee. “Caffeine has also been shown to increase production of hormones like adrenaline and noradrenaline, which give you the sensation of more energy and cause your heart to beat faster. In doing so, this can decrease blood flow to the intestines, thereby slowing the process of digestion,” Galanis and Dorfman explain.

As with most tasty, godly things in life, moderation is key when it comes to coffee. “Ultimately, caffeine is acidic, so be careful not to consume too much of it, or you may potentially damage the lining of your digestive tract. Too much caffeine consumption may induce ulcer formation and inflammation of the gastric wall, and this may be particularly bad in patients with Crohn’s disease or irritable bowel syndrome,” warn Galanis and Dorfman.

Keeping in mind all the science behind coffee, as long as you’re mindful of intake and know your body, there’s no reason to forgo that glorious jolt.

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