Milk, Milk Lemonade
October 21, 2010 2:58 PM   Subscribe

Can a relatively low-sugar diet cause constipation? Lots of TMI and perhaps NSFW within...

Background info: long-term vegetarian, have never had ANY problems with constipation before.

Approximately one month ago, I cut out most of the overly processed & sugar-laden food from my diet. I did this primarily because my sugar cravings were gettting out of control (waking up craving brownies and cake is no way to live) but also because I just wanted to be more healthy in general. Enter extreme constipation. Whereas before I was having a movement once or twice a day with absolutely no strain, now I am lucky if I feel the urge once a day and it takes several minutes and lots of straining and shifting around on the toilet to get anything moving. I am seriously afraid of getting hemorrhoids. Also, (and I suppose obviously) pre-diet change, I seemed to be evacuating within 18-24 hours of consumption. Now it is closer to 48-72 hours. Can simply cutting out processed and high-sugar foods cause this? It is truly the only thing in my diet that has changed, and if anything I imagine I am getting more fiber, in the form of increased intake of fruits and vegetables. A typical day's menu (in order of consumption):

Hard-boiled egg, sprinkled with salt
Bowl of Hot Muesli
*6 Fiber Capsules
4 servings of vegetables with butter
Fat-free greek style yogurt with chopped walnuts and bit of honey
Sliced apple with peanut butter
1-2 slices cinnamon raisin bread with butter OR bag of natural microwave popcorn
*6 Fiber capsules (again)
Either sliced hard-boiled egg with butter or sliced cheese on 2 pieces of sprouted multi-grain sandwich bread
Maybe another piece of fruit (usually a mango) OR baby carrots with hummus if I'm feeling like a snack

*I added the capsules after the first 2 weeks when the problem became apparent, and am careful to get LOTS of water (10-12 cups a day)

So, is this something that will go away in time as my body adjusts, or am I missing something crucial in my diet? Even with the capsules, I am still having problems with constipation. Thanks all!
posted by en el aire to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
other than refined sugars, what else was in the food you cut off? Sometimes things like coffee and chocolate and fatty foods can help to speed things up.

And I can be completely off here (and I usually am), but could this change have caused a bit of anxiety? I don't know about you, but an anxious stressed out me has slow bowel movements.
posted by Neekee at 3:11 PM on October 21, 2010

You say you were trying to become healthier in general--did you start taking any supplements around the time you switched your diet? Calcium can be really constipating.
posted by needs more cowbell at 3:50 PM on October 21, 2010

Have a piece of sugar-free chocolate. Problem solved stat! :-)

(I'm not kidding. I do low carb because diabetes runs in my family, and one piece of sugar-free anything evacuates my system).
posted by TLCplz at 4:01 PM on October 21, 2010

Wee-el, in general, a change in food habits may well need some getting used to, yes.

In my experience, if you go low-carb (or, looking at your list, lower-carb), you have to substitute with more fat or oil, to keep things, well, oiled.

That said, fat-free Greek-style yogurt, all that hard-boiled egg, and banana seems to me like a recipe for a total stop in any case.

I'd totally skip the banana, fry at least some of the eggs, use normal whole-milk yogurt, add some assorted soft and hard cheeses to the mix, reduce the peanut butter, try to get wholemeal rye products (yum, homemade sourdough bread) and oatcakes (super-simple to make and cheap and munchy) instead of fiber capsules, and use more olive oil and butter in my veggies. Perhaps even add a spicy Indian-type component or something.

Flax seeds in your muesli, and garlic in your veggies, are good to get over the present situation, though. And for me, a mug of coffee before breakfast would do the trick more than anything...

and: IANYD[ietist]
posted by Namlit at 4:06 PM on October 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

one piece of sugar-free anything evacuates my system

Some sugar-replacements such as sorbitol do work like a laxative.

[Which I found out at 14, after a whole roll of sugar free peppermints, on my way home from school].
posted by Namlit at 4:11 PM on October 21, 2010

Huh. I see no beans there, or any other whole grains like brown rice, etc.

Hard boiled egg is good: now add some oatmeal.

Veggies are good: add some fiber, like red beans or chick peas.

Yogurt & walnuts good. Add some berries, like frozen blueberries or strawberries.

Apple good. With a half a peanut butter sandwich.

Banana: high carb, add them to a half a peanut butter sandwich.

Add some more whole grains and veggie protein carbs, like a bean salad or hummus & whole grain pita, etc. You can even do the Uncle Ben's microwave rice, mixed with a can of red beans or chickpeas, as long as you read the labels (some have more additives than others).

Get enough fiber, drink enough water, and a cup of coffee in the morning and you should be good to go.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 4:31 PM on October 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

How much fiber is in those fiber pills? Ironically, too much fiber can cause constipation just as too little can. If your digestive system slowed down a bit when you flipped your diet, and you responded by tossing down 12 (!!!) fiber pills a day, you might have actually kept your system constipated.

Personally, too much more than about 45 grams of fiber a day causes a slowdown for me. Maybe back off those pills for a week and see if that helps?
posted by iminurmefi at 4:45 PM on October 21, 2010 [3 favorites]

Are you saying that you poop once a day? Because it is my understanding that once a day is pretty normal.

Now granted, shifting and straining and taking a few minutes and generally feeling like you're having to work at it - that's not good. But I wouldn't call that "extreme constipation."

I'm not a sufferer, but constipation runs in my family. And gosh, they all feel free to share the details. Two days is considered "normal" constipation. I hear about the occasional three day interval between poops.

Just to, you know, frame the discussion nicely.

Anyway, I would recommend Activia. It is yogurt that makes you poop. My prone-to-constipation relatives swear by it. I believe it comes in a sugar-free version.
posted by ErikaB at 5:03 PM on October 21, 2010

I always find it takes a few weeks for my, ahem, "system" to adjust after I change my diet even minorly. I agree with ErikaB too, that once a day or even once every second day is normal for some people. Perhaps there was something in the processed foods you used to eat that was irritating your system so that you pooped more often than you would under normal circumstances?

In the short term, I always find that black coffee on an empty stomach (or with a piece of fruit) first thing in the morning makes things happen. So does going for a run.
posted by lollusc at 6:22 PM on October 21, 2010

Seconding that 12 capsules is a lot - I find that 4 psyllium husk capsules is about right for me. But like others have mentioned, having a lot more beans (with beano) and cooked veggies in my diet is what really helped a diet-change slowdown for me. Having at Least one meal a day be all cooked vegetables and protein (sometimes tofu, not always beans) was what made the biggest difference.
posted by ldthomps at 7:19 PM on October 21, 2010

Your diet seems to be intensely fat-free. Man cannot live on bulk alone. Perhaps add some natural peanut or almond butter in there?
posted by contessa at 7:56 PM on October 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

- More fat, less fiber pills (12 pills? really?)
- drink more water
- generally, have less grains, more protein & much more fat (did I mention fat?). There's a lot of carbs in your diet! (Which is none of my business, but you mentioned cravings, so...)
- have full fat yoghurt
- have avocados instead of bananas - yum!
- have salad with lots of oil instead of all that bread/popcorn stuff
- cheese, hard-boiled eggs and bananas have all been known to make some people constipated. Maybe one of those is the culprit?
-You could also try a magnesium supplement

Hope you feel better soon!
posted by The Toad at 8:52 PM on October 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

This is really just wild speculation (I am so NAD), but perhaps you were sucrose or fructose intolerant, and that was actually making you sick. So cutting high amounts of one or the other from your diet has actually left you healthier, but you're not perceiving it that way.
posted by Ahab at 3:50 AM on October 22, 2010

Nthing the almond butter. It really helps a lot.
posted by jgirl at 4:48 AM on October 22, 2010

Thanks to everyone for the helpful advice! Just to clarify & answer a few questions:
I did eat A LOT of chocolate previously, and it makes sense that that may have been helping to move things along, I just didn't realize how much.
I have never been a big caffeine drinker, and I didn't add any supplements since embarking on this diet change.
The fiber pills - the bottle says each "dose" is 6 pills, and I started out with just one dose. After a few days I upped it to 2 doses since I wasn't noticing a difference. The instructions suggest up to 3 doses (18 pills) a day. Each does provides 2.4 grams of soluble fiber.
I agree, I need to incorporate more beans into my diet - I didn't realize how much they were lacking until I reviewed my list.
My diet IS carb-heavy, but since I don't care for meat, I'm not sure how to get around that...
Sorry if I wasn't clear - I am having 1 bowel movement on a good day, and all the medical advice I've ever read/been given has suggested 1-2X a day is the healthy norm. I definitely have a feeling of "fullness" and bloat that is rather unpleasant (along with the strain to evacuate)...if I wasn't feeling this way I would be a little less concerned.
The sucrose/fructose intolerant suggestion is interesting!
Again, thank you all for taking the time to respond... I am definitely going to try adding more oils, legumes and magnesium to my diet.
posted by en el aire at 6:54 AM on October 22, 2010

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