Preventive Maintenance: Are You in a Bind?

by Karen Bowen

Does your crazy trucking schedule upset your digestion?

Although not a topic many talk about, irregular eating habits can cause irregular bathroom habits. If you find yourself in this bind, don’t worry.

Constipation is uncomfortable, but not usually a cause for serious concern.

You have your own digestive process and your body responds to food in its own unique way. Your digestion is affected by your schedule, your overall health and what you’ve eaten. So, if you haven’t gone to the bathroom for a couple of days, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re constipated.

If this period between bowel movements is usual for you, you may just have a slow system.

But, if the time between movements is longer than usual, or if going to the bathroom is difficult, uncomfortable or painful, you may be constipated.

Why would you become constipated? The trucking lifestyle may play a part. When you have to wait for the next truck stop washroom when you feel like stopping now, your body begins to curb your urge to go (sometimes for hours.)

This can create a problem. During digestion, your large intestines primarily take the moisture out of your stools.

So, the longer you wait, the drier and harder your stools become, making expulsion difficult when you finally stop at a rest area.

Although not always possible, try to adjust your schedule to allow regular washroom breaks. One possibility is to go to bed a little earlier, and get up early enough for a leisurely breakfast. This will stimulate your digestion before you head out on the road.

People also become constipated when they don’t get enough exercise.

Physical activity not only tones the outward muscles, but the inside muscles, too (including the digestive tract). Stronger bowel muscles make easier bowel movements.

Sometimes constipation can be caused by tumours, so if you have painful, difficult movements, contact your doctor for some tests.

But if your constipation is not a medical problem, here are some lifestyle changes you could try:

Eat more fiber.

Some fibers (like in cereals) increase the mass of your stool by attracting water.

Soft bulky stools stimulate bowel contractions, strengthening the walls of your bowels.

This improved muscle tone makes it easier to go to the bathroom in the future.

As well, you’re less likely to get hemorrhoids.

Some good sources of fiber are fruits (apples, citrus), vegetables, oats, barley, legumes, wheat bran, corn bran, and whole grain breads and cereals.

Eat prunes (or drink prune juice). Prunes are very high in fiber and also contain a laxative substance. If you want to go to the bathroom in the morning, eat prunes before you go to bed.

For the evening, eat them with breakfast.

Along with your high fiber diet, drink lots of water. Give your intestines enough moisture to keep your stools soft.

Honey can also act as a laxative because it doesn’t get completely absorbed. Use honey for constipation, but avoid it if you have an irritable bowel.

Adding fat to your diet can also relieve some constipation because it stimulates a hormone which sends bile into the intestines. Since bile has a lot of salt, it pulls water from the walls of the intestine, softening the stools and stimulating the intestinal muscles to contract.

Make these lifestyle changes, and try to stay away from laxatives, no matter what the commercials say.

Long-term use of laxatives, mineral oil and enemas just make your bowels lazy, making you dependent on them in the future. They can also upset your body’s balance of minerals, salts and fluids.

Mineral oil breaks down the fat soluble vitamins (A, E, K) and carries them away in your waste and your body can’t use them.

If you often need laxatives to find relief, you should get advice from your doctor (not just your friends).

In fact, what works to relieve one person’s problem, may actually cause constipation in others. For example, if your colon is a little sluggish, some fiber will help you out.

However, if you have spastic constipation, more fiber could cause your intestinal muscles to contract so much that the passageway closes off completely. This could become a serious problem.

So, to avoid irregularity: eat more fiber; drink lots of fluids; exercise regularly and take the time to go to the bathroom as soon as the urge hits.

If you take these four easy steps, it will allow you to stay out of a bind.

– Karen Bowen is a professional health and nutrition consultant and she can be reached by e-mail at

Have your say

This is a moderated forum. Comments will no longer be published unless they are accompanied by a first and last name and a verifiable email address. (Today's Trucking will not publish or share the email address.) Profane language and content deemed to be libelous, racist, or threatening in nature will not be published under any circumstances.