Almost everyone reading this blog, needs to lose ten, twenty, even fifty pounds. Why are we all so fat? Well, the most common reasons given to us by the medical community are not enough exercise and a high fat, high carb diet. Those are great plausible reasons, but are they the only ones?
New scientific evidence now points to two other cause of excess weight. Chronic Constipation and Dehydration.
We’ll deal with Constipation first. I made an informal survey of friends and family and the ones in their advised weight range had a normal bowel movement nearly everyday. What is a normal bowel movement? Most of us don’t know the answer to that question. BM’s are a taboo subject to normal conversations, but not to nurses, we are always asking about bowel movements. Did you have one? What color and consistency was it? Nurses are nosy like that, because we know that bowel movements can give us a significant amount of information about your overall health. Aren’t you glad you now have a nurseinthefamily?
Normal BM’s vary from person to person, having a bowel movement up to three times a day is normal, as is having only three BM’s a week. It’s all about what is your normal. If you have had two bowel movements a day, every three days for as long as you can remember, that’s your norm. Nurses worry when your normal changes.
What do your bowel movement look like? If it’s thin and watery and happens more than three times a day, you may have chronic diarrhea. If you are having to trouble going and are passing hard, small pellets, you may have chronic constipation. Very thin, pencil sized stools can sometimes indicate serious disorders of the intestines including cancers, so see your health care practitioner pronto if you have these or any aforementioned problems.
The color of your stool is also important. Dark, black-colored stools can be a sign of an upper GI bleed, but can also occur if you are taking supplements with iron or if you have taken that one of those over-the-counter upset stomach remedies containing bismuth subsalicylate. A very light colored or yellow stool that is greasy and often foul smelling and floats in the toilet is called stetorrhea. Stetorrhea is often caused by a very high fat meal, or if it persists, can indicate gall bladder or pancreatic problems. Celiac disease, a severe sensitivity to gluten, can also cause stetorrhea. If you see blood either in your stool or on the tissue, you may have hemorrhoids or another more serious condition. With all of this said, your diet highly influences the color of your stool. Beets, tomatoes, cranberries, anything red, can look like blood in the stool. Dark green leafy vegetables and anything artificially colored purple will often result in a green stool. So if you had a spinach salad with cherry tomatoes for lunch and then had a grape drink with the kids, your stool may look like Christmas. Think about your diet, and if any of these unusual BM’s continue for two weeks or more see your doctor. The exception is seeing real blood or pus in your stool or on the tissue. If those things occur, especially if you are having belly pain or rectal pain, see your doc immediately.
So now that we know what a normal bowel movement should not look like, what should it look like? A normal BM should look like a banana or may be even longer. It should be firm but soft and easy to pass and should be a medium brown.
Okay you say, “I think I am constipated.” What do I do? The easiest fix is to add at least 25 grams if you are a woman, or 38 grams if you are a man, of fiber to your diet daily. The average American only eats about 15 grams of fiber a day, so no wonder we are fat and constipated.
Plant foods, fresh or frozen, are loaded with fiber as are whole grains. Dry beans, lentils, and peas are also high in fiber. Replacing refined grains, such as white pasta, rice, and flour with whole grain options can make a huge difference. And add those fruits and veggies to your diet. That old adage, an apple a day keeps the doctor away, is true in this case, apples are full of fiber, especially if you eat the skin.
I’m a nurse and know all of this and it’s still hard for me to get enough fiber everyday. My solution is a dietary supplement. I have hereditary high cholesterol, so to add fiber and to help reduce my cholesterol level I take a 100% psyllium seed husk bulk forming fiber laxative/dietary supplement everyday. I prefer the smooth texture, orange flavored products. Another choice that doctors often recommend is polyethylene glycol. Take either one in an 8 ounce glass of water or juice.
Now don’t be put off by the word laxative, neither of these are in the class of laxatives that you can become dependent on. Those dangerous laxatives are usually saline based. Ask your pharmacist to show you the selection of safe, non-habit forming constipation preventives available in your area and use as directed. And drink water, water, water everyday.
That brings use to our second topic, Dehydration. Dehydration is defined as when water loss exceeds water intake and the amount varies from person to person due to body size and activity levels. We lose a large amount of water just breathing every day, add that to physical exertion, hot flashes, or just sweating because we are in a warm environment and you can see why we need to be concerned by our water intake each day. Human bodies are about 75% water, so even a small percentage of dehydration, a five to eight percent, can cause fatigue, irritability, headache, and even dizziness. A ten to fifteen percent loss can cause mental and physical deterioration such as muscle spasms, dimmed vision, reduced or painful urination and even delirium. Above a fifteen percent loss can often result in death.
Americans, with our busy schedules, tend not to drink nearly enough water each day, leaving us in the five percent dehydration range. I know, if we drink we have to pee, and that can be inconvenient to our work day. But peeing like BM’s, can tell you about your health. Your urine should be a very light yellow to clear color and unclouded. If your pee is yellow or amber, drink more fluids and see if it clears up. If it burns to pee, or if it’s persistently dark, or if you see blood in your urine, see your doctor immediately.
If you feel thirst, you are already dehydrated. Dehydration also causes you to feel hungry, when really you are thirsty, thereby causing snacking between meals and weight gain. Other side effects of dehydration are increased cholesterol levels, dry, itchy skin that looks older than you really are, increases in any allergy or asthma attacks, increased blood pressure, kidney dysfunction, joint stiffness, and our other topic – Constipation.
A large part of nursing is educating. I hope I have educated you to increase your exercise, add fiber and reduced processed foods and fats from your diet, and drink at least 2 liters or 9 cups for women, or 3 liters or 13 cups a day for men, of water a day. Make water your primary beverage, with only and occasional soft drink, tea, coffee, or adult beverage.
Good health to you and return often for more pertinent topics on the care and feeding of the human body from a nurseinthefamily.