Have you noticed that your bowel movements haven’t been the same since you’ve begun your new diet? Perhaps the feel of your stools has changed, or even worse… the lack of stools! Keto constipation is not as uncommon as you may think.
With any major change to your diet, you may notice that your potty time isn’t quite the same as it used to be. Here are some common causes of constipation (or other bowel issues) while on a ketogenic (low carb) diet!
What Causes Constipation on a Keto Diet?
Sudden Change in Diet
The human body is an amazing thing that is able to adapt to all sorts of different living conditions. With change, it requires time for your body to adapt.
If you’ve suddenly gone from a diet consisting primarily of carbs, or suddenly increased your protein and fat intake, it can disrupt your digestive system.
It’s common for people who have just switched to a keto diet to experience some form of constipation or diarrhea within the first few days to weeks.
Think about it, if your body will tend to regulate itself given your usual routine. When you go travelling and drastically change up your diet to the local food of your destination, you’ll experience toilet issues just from the change, even if you’re not drastically cutting out a macro nutrient.
Lack of Fiber
When you think of keto, you often think of fat and protein which is typically meat heavy. While fiber is technically labelled as a carbohydrate, your body doesn’t digest it and is not counted towards your net carb intake.
If you’ve gone head first into keto and stocked up your fridge with bacon, eggs and butter, you may want to make sure you stock up on veggies as well to help add some more fiber into your diet.
Ensuring adequate fiber in your diet can help aid in the digestion process, resulting in much smoother (and cleaner!) bowel movements!
The recommended fiber intake for the average adult male is 30-38 grams per day and between 21-25 grams a day for women. It’s good to stick to the general guideline or to use it as a reference point as too much fiber can also cause constipation (especially when paired with dehydration).
A big perk of a low carb diet is how quickly your body loses water weight, leading to very quick results. However, as your body is retaining less water, it’s also important to keep yourself well hydrated, even more so than usual.
Your organs require water to function and as your body is retaining less water, you may be more dehydrated than you think which could be slowing things down and resulting in what I like to call keto constipation.
Ensuring that you keep your body well hydrated and drinking loads of water can help move things along in your system.
Effects of Keto Constipation
Aside from the obvious discomfort when trying to produce a bowel movement, there are some other side effects you may notice from the lack of pooping.
Constipation Weight Gain
Given how physics works, if you’re putting food into your body, it has to exit at some point, right? You may notice the scale stops moving, or you’ve even gained a few pounds!
There’s no need to panic though. If you’ve been unable to have a bowel movements in the last few days, then it’s only natural for you to have gained a bit of weight as your body is still holding on to all of that food. When I’m backed up for days, sometimes I feel like I’ve had a massive drop of weight once I have my first successful bowel movement!
Again, this comes back to all of the food still sitting in your body. It’s only natural for your tummy to feel bloated and maybe even protrude more than usual. While you may feel like you’re not making any progress on your diet, rest assured that there is no need for knee-jerk reactions.
Pains and Cramps
Being unable to produce regular bowel movements can lead to some unpleasant feelings. You may experience pain and cramping if you find yourself constipated and unable to produce a sizeable bowel movement.
In this event, I’d recommend seeking professional help before trying any of the remedies I’m about to get in to since some of them can lead to even more pain if there is another issue causing the blockage.
How to Relieve Constipation While on a Low Carb Diet?
Taking Magnesium Supplements
Magnesium is a common over-the-counter remedy for constipation. Magnesium helps draw water into your stools, making them softer and easier to pass through your system.
As an adult, the recommended dosage of magnesium is up to 420mg per day. While you’ll probably have to down a ton of capsules, it is possibly to overdose on magnesium which can result in some scary side effects such as irregular heart beating and slower breathing.
Increasing Fiber Intake
As mentioned previously, too much fiber can result in backup but the right amount of fiber can help move your bowel movements along smoothly! Increasing your fiber intake can also have a bunch of other health benefits including lower cholesterol, lower blood sugar levels and feeling fuller longer.
Psyllium husk is a personal godsend for me. I recommend it to everyone I know (my friends think I’m weird for doing so but they have yet to experience the amazingness of it!).
Psyllium comes from a plant seed and acts as a gentle laxative. It absorbs water as it passes through your system and can help add volume and regulate your bowel movements. Metamucil is a well advertised product which contains psyllium husk (although you’ll want to look into the reduced sugar versions). Since psyllium quickly expands when wet, Metamucil’s finer powder form doesn’t react as quickly, making it easier to consume.
One tablespoon has approximately 15 grams of carbohydrates (13.5 grams of which are purely from fiber) and can go a long way. Since it naturally absorbs liquids, one tablespoon will expand once in your system and help make your bowel movements magical (possibly too much information but it makes my poops feel super clean and light just like a cloud).
I typically buy my psyllium in bulk from a food store (like Trader Joe’s or Bulk Barn) as the unbranded product tends to be much cheaper. It can be a bit hard to consume so I typically mix it with a cup of low carb milk and chug it down. Occasionally I’ll make it into a low carb oatmeal by mixing it with almond milk and flavoured protein powder.
Flax seeds are a decent substitute when you want to bake low carb pastries and breads. They don’t absorb as liquid as aggressively as psyllium does so I find it to be a good alternative if you find one is too hard to consume.
I won’t dive too much into it, but like with all other high fiber foods, flax seeds have a multitude of added health benefits.
Chia seeds are much more enjoyable to consume if you prefer going that route. You can also mix it with some protein powder and almond milk to make a chia pudding which is much more fun to consume versus chugging it down.
Alternatively, you can always just increase your veggies and low carb fruit intake to get some more natural fiber in your diet.
Drink Plenty of Water
You can almost never have enough water. You’ll often be dehydrated long before you realize it. Make it a regular habit to drink water before, during and after every meal. Staying hydrated will help your organs function better as well as help with your digestion to avoid the dreaded keto constipation.
You may also want to up your electrolyte intake as well, especially for the first few weeks as your body flushes itself of water. Zero calorie sports drinks can help with potential headaches and the keto flu.
Reduce Dairy Intake
While dairy products like cheese and heavy cream are high in fat, which is perfect for a keto diet, over consumption can lead to constipation, bloating and potentially weight loss stalls or weight gain.
The lactose found in dairy can lead to bloating, gas and constipation. Since you regularly don’t consume large amounts of cheese on a regular basis (given how heavy in calories they are), a sudden influx of cheese can lead to some messy and irregular bowel movements.
Take a Natural Diuretic Like Coffee or Tea
There’s a reason why morning coffees are often associated with bowel movements. With caffeine being a natural stimulant, it can help get things moving along.
However, this doesn’t mean that you should drink nothing but coffee and tea all day! Caffeine also dehydrates you which can result in constipation (not to mention the heart palpitations from all the caffeine…) if you over consume it.
Increase Exercise and Physical Activity
Another way to help get things moving along your system is to literally get moving! While you may be hesitant to exercise while on a keto diet, it can help your food move through your intestine quicker (as well as help you burn more calories which leads to faster weight loss!).
Try going for a quick walk around the neighborhood or going for a jog. Getting your blood pumping may also help you get that bowel movement going!
Concluding Thoughts on Keto Constipation and Diarrhea
Regular bowel movements are important at all times and signal potential health issues in the long term. Being constipated is not pleasant as you may feel bloated and even see weight gain related to the constipation.
While you may experience temporary constipation when changing diets, your body should begin to regulate itself as it adapts to the new diet. There are plenty of other causes for constipation outside of your diet change such as stress which may also be attributing to the problem.
If you’re still finding yourself with constipation or other bowel issues, it is advised you consult with your doctor to ensure that there are no other issues which could be causing bowel issues.
Also, while I’ve given some common remedies, I am by no means a doctor so I’d advise seeking professional advice before trying to self diagnose and treat any medical issue.
If you have any other remedies feel free to share how you combat the dreaded keto constipation!