It seems that once you hit the road, in the first few hours you get an uncontrollable urge to poop, but then your behind goes on strike. It can be very frustrating, but ever wonder why it happens?

After my recent experience with this on an 8-hour road trip across from South Carolina to Washington D.C., I decided to find out. It turns out there are 5 main culprits that prevent you from taking shits pooping.

The First 24 Hours

Stress – Many of the other aggravates listed below are directly related, and it’s what causes the initial “emptying phase”. Stress increases the sensitivity of the digestive track and the body responds by releasing the contents. After this initial phase, your body goes into a survival mode, slowing down digestion since it is energy consuming, it becomes less of a priority.

The 5 Main Culprits of Travelers’ Digestion

    1. Shifting Mealtimes – Your internal body clock is mainly regulated by your liver. Traveling changes eating schedules throwing your (daily) circadian rhythms out of whack. Moving across time zones has the same effect compounding the problem.
    2. Eating Junk – Airports, gas stations, and coffee houses don’t generally offer high-fiber, high-water content, low calorie foods. Aside from eating more because you’re off a regular eating schedule, stress increases cravings for sweet, flavorful, and high calorie starches.
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  1. Dehydration – Less water in your system from drinking less water (or more alcohol), dry airplane cabin air, low-fiber foods forces your body to remove more and more water from your stool, constipating you further.
  2. Lack of Movement – Sitting in any chair for 8 hours driving, flying, or on a train is even less exercise than most of us get in an office chair all day. The more you move, the faster your metabolism gets, the less you move the slower it becomes. I’ve also heard claims this constipation culprit effects active people to a greater extent.
  3. Away From Home Theory – Once you leave home base, your bowels become more reluctant to let go. It takes several days before your mind becomes accustomed to pooping in new surroundings. An evolutionary response designed to keep us safe, the key is to go to the toilets that make you feel safe and are isolated from the crowds. Bringing a book or iPod can make a good distraction.
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Some Other Constipators

  • Unfamiliar foods
  • Not going when you can (holding in pee or poop)
  • A dramatic shift in climate

It’s difficult to avoid travelers’ constipation but you can prepare for it. Proper planning a few days before your trip can prevent constipation. Next week I’ll show you my personal checklist to keeping the motor running.

[photo by: Alexander Ekman]