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Traveler's constipation and what to eat to relieve symptoms
Photo: Foodism360/Unsplash
In Transit

“Traveler’s constipation” is a thing

Let's talk about how you, ahem, deal with it.

by Clark Williams | 05.31.2019

There are a lot of very real fears that come up while traveling: getting lost, getting mugged, getting followed by the creepy guy you met at yoga class….

But honestly, the most realistic fear come true is that—TMI alert—you won’t go to the bathroom. Like, at all. Possibly for the duration of your trip.

Yes, “traveler’s constipation” is a thing. Studies over the years have found that being in a foreign place, eating different foods, struggling with jet lag, and just generally feeling in flux can cause your bowels to take a vacation too. The largest study (granted one that’s 40 years old) of nearly 11,000 Swiss tourists to the tropics found that 14% experienced constipation; another more-recent study found that 13% of missionaries returning to the US from overseas surveyed dealt with it.

It’s not even the far-flung trips that can do a number on doing a number two: In 2003, Spanish gastroenterologists studied the stools of 70 Europe-to-US short-stay travelers (they also gave them radioactive tracers to track colonic transit time—research, people) and found that nearly 40% complained of constipation.

“A lot of people don’t think about [the fact that] avocados actually have a ton of fiber in them.”

While the reasons for this range, the result is the same: bloating and even pain—two things that you definitely want to be feeling on your vacation (eye roll). So how to fix it? “The number one thing is really being cognisant of what’s in the food that you’re eating,” says certified nutritional practitioner Kelly Maia Agnew. “When you’re traveling, you’re probably going to try to get your nutrition anywhere. You may be out getting a big, delicious dinner at a restaurant, or running for a really fast snack, but usually it’s high amounts of sugar and low-quality fats,” she explains.

The easiest (and fastest) fixes if you’re nowhere near a kitchen? “If you’re able to get to a health food store, ground flax seed is great. Same with chia seeds—they’re great for digestion and great for fiber,” Agnew notes. “Bring those with you and you can add them to whatever you’re eating or into your water.” (I swear by these combo flax-chia travel packs.)

Another option? Guac—or anything avocado. “A lot of people don’t think about [the fact that] avocados actually have a ton of fiber in them,” says Agnew. “Even if you can’t get a full salad on the menu, if there’s a supermarket grab a couple of those.”

“You’re putting your body under so much stress and adapting to it is a challenge—so the best you can do is the most you can do.”

And while you’re at the grocery store, do a stroll down the produce aisle. “Any kind of vegetable that you can get is going to help, even if you just go to a regular grocery store and buy romaine lettuce leaves,” Agnew explains. She adds, “Simply having a grocery store nearby can be really good, because they might have prepared salads—which means you don’t need to buy raw materials.”

If you don’t have access to a refrigerator, a sink, or clean water, Agnew also recommends whole grains. “Another good option is oatmeal or granola—there’s a good amount of fiber in rolled oats,” she notes. (Here’s her go-to healthy travel granola recipe, FYI.) “If you have a gluten sensitivity it can be challenging, but that’s a good one if you want to have that in the morning for breakfast.”

Whatever you do, stressing about your meals isn’t going to help. (In fact, stress has been connected to higher rates of constipation.) “It’s really just about being as aware as you can about what you’re eating—and knowing that you can never be perfect. It is what it is, so enjoy your trip,” she says. “You’re putting your body under so much stress and adapting to it is a challenge—so the best you can do is the most you can do.”

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