Keep It Regular During the Holidays: Eat Your Fiber!

Oh, the Holidays...between Thanksgiving and January 2nd, there is a LOT of food rolling out of the kitchen. Considering all that delicious meats (turkey, ham or, in my family’s case, crab), sweets (pies, cookies etc.) and higher fat foods (which are fine in moderation) fiber tends to get pushed aside and then we end up with not-so-regular bathroom habits. And we all know what that feels like…

What better way to prevent all that than to make sure your fiber intake is still high? (I know, that’s a grabber of an opening sentence). This is from the nutritional fitness person who believes that poop is important and I want to ensure the SAPTstrength readers are prepared to be comfortable this holiday season.

sheik sleeping
sheik sleeping

Fiber comes in two flavors, insoluble and soluble.

Insoluble: fiber that does NOT dissolve in water. This is found in things like corn, carrots and some nuts and seeds (any fruit/veggie with tough cell walls that don’t break down easily), and it bulks up the stool. Gives it some heft, one might say, so that gravity can do it’s job of pulling it down and out.

Soluble: fiber the DOES dissolve in water and forms a gel-like substance to help ease the passing… glide, slide or shoot through, however you want to think of if. Soluble fiber is found in oats, beans, apples, peas, lentils and psyllium husk (Metamucil anyone?).

Why eat fiber?

1. Regular bowel movements -> Need I elaborate?

2. Maintain healthy intestines -> Those regular bowel movements ensure that stuff doesn’t just sit in your intestines (ewww…) and can help prevent ulcers and other unpleasant things like that. There also seems to be a connection between the fermentation of fiber and gut health; more research is being done in that area.

3. Lowers blood cholesterol -> Soluble fiber may help lower LDL (the “bad” cholesterol). I’ll let an article from How Stuff Works.com explain:

When fiber interferes with absorption of bile in the intestines, the bile is excreted in the feces. To make up for this loss of bile, the liver makes more bile salts. The body uses cholesterol to make bile salts. So in order to obtain the cholesterol necessary to make more bile salts, the liver increases its production of LDL receptors.

These receptors are responsible for pulling cholesterol out of LDL molecules in the bloodstream. Therefore, the more bile salts are made from the liver, the more LDL cholesterol is pulled from the blood. There is more to be learned about the relationship between soluble fiber and cholesterol, however. It is also possible that one of the short-chain fatty acids produced by the fermentation of soluble fiber in the large intestines may inhibit the amount of cholesterol produced by the liver.

Cool huh?

4. Helps maintain a steady blood sugar levels -> Fiber slows the absorption of glucose into the blood stream thus preventing wild spikes and dips. And we all know that the holidays are laden with super-sugary foods can lead to these spikes; these aren’t great on the body.

5. High fiber diets aid in both weight loss and weight maintenance -> How? a) See #4; wild blood sugar highs and lows lead to insulin spikes which wreck havoc on the fat-loss biological pathways (insulin isn’t evil, but constant spikes can hinder fat loss).  b) fiber keeps you full longer and generally high fiber foods are lower in calories. c) High fiber foods also tend to be high in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds which, while I can’t point you to any studies, anything that reduces inflammation and stress in the body is going to help promote healthy weights.

So, if fiber is SO AWESOME… how much do you need?

The American Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medecine recommends for men under 50, 30g and women under 50, 25g. Men and women over 50 should shoot for 30g and 21 g, respectively. Active folks need up towards 40-ish grams. (not sure why that is.) Anyway, the average American eats about 4-11 grams…fail.

How much to you eat, realistically? Think about that…

Anyway, how does one get more fiber? Pretty easily actually. Just eat more vegetables and fruits. It’s not terribly complex. I also take Metamucil (as does my husband… but don’t let his experience deter you!). I know, I know, you should always go for the whole food sources first, and I can tell you: I do. I eat a LOT of vegetables and fruits (kale, 2-3 apples per day, and a lunch and dinner that’s 60-75% vegetables). Unfortunately, I have a very sensitive system. If I’m even just a little stressed (as in, I only got 7 hours of sleep instead of 8), I won’t poop. (More info that you wanted, but I know I’m not the only one who struggles with that.) Which in turn, stresses me out a bit more because I’m uncomfortable and the cycle just continues. Metamucil has made my life much better as it just helps give my system the extra budge it needs.

So, while I say first reevaluate your vegetable and fruit intake and only if you’re eating a lot at every meal and still struggling… add in some pysllium husk (which you can also take by itself).

Anyway, for a healthier and happier holiday season, don’t leave fiber out in the cold!

Squatting: It's Not Just For Muscle Building (another poop post)

As regular readers of both SGW and SAPTstrength, you all know I love talking about poop. Not only is a never-ending source of entertaining jokes, it's also a splendid indicator of your overall health. I think just about every athlete at SAPT has heard the cue, when learning how to squat, "push your butt back as if you're about to poop in the woods," (this nearly always garners a smile and often a chuckle out of the trainee). Well, we're going to explore, literally, squatting as if you're pooping in the woods (except the "woods" is actually your bathroom).

 Why in the world would one want to squat instead of sit while relieving oneself? Well, first off, humans have been doing it for thousands of years to great success. The phrase "cop a squat," didn't just appear for no reason! There's a few exceptions in history, some snooty Pharaohs and upper-crust Romans, but we'll ignore that for the moment because up unti the 19th century, nearly everyone squatted when they released their bowels. Really, it's mainly a Western thing to sit while pooping, and, currently, roughly 1.2 billion people squat instead of sit to do their business.

Confession: I'm one of those 1.2 billion. And I highly recommend it!

Ok, Kelsey, thanks for that sharing of information but is there any real benefit to squatting? Glad you asked!

1. It reduces "straining" because it opens up the recto-anal angle (how's that for a phrase?!)- Sitting constrains that passageway and requires more straining to push the fecal matter through. This could be a solution for those who, after adjusting their diets (ahem!), still struggle with constipation. In fact, Israeli Dr. Berko Sikirov, ran an experiment (several in fact) showed that squatting relieved constipation:

"Primary (simple) constipation is a consequence of habitual bowel elimination on common toilet seats. A considerable proportion of the population with normal bowel movement frequency has difficulty emptying their bowels, the principal cause of which is the obstructive nature of the recto-anal angle and its association with the sitting posture normally used in defecation. The only natural defecation posture for a human being is squatting. The alignment of the recto-anal angle associated with squatting permits smooth bowel elimination. This prevents excessive straining with the potential for resultant damage to the recto-anal region and, possibly, to the colon and other organs. There is no evidence that habitual bowel elimination at a given time each day contributes considerably to the final act of rectal emptying. The natural behavior to empty the bowels in response to a strong defecation reflex alleviates bowel emptying by means of the recto anal inhibitory reflex."

2. The same good Dr. Sikirov also demonstrated, albiet with a smallish sample size, squatting relieved hemorrhoid symptoms in a group of pained sufferers. Here's a table indicating the changes. According to the Mayo Clinic, half of Americans by the age of 50 have experienced hemorrhoid symptoms. Here's a lovely article from Slate about such things.

3. It takes less time to poop. Once again, our pooping hero Dr. Sikirov examined the benefits of squatting with a group of willing volunteers. He split them into three pooping groups: one used a 16-inch toilet, a 12-inch toilet, and the last squatted over a plastic container (don't want to know how that clean up went). Unsurprisingly, the squatting group reported an average of 51 seconds poop time compared to the average 130 seconds of the two sitting groups (I imagine this was the time it took from pants down to finish, not including wiping). He also asked the participants to record the ease of passing; the squatting group reported using the least amount of effort.

So, how does one squat to poo if there is no squatty potty available?

- You can squat over your toilet with your feet on the seat, perch if you will. I don't really recommend this as it can be precarious if you're a) taller than 5 feet or b) have terrible hip mobility.

- You can purchase an actual Squatty Potty, which is a little step stool you can put underneath your feet to get you into a squatted position.

- Forgoing purchasing anything (this is the option I chose), you can just scoot back with your upper back against the tank of the toilet and pull your heels up to the front of the seat. This is actually fairly comfortable (as long as your hips are ok).

There we go. Ladies and gentlemen, I challenge you to try squatting for a week and see if you have any improvement in your business time.

It's nice to take care of your butt.