Happy National Nutrition Month!
Hi friends! March is National Nutrition Month. What we eat is what fuels all the processes our bodies do. While nutrition plays a big role in all aspects of our bodies, it is extra important when it comes to the pelvic floor muscles.
Just like a plane needs quality fuel prior to a trip, our bodies need quality food for optimum performance! One very important part of nutrition for the pelvic floor muscles is fiber. Fiber helps poop move through our pipes. Poop that doesn’t have fiber is more likely to get stuck and turn into hard pellets. Poop that gets stuck is harder to get out.
In healthcare, we use a tool called the Bristol Stool Scale (a scale from 1-7) to classify poop. Type 1 poop is small, hard lumps (like nuts) that are often hard to pass. The scale slowly progresses in consistency to type 7 which is watery stool with no solid pieces. The ideal stool is types 3, 4 or 5 (Blake, 2016) Without using the scale, a good comparison of healthy poop is the consistency of a ripe banana.
Why do we care about our poop consistency? When our poop is hard and small, it can cause us to strain when we poop. Straining regularly is not good for the pelvic floor muscles and can lead to issues like pelvic organ prolapse. This is because we are not only stretching and straining to push stool out, but we are putting that same pressure on all of our pelvic organs and muscles.
On the opposite hand, if our poops are liquid, it can be difficult to keep in. Think about the difference between holding an ice cube in your hand and holding water in your hand. The muscles of your hand must work much harder to hold onto the water than they do to hold onto the ice cube. Overtime, this can lead to pelvic floor dysfunction! These issues typically do not start with one bout of diarrhea or constipation but are the result of prolonged issues that are not addressed.
How do we improve our poop? While digestion is a complicated process, most individuals can find regularity with ensuring appropriate water and fiber intake. Fiber helps to keep poop moving through our pipes so that is slides out easily. Most adults need 25-35 grams of fiber each day. If you are increasing fiber intake, be sure to do so slowly to avoid abdominal cramping and discomfort.
To increase fiber in your diet eat fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and healthy protein. While fiber is best when taken from whole food sources, this can be difficult to achieve on a daily basis. If this is the case, supplements like psyllium and flaxseed can be beneficial.
“I drink plenty of water and fiber but I still need to strain to poop!” If you can relate to this, there may be difficulties with your pelvic floor muscles. Because the muscles wrap around the anus (the hole where poop leaves the body), it is important to be able to relax and lengthen the pelvic floor muscles to allow stool to leave. While we want these muscles to stay closed most of the time so that we do not leak pee, poop, or gas, it is a problem if they are always closed. They need to be able to do the right thing at the right time.
A pelvic floor therapist can help ensure your pelvic floor muscles are working optimally in order to support the pelvic organs as well as to allow poop to exit the body easily without straining. To find one near you, ask your providers for a referral or find one online at www.mypfm.com/find-a-pt.
Ready to learn more about your pelvic floor muscles? Here are some helpful resources:
Watch Netflix for Your Pelvic Floor at Pelvic Flicks
Watch our YouTube playlist on Bowel Health and Your Pelvic Floor
Learn more about the pelvic floor muscles with our book: My Pelvic Floor Muscles The Basics
Sign up for our email newsletter!
Visit our Instagram page for more on pelvic health.
For providers, join our Ambassador Program to gain access to our many online courses, including:
The Role of Probiotics & How to Support the Gut Microbiome for Digestive Disorders with Erin Judge, RDN, LDN
Gut Health Q&A with Dr. Will Bulsiewicz, MD, MSCI
Written by Emily Reul, PT, DPT
Blake MR, Raker JM, Whelan K. Validity and reliability of the Bristol Stool Form Scale in healthy adults and patients with diarrhea-predominant irritable bowel syndrome. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2016;44(4):693-703.