Anne Stetler works as a neuroscientist. Like many Janes on the go, Anne can’t. Go, that is.  A chronic constipated traveler, Anne actually felt relieved when she contracted food poisoning on a trip to Syria because it meant she could clear out her colon.

While the subject is, shall we say, somewhat indelicate, it is very real. The fact is, it can be awfully hard (pun intended)  to poop away from home. I even asked Facebook and got 116 comments and 25 private messages on the subject within a few hours of posting.

There are, I think, two kinds of people in the world — those who can drop a deuce any old place, and those who need utter privacy, familiarity, and perhaps some rituals. So, apart from inducing an e.coli attack, what do Janes do to get things moving again?

We’re Not Making This Up

There actually are multiple Ted Talks about poop.  This one by Giulia Enders validates what we have already figured out: Your body prefers to poop at home! Enders talks about our “inner sphincter,” which is basically the first door our poop has to pass on its way out of our body. We can consciously control the outer sphincter, but the inner…it moves involuntarily.

Many of us override our inner sphincter’s recommendations if we’re at a conference or the movies or something. We tell our outer sphincter to wait for later, and thus begins the painful process  bloat, discomfort and rock-hard poo. Enders said she used to be one of us, people who can only go at home. Then she learned about her inner sphincter and describes it as “just caring about me for once,” passing on waste as our colons prepare it for exit. Enders learned to let go when her “inner muscle puts a suggestion on my daily agenda.” She can now poop in a public restroom whenever her inner sphincter wants her to.

Which is so great for her.

But how can the rest of us get there?

Pack Your Mate (pronounced MAH-tay)

Since her Syrian splatter incident, Anne relies on a strict regimen of gourd mate, yerba mate, and bombilla, none of which I’d ever heard of. The Internet tells me she’s talking about some South American herbs that folks use for anything from staying awake to treating depression. Anne cautioned that the stuff  “looks like reefer,” and has caught the attention of TSA agents. The herb has to be brewed in a special way into a terrible tea that she has to drink a special way, but Anne insists the mate will make anyone poop. Most of the time.

She said she also travels with that old standby, prune juice, going back to her pregnancy, when “the mate wasn’t enough!” .

Spritz Some Scents

Rikki Robey, currently deployed with the Air Force to a military base in Jordan, is living my nightmare. For six months, her pooping choices are  a port-o-potty at a job site or one of those trailer bathrooms you sometimes see at fancy outdoor weddings. Rikki is one of only a few women in her unit, s fact that does nothing to boost her comfort level while she has to go. She said (via online chat)  that pooping on base is intimidating at first, but she tries to go into the trailer by herself, play some FreeCell, and take her time doing her business.

Rikki says she doesn’t bother with air freshener, but she does like it when people send her Poo-Pourri spray. “That stuff is magnificent,” she says. You spritz the pot before you go and essential oils purportedly make a film atop the water that snares the smell.

“The original inspiration for Poo-Pourri came because I was outnumbered in a household with three stinky boys–so I can definitely relate to Rikki’s situation,” said Suzy Batiz, CEO of the company that makes the stuff.

Ponder Your Poo

David Levinthal, director of the Neurogastroenterology and Motility Center at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, said travel constipation is a well-known affliction with no real consensus about why it happens or  how to fix it.

“Some think this happens as a result of some combined effect of departing from routine daily activities, such as altering sleep patterns, eating differently, being slightly dehydrated, or experiencing some stress,” he said.

Obviously, drinking more water helps. So do some of the other common remedies — fiber, mild laxatives and stool softeners. Be sure to take them along.  But there appears to be more to it than that. Said Dr. Levinthal, “Our bowel function is so exquisitely sensitive to our thoughts, feelings, and behavioral routine. It highlights the importance of mind/brain influences over our body function in covert ways that are rarely perceived.”

There is, he said, a “tight link between our cerebral cortex (the thinking part of our brain) and the nerves that connect to the colon.” and suggests mind-body practices like meditation, yoga, or Tai Chi to bring on a BM.

“The fascinating insight is that these therapies many not only make us less stressed or elevate our mood, but may also trigger health and wellness by commanding optimal physiological regulation across a wide range of organs, including the colon,” he said.

What are your favorite strategies? Share the wisdom, Janes. We’ll  try anything!


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  • Metamucil Fiber Wafers (cinnamon spice) were recommended to me by a specialist after the birth of my twins. She explained that many of her colleagues who perform surgery use them to schedule their poohs, so they won’t be disturbed while working; and I found that they really do work consistently. Another successful tactic was switching my diet to high-fiber, low-starch…and coffee every morning!


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