I was in my 20’s when I learned that human beings should have a comfortable bowel movement at least once per day. (Once every day? Comfortable??) I also learned that flatulence is a normal part of digestion.
Like so many bodily functions, I understood these aspects of digestion to be “gross” or “unladylike.”
Ladies, we’ve won some battles. We can vote. We can even (try to) become President of the United States.
But let’s face it. Who is more likely to pass gas freely, as needed – a woman or a man? Who is most likely to feel at ease having a bowel movement in a public restroom?
Studies suggest that women have greater incidence of digestive issues than men. (1,2) Coincidence? I think not.
Back then, I was suffering greatly from IBS. I excelled at shuffling papers during meetings to disguise the crazy, loud sounds coming from my stomach. In my personal life, I felt anxiety going places where a bathroom may not be easily accessible, because sometimes I just had to make a run for it. There was pain, discomfort and plenty of embarrassment. Talk about playing small. I wanted to hide!
Women are suffering with:
– Leaky Gut
– Crohn’s Disease
– Ulcerative Colitis
– Celiac Disease
Digestive problems can lead to:
– Nutrient deficiencies
– Thyroid issues
– Autoimmune disease (that’s a big one.)
– Chronic joint pain
– Brain fog
But digestion has nothing to do with our vaginas.
…or does it? Here are four reasons why your digestion might be a hot mess:
1. Little Girls Should Be Seen & Not Heard
And certainly not be smelled. Good grief. No wonder we’re too embarrassed to use the bathroom when we need to. We’ve trained ourselves well to hold it all inside. This causes constipation, a significant source of estrogen dominance (think: breast cancer) not to mention an overall increased toxic load (pun intended) and uncomfortable gas/bloating.
2. Taking Care of Everyone Else
As young mothers we tend to eat scraps off the kids’ plates and never have time to use the bathroom in peace. Certainly, in any care taking role, it is common for women to spend less time taking care of ourselves. This includes spending time chewing food – an important but overlooked part of proper digestion – drinking enough water and having time to use the bathroom.
This reminds me of one of my clients, a nurse, who told me about her embarrassing flatulence problem. She was usually wearing 3 cell phones ringing at the same time. How often did she really sit down to a relaxed meal or have time to go to the bathroom? (Happily, this problem resolved rather easily with the addition of apple cider vinegar to her morning routine…and eventually a new job.)
3. You’re Twice As Stressed
Are women more stressed than men? Well, let’s just say that only 1 group carries keys between our fingers to ward off an attacker and earns 50-80 cents to the dollar. In fact, studies show that we are twice as stressed as men.(3)
When stress is high, energy is directed away from secondary bodily functions like digestion. That’s good if we need energy to run away from a tiger, but with the chronic stress of our modern lives it’s become a maladaptation of the human body that leaves our digestive systems struggling.
4. Trauma & Sexual Abuse
Studies have shown greater incidence of IBS in women with a history of sexual abuse. (4) Certainly there is a mind-body connection between trauma and the gut.
For too long, women have suffered inwardly as a result of a misogynistic culture.
And while it probably doesn’t make for a particularly compelling hashtag, I want to encourage us to #takebackourladybowels.
We must learn to embrace our human form – and all of its natural functions – without shame:
– Release your bowels as needed, without apology.
– Become familiar with the Bristol stool scale. How do you measure up? This is an important indicator of your health – one that requires no co-payment. You want a nice #4 daily or else you’re constipated and we should talk. And if you’re always in the #5-7 range, we should also talk.
– Pass gas as needed. No one is saying to let ‘er rip during a board meeting. But this is a normal function of human digestion, so excuse yourself and find a place to release what’s pent up. You will thank me for this.
– Notice how much fiber you are consuming each day. Our ancestors ate upwards of 55g of fiber per day. Most Americans get about 15g. (5)
– Reduce stress. Easier said than done, I know. This is an area worth talking through with a trusted friend, therapist or coach.
I’d love to hear about your digestion situation.
Does it resonate with you that it might just be a feminist issue?