How to Use Bowel Retraining for Constipation

Bowel retraining is a way to try to work with the body’s natural rhythms to establish a regular schedule of bowel movements. This may be of particular help to individuals who suffer from chronic constipation. The idea is to try to create conditions that maximize the possibility of having a successful bowel movement. Before trying bowel retraining, it is important to get the OK from your healthcare provider that this process would be appropriate for you.

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Bowel Retraining Steps

Bowel retraining is more than what you do in the bathroom. Here are the steps to take to get your body onto a regular schedule.

  1. Keep a diary of bowel movements for two weeks: This information will be helpful in determining whether there are any particular times of the day or specific situations in which your body is more likely to initiate a bowel movement.
  2. Establish regular and consistent meal times: Feeding your body on a regular schedule will encourage digestion to occur according to a more orderly pattern.
  3. Do what you can to contribute to the development of soft, well-formed stools: Drink plenty of fluids to keep your body well-hydrated to minimize the amount of water that the colon will need to pull out of stool matter. If your body can tolerate it, increasing the amount of fiber in your diet can also help form a soft stool. Sometimes fiber is better tolerated when it is increased slowly.
    Pick a regular time for your bathroom visit: It is important that you schedule time for your bowel movements every day at the same time. It may be challenging to balance your life responsibilities with the needs of your body, but whenever possible try to put your body first. Some tips:
    If your diary revealed any kind of an established pattern, do what you can to respect this pre-existing natural rhythm of your body.
  4. Morning is often an optimal time for most bodies.
  5. Another advantageous time is 20 to 30 minutes after a meal.
  6. Prior to your bathroom visit, try to stimulate the gastrocolic reflexThis is a natural bodily response in which intestinal contractions are triggered by eating or drinking. Each of the following can serve to strengthen the intensity of colonic contractions triggered by the reflex:
    At breakfast, add a soluble fiber.
  7. Drink any kind of hot beverage.
  8. Ingest caffeine, if you can tolerate the substance without irritating your digestive system.
  9. Make yourself as comfortable as possible as you sit on the toilet: Use relaxation exercises to keep your body calm and at ease. Listen to music or read something that is stimulating and entertaining.
  10. Use your abdominal muscles, not your rectumBe careful not to try to force out the stool by putting unnecessary strain on your rectum. The goal is to work with your body as you feel the sensations of the colon trying to pass the stool. You may find it helpful to lean forward so that you can focus your effort on contracting the muscles in your lower abdomen.

A Word From Verywell

Don’t be discouraged if you do not see immediate results. Chronic constipation has many causes and progress may come slowly. Remember that bowel retraining is not designed to cure your constipation; the goal is to try to set up the optimal conditions for your body to establish a more regular rhythm. Keep with it and soon you may once again be having more comfortable bowel movements.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders. Bowel retraining: strategies for establishing control.

  2. Malone J. Physiology, gastrocolic reflex (gastrocolic response).

  3. UNC School of Medicine. Bowel retraining program.

  4. The Simon Foundation for Continence. Bowel retraining.

Additional Reading
  • Bowel Retraining. MedlinePlus.
  • Bowel Retraining Program. UNC School of Medicine.

By Barbara Bolen, PhD
Barbara Bolen, PhD, is a licensed clinical psychologist and health coach. She has written multiple books focused on living with irritable bowel syndrome.