Over the decades of my travel, the most common complaint of fellow travelers, other than jet lag, is traveler’s constipation. Nobody wants to talk about it. Even the “travel nurse” in the Travel Clinic at Kaiser was dumbfounded when I brought up the subject. But over the years, I have picked up a few pointers, some rather extreme, and some rather practical to counteract this very real, and discomforting situation.
At the “bottom” of this condition are the reasons we have the problem in the first place. In no particular order, these are: 1) change in diet, 2) dehydration, 3) lack of exercise, and 4) change in routine.
Even the medical experts have a name for this, commonly known as dysbiosis, though I prefer to call it gut lag.
The best way to overcome gut lag is to restore the rhythm we are comfortable with. This is where some gut extremists advise total bowel evacuation one or two days before taking a long flight!!!! Though I have never tried this, it does sound tempting. And I hate using the potty on the plane, even in Biz or First. But sometimes this “reset” can be a miracle cure.
But I see nothing wrong with helping things along. Keep up the exercise and normal diet before leaving. And a stool softener certainly will not alter the landscape into an embarrassing situation. I also take probiotics, and fiber (in the form of dried peaches) before, and during the trip. Some people travel with a product like Benefiber.
I know the flight attendants and my seatmates do not enjoy it, but I try to move about the cabin, even on long flights, and between naps. Airline food is certainly not beneficial to your system, regardless of your medical and dietary needs. But I refuse, as should you, to take over the entire open space in an airliner by laying out your yoga mat!!!
As far as hydration, I stick to my basic routine. I board, have a glass or two of champagne, eat, then go to sleep. During the entire flight, I try to drink one glass of water for every 2 hours of flight. Yes, it means multiple trips to the toilette, but WTH, I will never see these people again! I always carry a bottle of water or a refillable (eco-friendly) container.
Some experts recommend half your body weight in ounces! So, a 120 pound woman would need to drink 60 ounces of water, or the equivalent of five 12 ounce bottles of water! And even more in hot or dry weather.
With all consumption, moderation is the key. I prefer the word, balance. Most of us know what works best for us when we are in a daily routine. I would just adjust that for the twelve hour flight to Paris.
Where are the pitfalls? Airline food is notoriously salty and high in fat. Alcoholic beverages are plentiful, often free. Even in First or Biz, I will often order a low salt, low fat meal. In Coach, I always bring my own food. But whatever you do, don’t over indulge!
The tendency we all have, once we land and get to our hotel, is to go to sleep. I recommend the opposite. Get out side, take a long walk, and hydrate. Then go to sleep!
And in the words of that famous immunologist from Marin, you can never eat too much fiber!!!!