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Death by Fiber: Why a High Fiber Diet is Killing You ( And Why a LOW Fiber Diet Will Cure Constipation & IBS)

Fiber

The Ultimate Guide to: Your Poop

Despite what the USDA food pyramid may be telling you – eating a LOW fiber diet saved my life, and it might save yours.

In 2009, out of the blue I started experiencing weird bowel and GI issues.  I noticed that I was bloated everyday, began having abdominal pain, and suddenly was finding myself chronically constipated (as you can tell, this is going to be a fun story).

As a person who ate healthy my entire life – who ate lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats – I was pretty perplexed – I mean, my diet was perfect, so what was going on?

After consulting with nutritionists, doctors, GI specialists, and many alternative practitioners (that didn’t work), I learned an interesting truth: particularly for those with bowel issues, much of what we’re taught about fiber is un-true. What’s more, many of the claims about lowering disease or colon cancer risk aren’t true.

Why The Advice We’re Getting is All Wrong

I was perplexed.

I ate a “perfect” diet by objective standards, since everyone knew me as a healthy guy. Nonetheless, I didn’t feel right. Something was up.

First stop? The general practitioner.

“Well, can you tell me about your poo?” he said bluntly. “Are you clogging the toilet? Does it smell weird?”

(This was fun, I assure you).

“Errrrr….” I slightly replied.

“Could be a lot of things! I’m going to refer you to a nutritionist friend I have, she’s a doll.”

Second stop? The nutritionist.

The nutritionist was a pretty nice woman who knew her stuff.

“We’re going to get some blood work done, and then a complete dietary check.”

* Two weeks later *

Nutritionist: “Wow, your blood is purer than the Virgin Mary.”

Me: “Really? So what’s going on?”

And from there, the story is the same – she gave me the universal mainstream prescription for constipation: “Add fiber and drink more water.”

So we tried this for a month or two. I bought bran meal, added it to my morning oatmeal, added some more fiber throughout the day, and then was eating 30-50 grams of fiber a day.

… And I was promptly in the worst pain of my life, and so painfully bloated that I couldn’t even sleep. Oh, and I still was corked up tighter than the gates of Troy.

“I’m going to pass you to a GI doctor.”

Third stop? The GI doctor.

After spending a grand total of 90 seconds with me, he said “Sounds like IBS, let’s give you a colonoscopy.”

After the GI doc’s “thorough” analysis, I decided that it was time to go old-fashioned: DIY Time.

Fourth Stop? Poo-testing 101

After the GI doctor, someone mentioned that, being an avid traveler, I might’ve caught something on a recent trip to a third world country.

Having recently been in India, I mailed away for a home test stool sample kit, spent three incredibly fun days hand scooping fecal matter into test tubes, and then mailed it back to the lab.

Negative.

Damn.

How Do Eskimos on a No Fiber Diet Not Get Constipated?

Constipation

After I began questioning conventional advice, I found some interesting questions:

A. Why do Eskimos in northern latitudes, who typically eat a no fiber diet, have no constipation issues?

B. Why do people who fast, and don’t eat solid foods for weeks, still have bowel movements?

C. Breast milk has no fiber, so how come babies who are only consuming breast-milk still have multiple bowel movements per day?

In my quest to answer some of these perplexing questions, I ended up finding out three truths about fiber that dramatically improved my health problem (when everything else failed).

A: Fiber is Making Your Constipation Worse

Fiber Constipates You

For some people (the lucky few), consuming more fiber will do exactly what you think – increase more bulk and help pass things through the intestines quicker.

But for people who already have constipation issues or IBS, fiber not only doesn’t help, it makes things worse. I learned this first hand after dealing with the nutritionist.  If things are already not moving, adding more bulk just makes that worse… because nothing is moving!

Reducing your fiber will dramatically reduce your symptoms and get the… ahem… good stuff going. Again, this is specifically for people who already tend to have constipation or IBS-like issues.

A 2012 study showed that stopping or reducing dietary fiber intake reduces constipation and it’s associated symptoms. (for people who are regularly constipated for “no reason”, aka idiopathic constipation)

People who reduced their fiber completely went from having 1 bowel movement every 3.75 days, to one bowel movement every day.

People who reduced their fiber intake a bit went from having 1 bowel movement ever 4.19 days, to one bowel movement every 1.9 days.

For no fiber, reduced fiber and high fiber groups, respectively, symptoms of bloating were present in 0%, 31.3% and 100% and straining to pass stools occurred in 0%, 43.8% and 100%.

Higher fiber = high bloating and pain for many of us.

Another study done in Brazil found no association between low fiber and constipation in kids.

Fortunately I can confirm from years of personal experience – by far the best thing I did was reduce my fiber as low as possible, which meant eliminating all grains, white breads, wheats, etc.

B. Fiber Does Not Lower the Risk of Colon Cancer

Does fiber actually reduce colon cancer risk? NOPE.

Straight from Harvard:

For years, Americans have been told to consume a high-fiber diet to lower the risk of colon cancer—mainly on the basis of results from relatively small studies. Larger and better-designed studies have largely failed to show a link between fiber and colon cancer. One of these—a Harvard study that followed over 80,000 female nurses for 16 years—found that dietary fiber was not strongly associated with a reduced risk for either colon cancer or polyps (a precursor to colon cancer). More recently, researchers combined the results of the Harvard study with those of several other large studies that followed more than 700,000 men and women, some for up to 20 years.  After accounting for differences in participants’ red meat and alcohol intake, as well as other factors that could increase colon cancer risk, high intake of fiber was not found to protect against colorectal cancer.

Harvard School of Public Health

And from the FDA:

“Based on its review of the scientific evidence, FDA finds that (1) the most directly relevant, scientifically probative, and therefore most persuasive evidence (i.e., randomized, controlled clinical trials with fiber as a test substance) consistently finds that dietary fiber has no effect on incidence of adenomatous polyps, a precursor of and surrogate marker for colorectal cancer; and (2) other available human evidence does not adequately differentiate dietary fiber from other components of diets rich in foods of plant origin, and thus is inconclusive as to whether diet-disease associations can be directly attributed to dietary fiber. FDA has concluded from this review that the totality of the publicly available scientific evidence not only demonstrates lack of significant scientific agreement as to the validity of a relationship between dietary fiber and colorectal cancer, but also provides strong evidence that such a relationship does not exist.”

-Food and Drug Administration

It’s notoriously hard to say “colon cancer risk was reduced because of dietary fiber intake” because there’s often many variables involved and factors that need to be accounted for.

I just wish my morning Wheaties would remove the big heart that says “Fiber helps reduce the risk of colon cancer!”

C. Does Fiber Actually Reduce Heart Disease Risk?

Does more fiber actually lower heart disease? Technically, yes… but that’s not really the whole story.

This is a typical story: A 2004 study compared people  that were measured for 5-10 years in a long-term study. After adjusting for demographics, BMI, and lifestyle factors, each 10g increment of dietary fiber was associated with a 14% decrease in risk of all coronary events and a 27% reduced risk of coronary death.

The researchers’ conclusion? Increased dietary fiber from cereals and fruits is inversely related to coronary heart disease.

But wait.

You could end right there and think ‘Oh! Time to eat more fiber! Let’s start shoveling in some extra bran into my oatmeal in the morning!”

But it doesn’t say whether that decreased risk was due to the high fruit and vegetable intake (which we know reduces disease risk), or if it was actually due to the fiber.

Also – what kind of fiber? Soluble or insoluble? IN other words, getting all your fiber from vegetables and fruits is way different than getting it all from increasing your grain consumption.

This 2008 study found similar things – increase fiber decreased the chances of heart disease. But was it the fiber, or the fact that if you’re eating 30g of fiber, you’re eating a hell of a lot more plants and fruits than other people?

We know that fruits and vegetables have hundreds of protective and preventative effects on the body, so is it actually more fiber protecting us, or more of the right foods?

… So Why Don’t Eskimos Get Constipated?

question marks

… Because you don’t need fiber to poop.

Remember: babies drinking breast milk, eskimos eating no fiber, and fasters drinking only liquids still have bowel movements.

How?

People often think that feces, is well, food – and that you require fiber in order to make them.

So the logic often goes like this: “If fiber makes good stools… and people are having bowel issues, let’s add more fiber and push it all through!”

In reality, proteins, fats, carbohydrates and even fiber are usually digested completely – if they aren’t (and they come out intact) it’s because the body couldn’t digest them.

Feces are actually made up of bacteria (anywhere from 30%-70%), water, mineral salts and some traces of fat (source).

It’s a myth that you somehow need fiber and bulk to poop.

So If I’m Repeatedly Constipated or Have IBS… What SHOULD I Do?

SO what does work?  I can confirm this both from the research and from entirely too much personal experience:

A. Gradually lower your fiber intake. How: Remove whole grains, pasta, wheat, bread, bran, etc.  Leave the fiber you find naturally in fruits and vegetables.  Lower your fiber intake slowly – because of the now decreased stool size, it’s possible to become constipated because your body has a harder time registering the smaller stool (common side effect of the Atkins diet – when people go low carb, they also dramatically reduce fiber intake).

B. Dietary fat, not protein, not carbs, and not meal volume help stimulate bowel movements. When you want to try and establish a daily ritual of going to the bathroom, consume a high fat meal the same time every day – for example, add half an avocado or a tablespoon or two of peanut butter after a meal, and relax for a few minutes.  If you haven’t, you can create a morning routine by drinking a warm beverage first thing in the morning, sitting, and relaxing for 10 minutes.

C. Don’t over drink water. Drinking more water does not help moisten stools more. You shouldn’t be forcing yourself to drink extra water.

D. Do the 3rd world squat. Virtually everywhere in the underdeveloped world, squatting is common to go to the bathroom. Without a toilet it’s just the most convenient way to go to the bathroom, but as it turns out, there’s lots of evidence showing that it’s a better way to go to the bathroom, and is much easier to have bowel movements. Studies have tested and compared squatting versus seated positions and found that squatters had quicker bowel movements, less strain, and reported less subjective pressure and discomfort.

550px-Use-a-Squat-Toilet-Step-4

Heheh

Fiber – Pain, Bloating, And Gas – Anyone?

My point is not to make fiber out as the enemy for everyone – my point is that, in a smaller subgroup of people who already have bowel issues, fiber is absolutely the enemy, and it is being pushed on us left and right despite the fact that it doesn’t work.

50% of Americans apparently have hemorrhoids.

3-20% of the population has irritable bowel syndrome.

30% of people have chronic constipation, and virtually 100% have short term constipation at some point.

This makes me begin to wonder if we are maybe in a GI and digestive health epidemic. 

It seems like every day I hear about a new person with IBS or some kind of chronic bowel/digestive issue, and I’m terrified at the prospect of them downing 30g of fiber.

 

More Resources

Fiber menaceDefinitely make sure to check out the incredible book Fiber Menace: The Truth About the Leading Role of Fiber in Diet Failure, Constipation, Hemorrhoids, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Ulcerative Colitis, Crohn’s Disease, and Colon Cancer.

Some select quotes and references have been adapted from here, but this book was (flat out) the most useful book in my own personal vendetta against IBS and all symptoms related to it.

Bottom line: So what am I supposed to do? Count my fiber? Count my calories? Calculate food ratios? No…

The prescription for “what to eat” is the same that I always suggest – the same one that has dramatically improved my health.  Just eat real food. Incase you forgot what that was, read this.

When you want to reduce your fiber to fix a slow GI, the first things you should remove are grains, wheat, breads, etc.   Constipation will clear up, GI problems will ease, and you’ll probably also end up losing some weight.

Sayonara, Fiber.

– Alex

P.S. Add Modern Health Monk on Facebook – I post lots of cool health experiments and articles you won’t find here on the site.

Images: Squatter, Others via Freedigitalphotos.net

62 comments… add one

  1. I’ve had problems with constipation for years and I got the same kind of advice: eat more fiber, drink more water. It’s then that I started eating oats and rye like crazy, all slashed generously with water throughout the day. But it had no (positive) effect, just got me bloated. So I eventually stopped the fiber craze a.k.a. didn’t eat as much oats and rye although I continued to consume oats every now and then because it’s delicious with some honey and banana slices, yum.

    My constipation issue just…went away. Over time, of course, but I didn’t do something about it, I just stopped minding it. At first I took some natural-ingredients-laxative, then stopped taking them all together. I got into drinking coffee though and for a while I thought that it had helped with the constipation. Now, after reading your article, I guess it was most likely because of the homemade yogurt my father started making (he’s a fan of dairy products).

    Reply
    1. splashed*

      Reply
    2. Hey Lina —

      Yeah this has been a problem for me too. I’m glad the “more fiber, more water” thing didn’t help you too – so I’m not totally crazy haha.

      Haha wow I started drinking coffee too because of it! That’s too funny, we have the same story, except you’re lucky that it just naturally went away. You’re right, it absolutely could be because of the natural priobiotics in the home made dairy your dad makes. Maybe he can share his secret recipe and make millions? :)

      – Alex

      Reply
      1. Coffee does actually work because it has a strong laxative effect.
        Decaf or Regular

        Reply
    3. hi! coffee works great for me, but then, so does hot tea. coffee really should work for everyone ~~ it’s BEAN juice {coffee beans}!

      Reply
  2. We all need to get ourselves a “Squatty Potty”. Recently, I received a newletter that mentioned an easier way to have bowel movements and it made sense to me. I’m still contemplating getting one – if anything as a conversational piece in your bathroom!!! Just google “squatty potty” and you will be sure to find one that goes with your bathroom decor.

    Alex – I was sad to read you post cool health experiments and articles on Facebook but not on this site. Yes, I am one of those one in a million that is not on Facebook and have no desire to go there. I guess it’s my loss ): I will still be your loyal follower.

    Reply
    1. Hey Lisa !

      Yep, after living in China for a while that was my experience too. It was my only option while there, but once I came back the habit just stuck because it was easier and made more sense.

      Ahhhh Lisa don’t worry! I’ll make sure to still post them if you’re on my email list :) That’s the most important place to be anyway – the Facebook page is not my priority compared to the site and letting people on the email list know what’s up. As long as you’re there you’ll get the good stuff!

      Thank you thank you thank you for following :D

      — Alex

      Reply
    2. hi! same here: no facebook, no linked-in, no anything {except this trusty old computer}!

      Reply
  3. Thanks for another great article Alex.

    After suffering from IBS for over 15 years I have managed, through my own experimentation, to get it under control. But that was after many years of doctors prescribing me an insane mix of drinking Fibre-gel twice a day plus taking strong laxatives at night! Goodness knows what that did to my body! It seems most GP’s see fibre as the fix all solution to IBS! Hypnotherapy and eliminating bread made from wheat helped me a lot. Although it’s an on-going experiment to work out what food triggers my IBS, on what days and why!

    Thank you for putting an alternative opinion out there and for showing that there isn’t a one size fits all answer to this problem.

    Reply
    1. Hey Janey,

      My experience totally echoes your own. I got the whole “metamucil & water” prescription for years. And it did WAY more harm than good. I don’t blame physicians though, I just don’t think they’re well equipped to deal with IBS because it’s not really a concrete diagnosis you know?

      +1 to eliminating bread. I can’t eat any bread or pasta anymore. I’ll probably live longer for it, so I’m not too upset.

      What else have you found that works personally? Are there any other foods or food groups?

      Has probiotics worked for you?

      Thanks for stopping by!

      – Alex

      Reply
  4. Hey Alex,
    Just want to say thank you so much for posting this article, I basically suffer from the exact same thing you did -I have the “healthiest”, most fiber-filled diet everrrrr in an attempt to rid myself of chronic constipation but I’ve recently found myself at the end of my tether now that things are going from bad to worse.
    Anyway, I’m going to try out your advice now, I was just wondering though if you could specify what foods you do eat, rather than what you dont?
    Thanks a million!
    Geraldine

    Reply
    1. Hi Geraldine,

      Ahh I totally hear you, I’ve been there too.

      So in regard to what I eat: I’ve avoid 100% of all “white” stuff – the obvious things we’re not supposed to eat, white pasta, white bread, and in fact, all grains.

      I don’t eat any bread.

      Rice I put somewhere in the middle (neutral) category.

      For me, what’s ideal is about 4 oz of animal protein each meal, and then plenty of veggies. If I add carbs, I only do sweet potatoes or rice. Those are how almost all of my meals look.

      At the end of the day it looks somewhat like Paleo, but that was more by chance rather than deliberate.

      Hope that helps!

      Best,
      Alex

      Reply
      1. Hey Alex,
        Since you mentioned sweet potatoes, I thought I would give you this simple, easy, delicious recipe for sweet potato casserole. The first time I had this, I couldn’t put my fingers on what was in the recipe but it sure tasted so good. This recipe makes a 2 quart (8×8 deept casserole dish) so if you’re making it for yourself, you might want to half the recipe. It freezes well and taste just as good reheated so you might want to make the whole recipe. Hope you enjoy!

        Sweet Potato Casserole –
        4 large Japanese sweet potatoes
        Grated rind of two lemons
        Juice of two lemons
        ½ cup butter, softened
        2 egg yolks
        ½ teaspoon sea salt

        Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

        Boil potatoes in water until tender. Hold potatoes with a pot holder and peel potatoes while they are still hot. Place them in the bowl, mash and mix with butter, lemon rind, lemon juice, egg yolks and sea salt. Transfer mixture to a buttered ovenproof casserole dish and bake in a 350 degree oven for about ½ hour.

        P.S. – The Japanese sweet potatoes are not as watery as regular organge sweet potatoes and they are great for this recipe.

        Reply
        1. Lisa,

          This looks insanely good!! I’m definitely going to try this out next week :) thanks for passing the recipe along.

          Best,
          Alex

          Reply
          1. i’m so grateful to finally find a sweet potato recipe with no additional sweeteners: marshmallows, brown sugar, maple syrup, etc! thanx:)

  5. Had issues when I was younger and initially used natural herbs that had a gentle laxative effect to help. Can’t say I don’t eat fiber but do believe in balance in a diet. And also take daily probiotics that I believe keep my digestive system healthy:)

    Reply
    1. Hey Vicki,

      Sweet! What herbs did you end up using?

      Also have you had good results with pro-biotics? I’ve tried them many, many times to no effect :( .

      When I say “eat less fiber” I mean to remove the foods highest in fiber – which usually tend to be grains, white flour, etc. I would never advise people to stop eating plants :).

      Reply
  6. You should look into FODMAPs. They are poorly absorbed sugars found in many plant foods. As they are fermented by the gut bacteria they produce gasses that can irritate the gut and affect gut motility. Thought science on FODMAPs is still fairly young, they are very likely to play a factor in IBS and IBD. FODMAPs were the key to my acne. For the longest time I couldn’t figure out what caused my acne, until I learned about FODMAPs and noticed that onions give me gut problems. After eliminating onions, both my skin and gut have been doing much better.

    Gluten is another faily common gut irritant.

    Fiber has its pros and cons. Studies on IBS show some types of fibers can be somewhat helpful. This of course varies from person to person. Fiber (especially the stuff you find in fruits and vegetables) also feeds probiotic bacteria and in that way can encourage gut health. This can be especially important since studies on probiotics show that benefits are strain-specific, and the correct strain can vary from person to person. Since determining the correct strain to use is next to impossible for your average person, that’s why it’s probably better to encourage the growth of existing beneficial microflora.

    Some forms of fiber are digested into short-chain fatty acids that have an anti-inflammatory effect both in the gut and systemically in the body.

    Reply
    1. Hey Seppo,

      Interesting, I haven’t heard of FODMAP’s. I’ve heard of the inflammatory link between IBS and Asthma (I also have had asthma, since birth, although IBS is a more recent ‘blessing’). For me the most important think so far has been to eliminate wheat – bread, pasta, oatmeal. That took me a few years to realize, and although I don’t feel any different, my bowels love me a lot more. What’s interesting though is that my celiacs blood profile came back negative.

      Regarding fiber, I would definitely check out the book “Fiber Menace” if you can. No single source of research made such a dramatic improvement for me as that book did. Basically all my “fiber” sources now comes from the plants I eat (not added wheat, bran, fiber fortified cereals, etc.). Most of my meals are just plants and meat, and then a neutral carb like rice or sweet potato.

      Priobiotics didn’t do anything for me. That probably supports your claim that they are strain-specific and only work when properly linked – I also wonder if different companies have different “Grades” of probiotics, in other words, is one companies strain more alive, higher in #, or more effective? It’s a whirlwind to try and decipher.

      Cheers
      Alex

      Reply
      1. I’ve perused the website of the author of Fiber Menace. To be honest, I was put off by the hyperbole. If I want to know something, mostly I just go to PubMed or Google Scholar nowadays, gets rid of the spin people put on research.

        That said, I do agree that some people probably benefit from reduction in grains and legumes. These people tend to gravitate towards paleo, low carb and low fiber corners of the internet and create their own echo chambers. But I find it hard to believe that all, or even most, people should avoid grains.

        I avoid grains mostly because I want to avoid overloading my body with carbs and most grains are quite high in the GI anyway. I haven’t noticed any gut issues or other negative effects from eating grains though. So we eat more or less similar meals. Animal foods, fruits and vegetables and starchy vegetables.

        I used to eat a lot of homemade yogurt and fermented vegetables. Also didn’t notice really any benefits. They might have actually made things worse as now that I’ve stopped them I get much less symptoms from eating onions (when I eat them accidentally). It’s possible that all the extra bugs I got from fermented foods migrated up into the small intestine (which is relatively sterile) and started causing trouble there. Unfortunately there’s still a lot we don’t know about probiotics and how they affect human health. Just have to wait for the science to grind out all the details.

        I can’t really say anything about probiotic grades. I’d assume there are differences but whether those differences have any practical effect, I can’t say.

        Reply
        1. Yep I do the same. I just read from Pubmed directly, the news (and people’s individual agendas) are often coloring everything.

          Yeah his site is a little bit dorky, but like I said, his research was the ONLY thing that helped me. That’s saying a lot, seeing as I saw a doctor, nutritionist, GI doctor, chinese medical doctor, and almost none of them produced any relief. Take it for what it is, I guess.

          I like yogurt and fermented stuff, even though yogurt makes my insides explode :D. I keep them to a minimum just for the sake of everyone around me.

          But yeah, I’d love to re-try probiotics with some sense behind them this time. A specific train, or a higher grade would be interesting to try. Until then… It’s back to experimentation, since there are millions of people like myself that have illnesses that the doctors aren’t sure how to fix.

          Reply
          1. It’s frustrating how doctors can sometimes be so clueless about things. I see this all the time with acne patients that are put on long term antibiotic regimens for no good reason. Dermatologists prescribe antibiotics like candy yet there has never been a single study looking at long-term success or relapse rates, which I know is horrific. Not to mention the possible damage to gut bacteria caused by antibiotics.

            At the same time they are clueless about new science on antioxidants and the role of diet and lifestyle changes in acne. If a private person like me can dig through PubMed to figure all of this out then it boggles the mind that doctors can’t or won’t do it. Oh well, such is life at times..

          2. Hahah yeah doctors are a whole different story. I think the problem is also that they’re provided with a curriculum – I have no idea how many doctors go off and do their own research. I’d be the majority simply don’t have the time. In any case, modern medicine has a long way to go, especially in regard to the lifestyle issues / chronic illness. A looooong way to go.

      2. Alexander, don’t know if this will help you but it helped me tremendously. I had food sensitivities to things like fresh tomatoes (and cooked), vinegar, citrus fruits, acid, and combinations of foods involving the above, etc. For years if I ate something wrong I’d be up for hours in the middle of the night taking 4 advil to try to get to sleep. The next day I’d have to eat sugar and starch – like French toast for dinner or something. I mean for years I had this – one doc friend said to drink 4 ounces of white wine on an empty stomach before a meal- that helped sometimes but by no means cleared up the problem. Now I can eat anything. Why? I investigated the probiotic/prebiotic issues you are talking about – found a multi-strain probiotic that really works for me. The same company makes a digestive enzyme that I take one a day and after a few weeks I could tell definite improvement. Now I’m good to go in that area. Messed my bowels up with the added fiber – like you did too and am now in the process of correcting that issue but I’m giving the name of the company and products I take here in case it can help anyone. I’m not affiliated in any way (except as a satisfied customer) with the company and I also hear good things about the product sold over the counter called Allign. But, peronally I wouldn’t switch because this multi-strain probiotic is really working for me. Understand the probiotics have to be the right strain – these have several strains – and the strains have to be able to stay intact through the stomach acid bath – which the company says these do, of course. Hope it helps someone else who has to suffer -thanks for starting this site. It really helped me. Good luck and good health!
        Nutri-Health Supplements (flora Source multi-probiotic capsules with Bif Relief 24-7 and Flora Zyme digestive aid.

        Reply
        1. Brenda,

          Thank you so much for sharing! I will definitely give these a try. For many years I dismissed probiotics (Because they never worked for me) but then I quickly learned that there is tremendous variability in the quality/type/concentration in many of these probiotics. Lots of them are garbage. I will definitely give it a try!

          Reply
  7. In my constant nutrition research, this is one of the more recent topics I have found. I disagree, but everyone has variable nutrition requirements.
    That study you mentioned early in this post only had 63 participants- hardly a large enough sample to come to a conclusion.
    Another critique is that you don’t mention what makes “high” and “low” fiber diets. What’s high? 30 grams? 50 grams? More than 50 grams?
    What’s low? Less than the daily recommended value of 25 grams? 15 grams? Less than that?
    Fiber needs are different based on size and gender of the individual. If by a high fiber diet you mean more than 50 grams, than yeah, that may cause problems- at the very least, enough gas and bathroom trips to make a person uncomfortable.

    The key is ADEQUATE fiber. Enough to keep things moving. But not so much that you’re uncomfortable. I’ve had experience with too much fiber, and the short story is, there were some painful consequences. But now I typically get at least 30 grams of fiber a day, from a mix of fruits, veggies, legumes, oatmeal, quinoa and other grains and seeds. I drink close to 100 ounces of water a day, and everything feels great.

    I found what works for me, and that could be much different than others’ needs.

    Reply
    1. Hi Valentine,

      Thanks for sharing your findings.

      Have you personally suffered from a similar digestive issue as well?

      You’re right – one study doesn’t prove much. No doubt about it. But I think the fiber recommendations have been over done in our modern world.

      At my worst, I was basically vegetarian. little protein, little fat. And then the nutritionist had me supplement with bran fiber, and a gallon of water a day. I was in terrible pain (and that definitely wasn’t 50g+ grams, since I don’t eat grain, wheat, bread, etc.). The key for me was to reduce fiber in the form of bread, grains, etc. and to increase my protein and fat especially. Later I learned that this is all supported by research. But again, this is a tough field – most doctors are still just saying “IBS” And sending people on their way without answers.

      I agree adequate fiber is important – some people though might want to experiment with just sticking with plants, and removing any excess fiber they may be consuming.

      What’s interesting thought is that fiber supplements don’t work for me (And probably many others).

      In other words, they don’t speed up the time to bowel movement for me, they just increase the volume. Not exactly fun.

      Re; the 63 participants, yes, 63 is a small number by the results were pretty significant. The median bowel movement was improved by more than a day which, any person with GI issues will confirm, is a godsend. Also 1 BM a day versus 1BM every 4 days is pretty significant.

      All in all it’s just my humble attempt to help the many millions of others suffering from IBS-like stuff that aren’t getting answers like me. Test test test and see what works.

      — Alex

      Reply
      1. Thanks for the reply, Alex. The problem I had from too much fiber was that it caused cramps and many BMs. The excessive BMs lead to an anal fissure- because I passed too many rough stools. I increased my fiber intake too quickly and was not drinking enough water. I also wasn’t getting enough fat. While the fiber did not cause constipation, it lead to some very painful weeks.

        To answer your question- no digestive issues. Just the abdominal cramps.

        Reply
  8. High fiber diets don’t advertise that fatty acids and oils are essential to establishing a healthy routine. A tablespoon of olive oil once, maybe twice a day might help. I’d recommend trying it before abandoning your diet plan.

    Sincerely,

    Someone with something worse than IBS

    Reply
    1. Hi there,

      Absolutely agree – fat is essential (especially for people with IBS). I also supplemented my diet with LOTS of extra olive oil and avocado because fat is the main stimulator of the gastrocolic reflex (the urge). And with people on these ridiculous low-fat diets I wouldn’t be surprised if constipation numbers are sky high.

      – Alex

      Reply
  9. Hey Alex,

    I was wondering if you cook your veggies or eat ‘em raw.

    -Eric

    Reply
    1. Hey Eric,

      I cook my veggies, but I also eat lots of salad (and I eat lots of raw bell peppers.. they taste weird cooked).

      So, both :D But I don’t make an effort to eat more raw foods. I Just make sure to eat veggies as much as possible with meals.

      Reply
  10. Babies don’t get constipated because milk contains a LOT of SOLUBLE fibre. Milk contains galacto-oligosaccharides which is a form of soluble fibre.

    Fat and oils act as stool softeners (some laxatives contain mineral oil). That is why Inuits tend not to get constipation.

    Reply
    1. Hi Food Scientist,

      Thanks for sharing. Re: the fat and oil consumption – Making sure I have a relatively high fat and oil intake has helped immensely with my IBS related stuff. Adding fiber just added pain for me. This was a big revelation for me, and takeaway from Konstantin’s research.

      Reply
  11. Alex, I have never had problems with my bowel movement all my life – everyday morning like clockwork. Last three months I went on a high vegetable diet and started eating about 100gms of chicken or fish everyday (was a vegetarian prior to the diet). My vegetable consumption was about 2-3 cups / day. I was also maintaining a gluten free diet for these 3 months and had whey protien everyday.
    I am a 36 yrs old male and this diet helped me loose about 13 pounds in 3 months with regular exercise. During this diet my bowel movement was fantastic – at 5 AM everyday I would be ready to burst out.

    I went off the diet since I reached my weight goal and went back to my regular diet and now have not been able have a decent BM in the last 4 days – been a rough start to the new year !!

    I cannot sustain the amount of vegetables I have been taking last 3 months for the rest of my life!! Has my body become dependant on the Dailey dosage of vegetables to have a regular BM ?
    I have tried drinking lots water, papaya at night, milk etc but no luck so far. I usually don’t take medicines and want to go for stool softeners / laxatives only as a LAST resort – dont want my body to get used to these !!
    What are your thoughts ? Thanks
    – Rajiv (172 cms tall and 165 lbs)

    Reply
    1. Hi Rajiv,

      So you’re saying that you were vegetarian before and your BMs were fine, and then you changed your diet a bit (and they were still fine), but now that you’re back to your old diet, you are having issues?

      Can you tell me what else you added to your new diet? Did you start eating wheat, or flour, or other forms of fiber?

      It could’ve also been simply due to the increased volume of food you’ve been eating, and now that you’ve decreased it a bit your body isn’t sensing the stool as well (Common side effect of Atkins diet also).

      What exactly were you eating in addition to the veggies?

      Reply
      1. Thanks for writing back. My daily intake during the 3 months diet had 2-3 cups vegetables, no gluten (no wheat / oats), 1 -2 cups of rice, 1-2 cups of fruits, 1 cup of lentils (garbanzo or kidney beans or black eyed peas etc), 2 cups of whole milk with whey, 1/2 cup yogurt, 100 gms of chicken or fish, 1 – 2 whole eggs, 1-2 cups of coffee and about 2 ltrs of water. No sweets and very little sugar intake.

        Now from Jan 1st 2014, I reduced my vegetable intake by over 50%, increased my rice intake and started wheat as well. Started to snack a little bit and had a couple of chocolates.

        Could it be the gluten ??

        Thanks

        – Rajiv

        Reply
        1. Hi Rajiv,

          Mostly likely the wheat or the rice. I would avoid wheat first for 1-2 weeks to see what happens. If that doesn’t work, try reducing the rice. For some people it’s an irritant – I lived in China for a while and eating rice 3-4 times a day constipated me, despite the fact that I was avoiding many other known foods that tend to constipate people. Try those and let me know how you do!

          Reply
  12. I just got discharged from the hospital with the diagnosis of IBS. Not excited of course, but will try this low fiber diet if it will help:) Thank you all for the advice above:) very helpful.

    My concern is getting in enough protein, but I guess as long as it’s tender cuts of chicken, etc. it should be ok. Most things on the web said no salad, roughage, etc. that makes me sad. however, it sounds like you can work it in if you avoid the other things.

    Reply
    1. Hi Tcaz,

      Don’t worry, IBS can be managed well if you eat the right foods.

      Here’s the thing: just eat PLANT and natural fiber. Don’t supplement. That’s what I mean by lower fiber. I also avoided all wheat and grains, that helped a ton. Good luck :)

      Reply
  13. I just started following you on Twitter after this post. It’s nuts to think of fiber this way. If you were to tell the general public this they would have none of it. I guess people are just programmed to think a certain way. Thank you for showing me this and giving me insight. Grateful to have found it. Great post!

    Reply
    1. Hey Logan,

      Yeah what’s kinda scary is that a nutritionist at a hospital is the one who told me to increase my fiber. Our med institutions are seriously behind on the nutrition research. Note: this is in relation to supplemental fiber, metamucil, bran, all that stuff. Not normal plant fiber generally speaking.

      Reply
  14. I was brought up on a “health food” diet which included a lot of fibre, but have had stomach problems and food allergies all my life. I haven’t been to doctors (the only nutritionist whom I consulted over the phone told me to “eat more brown rice” which I scoffed at!!), but I have tried various experiments and it does seem from trial and error that I have a problem with excessive fibre.
    I do also get other problems from food and there are phases I go through where I seem to have problems with everything, cold weather and inherent nervousness will exacerbate IBS but I also can’t digest dairy or eat fruits as they give me acne, also lots of animal protein will aggravate fibroid problems.
    Often I find the only solution to my gut issues is to fast, eat a little “junk” food like salted pretzels or a chocolate covered marzipan bar, and drink a spot of whisky now and again – which DOES calm me and my stomach down (in fact since I refuse all medication I was told by 2 GPs and a therapist that it was “probably something (my ) body needs”.

    Reply
  15. Hi Alex. I am back to trying to figure this gut of mine out. I’ve gotten constipated for years but have always been able to manage it with laxatives during the occasional episodes. Things have progressively gotten worse with age. 3yrs ago I went through a series of test they found nothing, the GI suggested fiber and miralax. That worked ok or some what back to normal with the occasional episodes again. Then this past thanksgiving I had my first ever uti, doc gave me the antibiotic “Cipro” and boy oh boy I hadn’t went that normal since I can remember. Well after that 7 day regimen everything went to hell in a hand basket so to speak. Massive lower left abdominal pain (lower intestines) Back to yet another GI who did the celiac test and colonoscopy, again nothing. Sent home with Linzess and told to go on high fiber diet. I do not want to be medication, not to mention that is so effective I am unable to leave the house when on it. Nor was he concerned about my pain with the exception of pain pills, something else I dont do (I dont like drugs) Though I eat healthy, I do enjoy my sugar, usually some type of small desert after dinner and I only eat when I’m hungry, usually around 3pm or so. I can not eat as much as what they are suggesting, I’m the biggest I’ve been in my life and do not want to be the side of a barn either. So I do the fiber supplements but then I spoke to some one that said “You are having a reaction to pysllium” I thought, thats crazy, I’ve been taking it for 3 yrs but I have nothing to lose so wth, I cut out the pysllium fiber and wala my lower left abdominal pain is gone. Now onto the constant knot down there, the bloating, and the acne. Yes being 45yrs old with acne is quite embarrassing. The increase of fiber just goes to my lower intestines forms a softball sized knot and just sits there, no help in going what so ever. So I am on the linzess every 3 days because I cant take it anymore. I haven’t had a normal stool since thanksgiving. I have got to figure this out. I dont know if I have the discipline to diet like you have but at the moment I’m about willing to try anything. I’m trying to figure out how long and how much fiber to add before going your route, I’m in week 2 of high fiber misery. The GI also said I could go back to eating nuts which I love but he is so wrong, the minute I eat them I feel them almost instantaneously fighting my system. At the moment I feel damned if I do and damned if I dont. Yesterday along with a lot of various high fiber stuff, I did 3 stool softeners and nothing. Then last night, I ate 4 prunes and took a double dose of miralax, at least I produced a little this a.m. hopefully enough to keep me away from the linzess to keep trying to get my system back on it own again. And oh I also take probiotics, they used to help but at the moment nothing seems to be

    Reply
  16. Hi Alex,
    I’ve been loving your site! I’ve been dealing with moderate constipation with increasingly common instances of slightly more severe bouts for pretty much as long as I can remember. Nothing as severe as your IBS, but I’ve still ended up with some fun complications from years of less than pleasant BMs. Like you, I’ve been told to pack in as much fiber from whole grains as possible with absurd amounts of water for years to no avail. My last recommendation from a doctor was to take a stool softener for a few months, which I looked into and found was considered a neurotoxin. No thanks. So now, after being up all night with a crampy gut thanks to a giant glass of psyllium, I’ve had enough of this fiber business!

    So what I’m wondering is, as someone who’s basically a lifelong vegetarian (except occasionally eating fish), and who’s not too excited about starting to eat tons of animal protein (especially given how terrifying most livestock production is these days), how do beans fit into your diet, and what plant-based proteins have you had success with?

    Thanks!

    Reply
  17. Alex, what you’re saying makes perfect sense, and is exactly what others have been saying, too.
    As for IBS – that is not a real diagnosis anyway. I have Celiac disease. Nearly everybody with Celiac gets ‘diagnosed’ with IBS first, I sure did.
    Eliminating ALL grains from my diet, not just the official gluten grains, worked to stop the chronic diarrhea that almost killed me one summer ten years ago.
    Before that, I had alternating diarrhea and constipation, and after I listened to my doctor and took fiber for several months, which made the constipation worse, I stopped taking it.
    I shared this post on my facebook wall, with it set to ‘public’. Most people still believe in the fiber myth, including all of my family. It is so aggravating that these myths are so persistent, once ‘everybody knows’ these things!
    I always say that even if you’re the only one speaking the truth, it is still the truth, even if nobody agrees with you. And I am sticking to it, no matter what.

    Reply
    1. Ursula,

      So glad to hear that you finally found some relief. I have “IBS-C” which, like you said, really means nothing. In western medicine it just means “we don’t have a clue what’s going on, you just don’t have normal bowel movements” hahah. For me, reducing fiber (like bran, flour, etc.) improved things dramatically.

      Reply
  18. Hey, could it be that taking out grains and whatnot be linked to Gluten Intolerance? If you’re unsure what this is it’s basically where you take all the grains out of your daily consumption because the Gluten damages your colon slowly and a side effect is constipation. I have been having issues and I upped my fiber quite a bit and water too, I had to take laxatives to get flushed out and start over and then slowly the constipation came back. I actually getting ready to see a doc about it on Monday. I’m sure being a graveyard worker doesn’t help either. However I have been looking into starting a Gluten free diet to see if that is the cause; the only thing keeping me from doing it is that I love my carbs like spaghetti (spaghetti squash is not the same!) and quesadillas.

    Reply
    1. Absolutely Jackie – I would highly recommend anyone with GI issues to experiment with removing gluten.

      Reply
  19. Has anyone ever developed a fissure from being constipated all the time?

    Reply
  20. You were eating too much fiber though. Your intake should be 20-30g. 30 the max. That’s part of the reason why you were constipated

    Reply
  21. I am regular for the first time in memory ( I am 62). I definitely feel less bloating,less cramping, and thankfully, less constipation. My personal regimen is to take 1 Lady Soma Fiber Cleanse Capsule first thing in the morning before breakfast. I am good for the day.

    Reply
  22. I wouldn’t cut back on water or fiber. :( For people with IBS it may be a different story, but for those who don’t have that… eh… I would tread lightly on cutting back things which are helpful. Not everyone is the same and each person has a different set to which he or she needs to find for him/herself to get the one that is right. If I were other people, I would take this advice with a grain of salt and see if it works or not. As for me, I already found what works for me and that is a high fiber, high consumption of water and tea. The total opposite to what this article has stated. I also wouldn’t recommend cutting back on water and fruits for women, unless they want wrinkled man hands, hairy bodies and bad overall skin. There is a reason why people look really old with uneven skin tone and blotches in third world countries… lack of fruits and water. Thank you … but no thank you on the bad advice. I prefer to keep myself looking 13 years younger with my girly features.

    Reply
    1. Hi Juci – Yes this is for people with IBS or motility issues.

      Reply
    2. I am so glad I found this article. Through trial and error, I have discovered on my own that fiber (especially the fiber found in wheat & oats) is not my friend. I have a Dr appointment tomorrow and I am ready to argue with them about the fiber issue. Feeling sick, bloated, cramping, and terrible gas is coming to an end. I don’t suffer from constipation often but I do have it from time to time. Most of my years with IBS has been associated with dirreah. However, even without the constipation, the dr keeps upping my fiber to deal with the other symptoms. This article helps me feel as though I’M NOT CRAZY! The fiber is making me miserable and I am going to make some changes.

      Reply
      1. Hi Angie,

        Yup, the doc and nutritionist did this to me too. I just got worse, ESPECIALLY with bran and wheat fiber. So glad I stopped doing that… I wouldn’t argue with your doc tho, good luck getting anything meaningful out of that haha.

        Reply
  23. I knew I wasn’t crazy!!!! thank you so much for validating EVERYTHING I’ve been saying about my “issues”. I took matters into my own hands and busted the fiber myth. I call it the “opposite” approach. If it is a food that creates bowel activity for the normal person, I stay away from it. No nuts, bread, pasta, beans, roughage, etc. works very well, but the holidays are tough….I love pecans!! PS…I didn’t waste my money on a doctor.

    Reply
  24. I’ve the same way and come to the same conclusion. Finally someplace where my notions are validated. Thank You for creating this page. I know my body & listen to it’s inner voice not the clutter from outside. Whenever a Dr says it’s in your head, walk away & don’t look back, you know your body too.

    Reply
  25. Very helpful article.
    I do have a question, if we should be lowering our fiber intake, then what should we be eating?

    Reply
    1. Hi Kahlen,

      Sorry for not being more specific – I mean simply removing the forms of fiber found in bran, wheat, etc. The forms of fiber found in plants are fine, and necessary for good health.

      Reply
  26. Hi, just wondering what the study was on Eskimo s?

    Reply
  27. As to the coffee comments, and yeah I love coffee too, lets just hope the bowl movement from such is not really the intestinal flora saying run for your life, exit that way. Anyway an opinion about the colon cancer, it may be that also relates to intestinal flora. Given some help remove toxins,,and some produce toxins.

    Reply

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