It’s Labor Day weekend. I figure most of you are away or en route to various places and perhaps will miss this post. I’m counting on that because for the final of 3 travel-related commentaries, I am returning to a subject I touched on in April. I think it’s time for some more Potty Talk . Travel involves change, a break from normal routines and this often results in changes in bathroom routines as well. If that’s not the case for you, if you’re bowel movements are the same whether you’re in Manhattan or Madras, pat yourself on the back (side) you don’t need to read any more. For the rest of us, we tend to fall into one of 2 travel camps, I’m going to call them “Hard Rock” and “Loosey Goosey.”
It’s probably more than you ever wanted to know about me (as if from Facebook, Twitter and this blog there’s anything hidden) but I am in the Hard Rock camp. In college I was on Semester at Sea. I returned to the ship after an excursion, only to find my roommate curled up in bed. I asked her what was wrong and she moaned “Delhi Belly” and then sprinted to the bathroom. Not me, I had traversed India by train, had eaten curry from places with questionable sanitation, even ate fruit I didn’t peel myself and nothing, nada if you know what I mean. And in Mexico, the first trip with my then boyfriend (now husband), Marc had to go into a pharmacy and with no Spanish explain my condition. It seems clenching all your muscles and pointing to your stomach is universal.
The thing about bowel movements is that although, to some extent, we all have them. Unless we’re truly sick or sidelined, once they occur we move on with our day. I gave a talk to some soon-to-be marathoners Wednesday night and someone brought up the fear of not having proper time to relieve herself before the race. Once this topic was mentioned everyone added their potty stories and strangely seemed to enjoy the conversation. We don’t do this often. Despite the fact that in my work day I do talk bathroom and bowels, I don’t spend too much time dwelling on my own doody. I certainly didn’t when I was packing for France. Yet this was like almost every other trip and though our hotel bathroom had a great view of the Eiffel tower, I didn’t go in it all that much.
Upon returning home, I was on a mission. For someone who does exercise when away and eats similarly, I had to know what was “behind” these changes. This is what I came up with:
• Nervousness associated with flying or changing destinations can lead to diarrhea or constipation.
• Changes in normal diet and routine are disrupted (food available at airports and on planes can cause diarrhea or constipation).
• Early flights or early wake ups lead to GI disruption.
• Increasing or decreasing coffee consumption can affect bowels.
• Digestion slows in-flight due to change in altitude and air pressure.
• Changes in blood pressure in-flight; restricts blood flow (why we see our hands and feet swell).
• Altitude causes dehydration in flight; consuming alcohol pre or during flight and high sodium airport and airline foods worsens this; can lead to diarrhea or constipation.
I then consulted Foodtrainers’ resident medical expert, Dr O. I apologized for bothering an ER doc with my potty talk and she said this. “One of the main reasons people get backed up during long travel is because of immobility and dehydration. I tell all the patients who come to the ER with constipation (yes, people come to the ER with that complaint) to exercise and drink lots of water. At higher altitudes you have less oxygen in your blood so the intestines actually get less oxygen which slows them down.”
When I look at this list and Dr O’s comments I am a little confused. Though these are all valid points, I am not someone who eats airport or airline food if at all possible. I exercise before and during trips, I ran 10 miles the morning we left for France (marathon training not compulsive). I also drink water during travel. Yet, in reviewing these points some are inevitable. There are dietary changes, even with healthy eating, and that’s part of the fun of travel. Circadian rhythms are thrown off; your body seems to get confused even if you think you adjust quickly. I had never considered the lingering effects of high altitude and less blood flow to the intestines…hmn. I think I have some answers. Rather than winging it and living in denial of my habits, next time my secret weapons will go in the suitcase. Not to worry security people, my weapons are fibrous.
So don’t be shy, are you in either camp? Or does it vary for you? Any fun potty stories? Do you think, perhaps, the more routinized you are on a daily basis the more sensitive your body is to change?