Today’s tale might be TMI for some. But for others, say the lucky ones who are about to get their first colonoscopy, it may be exactly what they’re looking for. I will be talking about what to expect during your colonoscopy prep, aka the bowel cleansing process that occurs one day before a colonoscopy. This includes fun topics such as how long it took for the colonoscopy prep to kick in, how long will diarrhea last and how often you will go to the toilet. But also what I ate on the days leading up to the colonoscopy, and all the things I did to help it go as smoothly as possible.
If you don’t want to read about bowel cleansing, sore anuses, or diarrhea, might I suggest you move on to a ‘sexier’ article? There are a few other posts on this blog on various topics that might interest you.
As for the rest of you still looking for colonoscopy prep tips, or simply curious to know what it feels like to go through a colonoscopy prep, let’s get this party started, shall we?
What to expect during a colonoscopy prep?
Let’s just get this out of the way: both the colonoscopy prep (i.e., the process of cleansing the colon that takes place the day before the colonoscopy) and the colonoscopy were really not that bad.
I was not up all night on the colonoscopy prep. I actually had quite a good, although short, night’s sleep. I didn’t experience any stomach or abdominal pain, and I didn’t feel a thing during the procedure. If anything, it was kind of relaxing, thanks to the sedative they gave me, and I had a great 15-minute nap right after the colonoscopy. Also, diarrhea eventually stopped before the procedure (more on that later), so don’t worry too much about that.
If you are feeling nervous about your upcoming colonoscopy, my advice is to follow your doctor’s guidelines and advice, prep well (read what follows for my suggestions), and stay calm, present, and mindful. View it as a sort of cleansing/meditative experience.
But before I get into the details of what to expect for your colonoscopy prep, what I ate during my colonoscopy prep to not feel too hungry, and all my other tips for a smooth colonoscopy… let’s start with the beginning.
What is a colonoscopy prep?
I was surprised to learn that there is more to a colonoscopy than simply having a tube inserted up your butt. You’d think the challenge is the colonoscopy itself! Turns out, it’s not. Well, not just that.
Part of the fun happens the day prior to the colonoscopy, when you take powerful oral laxatives to clean out your bowels.
As always, I’d like to remind you that I am NOT a doctor and have no health training. I only share my personal experience here regarding my own mental and physical health journey. The information contained in this blog is not intended to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Please consult your doctor or other medical experts regarding your health. Thank you!
Also, the aim of this post is not to tell you what you should or shouldn’t eat during your colonoscopy prep. I followed my doctor’s guidelines and I invite you to do the same and follow your doctor’s recommendations. I’m just sharing my own experience so I can keep a trace in case I need a reminder later. But also so that you can read about it too. That way if you are wondering how you will feel during a colonoscopy prep (like how long does it take for a colonoscopy prep to kick in, will you be up all night after a colonoscopy prep, how long will the diarrhea last, etc.), you get a general idea.
Keep in mind that my experience is probably specific to me, and most likely influenced by my physiology, diet, weight, etc. But still, it might answer some of your questions or give you a general idea as to what to expect.
My colonoscopy prep diet
I will be talking about 2 things here: 1. what I ate on the days prior to my colonoscopy (3-5+ days) and 2. what I ate on the day of the colonoscopy preparation (i.e., the day before the colonoscopy).
About my general diet: the Wahls protocol
For the past 2 years I have been on an anti-inflammatory diet, also known as an AIP diet (AIP stands for auto-immune protocol). This diet has helped me fight most of the symptoms associated with my autoimmune illness, and transformed my life.
My stomach is very sensitive to food but on this diet, where I mostly eat veggies, meat, and fish, I feel 1000 times better. Also, I follow specifically the Wahls protocol and so far, after my 3d checkup, I have zero nutrient deficiencies.
How I think a low-carb diet made my colonoscopy prep easier
I spent my colonoscopy prep day with a clear mind, full of energy, in a great mood, and barely bothered by hunger. However, I’m fairly certain that my colonoscopy prep went so well because I am (and was on the days leading up to the prep) eating differently than most people.
Ever since switching to a no-carb/paleo-style/keto-style diet, managing my hunger and cravings has been A LOT easier than before. And this, I think, has helped with not feeling so hungry during the colonoscopy prep.
Related post: I tried the Wahls diet and here’s what happened
The day before your colonoscopy procedure, you cannot eat any solid foods and are only allowed to consume clear liquids. If I had been asked to do this 4 years ago, I think my colonoscopy preparation would have been an agonizing experience. I would have probably experienced extreme stomach pain, would have felt famished to the point of feeling sick, and would have been generally unwell.
My colonoscopy prep diet
I was advised by my doctor to drink plenty of tea, bouillon, Gatorade, apple juice, and clear Jell-o the day before the colonoscopy. However, most of these things contain sugar and are not allowed on the Wahls diet.
So, what can you “eat” during a colonoscopy preparation, especially when you are on an anti-inflammatory diet or when trying to avoid artificial or chemical drinks such as Gatorade and Jell-o?
During my colonoscopy prep, I tried to stick to what I could eat all the while following the guidelines of my doctor. This means I alternated between homemade chicken bouillon, homemade vegetable broth, unsweetened apple juice, tea, and water.
I prepared for my colonoscopy prep 2 days in advance by making:
- chicken broth from scratch(using raw chicken carcass, 1 big onion, 1 big carrot, salt, and pepper)
- a very light, homemade vegetable “soup” (leek, onion, carrot; but I only drank the liquid).
* Make sure to add salt to both.
I also bought unsweetened apple juice made from real apples, just in case I needed some sugar during the day. Although I would normally avoid apple juice (because… you know, Wahls diet), I still decided to have it readily accessible in case I was feeling weak and needed some sugar. I’m glad I did because after the colonoscopy and after 28+ hours without food, the juice quite literally revived me.
I bought sparkling water as well (with no flavors or sweeteners added), in case I felt too nauseated during the prep. But I didn’t use it after all.
I also eventually had to take the colonoscopy prep drink which did not taste great and was incredibly sweet (barf!). I managed to drink it without throwing up by doing the following:
- avoiding liquids for at least 30 minutes before the moment I had to drink it (because you have to swallow about 1L of the colonoscopy prep drink super fast);
- Drinking it one cup at a time, every 10 minutes, as advised by my doctor;
- Holding my breath while swallowing;
- Taking big sips rapidly and focusing on
- Counting the sips in my head (rather than focusing on the taste or anything else);
Colonoscopy prep: what else to expect and how will you feel?
Now, I will answer more practical questions you might be asking yourself. I’ll be discussing how I felt throughout the colonoscopy prep, my symptoms, how fast the laxatives worked on me, and overall, how it felt and what I experienced going through a colonoscopy prep.
Colonoscopy: Wednesday at noon (12 pm)/Colonoscopy prep: all-day Tuesday
As a reminder: My colonoscopy prep began at noon on a Tuesday, the day before my colonoscopy procedure was scheduled.
No Solid foods starting Tuesday morning
Therefore, and following my doctor’s indications, I am not allowed to eat anything solid starting Tuesday and until after the colonoscopy.
I still made sure I started the day with:
- Green tea
- Vegetable broth
- A brisk 45mn-1h walk outside 🙂
- Chicken Broth
- Plenty of water
Other important note: I took the day off and made sure I had no obligations outside of my home from Tuesday noon and on. I also made sure I had everything on hand before the prep (see my last point: What to buy for a colonoscopy prep) because I live alone and you can’t really go out once you start the process.
I took 3 tablets of Bisacodyl at noon, Tuesday.
How long does colonoscopy prep take to kick in?
It took about 2h30 to have my first poop. I took the Bisacodyl tablets at noon and by 2:32 pm, I had my first bowel movement. It wasn’t a deluge-type/diarrhea but the stool was already starting to be (pretty) soft.
I didn’t experience any abdominal pain after taking the tablets. I was just writing and blogging and listening to music while letting the medication do its thing.
After that first poop, it becomes harder to keep the next ones in. My advice: stay near a toilet at all times!
How long will diarrhea last? How many hours will I poop after colonoscopy prep?
All in all, diarrhea lasted 20 hours: from 2 pm the day before, to about 10 am the day of the colonoscopy (approx. an hour before the colonoscopy was scheduled). I was on the toilet A LOT more often on the second day (i.e., the morning of the colonoscopy) than the day before (colonoscopy prep day). But on the second day, I was mostly “pooping” yellow liquid.
Mmmmh. This topic is getting sexier and sexier by the minute.
How long will you be on the toilet for a colonoscopy prep?
It’s important to stay near a toilet at all times. When it comes, it comes!
Here’s a timeline that shows how it all went down, in my case.
Noon (12 pm): took the laxative tablets.
- 1st poop: 2:32 pm (Tuesday). Soft, brown.
- 2nd poop: 2:57 pm. Half diarrhea/half water (the feeling of water coming out of your ass is not a great feeling. Personally, I hated it, and it was probably the worst part of this whole experience, for me.
- 3rd poop: 3:04 pm. Same as the previous point, but it becomes a lighter color.
After this, I didn’t poop for like 3h30 hours (??). I was feeling okay, not too hungry (Again, thanks to my diet, I think).
5 pm (Tuesday), I started drinking 1L of Bi-Peglyte, the colonoscopy prep drink, 1 cup every 10 mn.
- 6:30 pm: 4th poop. Poop is ‘liquidy’ but still brown.
- 7:30 pm. 5th poop. Now it’s 100% liquid (like pee).
- 6th and 7th poop, at around 8 pm and 10 pm. Now it’s just clear/yellowy liquid.
I didn’t know if I would be able to sleep while on a colonoscopy prep or if I’d be running to the toilet all night long. Turns out you can sleep or, in any case, I did. I fell asleep at around midnight and I did not wake up once during the night to go to the toilet. However, my stomach felt kind of funny after taking the colonoscopy prep drink. Maybe it was too sweet for me (?).
5:30 AM (Wednesday): Time to wake up.
6 am. I started drinking the remaining 1L of solution remaining (1 cup every 10 mn) while doing my morning stretch and meditation.
- 6:50 am: I finished drinking the solution
- 7:30 am: 8th poop, yellow water.
- 7:40 am: same.
- 7:45 am: took some chicken broth
- 8:04 am: 10th poop, even clearer color.
And this went on and on, every 5-15 mn until 10:20 am!
There was a little moment of panic at some point because I had to leave for the clinic and I was still pooping every 10 minutes! Thankfully, no disaster happened in the car and on the way. And the nurse rushed me to the nearest toilet as soon as I arrived at the clinic.
I also entirely stopped drinking liquid at around 9 am, to stop the pooping (and again, as advised by my doctor!).
What to buy for a colonoscopy prep?
There are a few things I recommend you buy before a colonoscopy.
- Baby wipes. These were LIFE-SAVING. I’m not joking. If you want to prevent sore bottom and burning anus, get baby wipes with aloe. You will not STAND toilet paper after a while. Make sure there are at least 80 wipes in your pack (and spare yourself that horrific moment when you are sitting on the toilet and realize you might run out of wipes…! Gasp).
- Apple juice. You will need salt and sugar during your prep. I also regret not bringing apple juice with me on the day of the procedure. It took forever and by the time I left the clinic, I was feeling pretty weak. Thankfully, the nurse gave me a little juice box, but it wasn’t enough.
- Chicken broth, vegetable broth (if you can’t make them yourself).
- Stock up on toilet paper. Obviously. (Although I almost entirely used wipes).
- Extra large/Maxi pads (you know, the “night” ones that are super long), or adult diapers. I didn’t need them BUT, when the time came for me to go to the clinic and the diarrhea still had not stopped, it was a relief to know I had this extra protection for the long car ride to the clinic.
How to prepare for a colonoscopy?
Beyond everything I’ve discussed here (adopting a low-carb diet on the days leading to the prep, making homemade chicken broth and vegetable broth, and buying baby wipes and apple juice), there are a few other things to make your colonoscopy go more smoothly.
- Prepare emotional support. Have friends and family on call during your colonoscopy prep day (and night), especially if you live alone. Let someone know what’s happening. Make sure you know who you will call in case of an emergency and tell them to keep an eye on their phone. This will put your mind a lot more at ease.
- Arrange for someone to pick you up after the procedure. Especially if it’s someone you love or who loves you. Seeing a friendly face when you come out of there makes it all better 🙂
- Prepare your home, and bathroom! Have clean, fresh-smelling bed sheets, a tidy home. Stock up on toilet paper, take a shower before your colonoscopy prep so that you feel and smell good. Buy a good book, rent a few funny movies, have comfy pillows and a blanket ready in case you decide to camp out in the bathroom, etc. Do everything you can to make yourself comfortable, during and after the colonoscopy.
- Have light, nutritious food ready for your return. You will be weak and hungry, and doing this will ensure you don’t jump on quicker, unhealthy options. I personally had oven-baked chicken breast and brown rice ready for when I got home after the colonoscopy.
- Do not spend time imagining and anticipating what will happen. Stay in the moment, at all times. Before and during the procedure. Close your eyes, breathe, and be in the Here and Now.
- Pray (even as a non-believer) and ask God, the Universe, Infinite Spirit, or whatever you believe in (or don’t believe in) to keep fear away from you. It works! Say the words: “Infinite spirit, I cast this burden of fear, and I go free”.
How did my colonoscopy go?
Turns out, the colonoscopy itself didn’t hurt at all and only lasted a few minutes. It was mildly uncomfortable but I honestly don’t even remember the feeling. The sedative was great (!). The worst part for me was the nurse struggling to find a good vein, and sticking her needle 3 times in my arm. That was not fun. But she was nice and so, I focused on gratitude (for her), closed my eyes, let go, and concentrated on my breathing.
How did I deal with constipation after my colonoscopy?
I did not poop for two days after my colonoscopy. For someone else, this might be entirely normal but for me, it wasn’t and was causing me a lot of discomfort. I poop at least twice a day.
After my colonoscopy, I did a few things to stimulate my first bowel movement:
- I drank celery juice. I don’t know why but celery juice gives me diarrhea. I usually avoid celery but just this once, I decided to have some.
- I also took some kefir. Dairy is absolutely not allowed on my diet but taking kefir once every blue moon doesn’t affect me. Also, I wanted to stimulate my gut bacteria. And so I drank a cup of kefir with a spoonful of honey. (I guess you could also go with plain yogurt).
- I placed a hot water bottle near my bum on the second morning and fell back asleep.
- I gave my tummy lots of love, told it nice things while stroking it softly, and avoided thinking about the word “constipation”. Sure enough, I began pooping normally again after a few hours.
The bottom line
All in all, if you are about to go through your first colonoscopy, there is no reason to be too scared of the procedure.
If anything, your upcoming colonoscopy prep might be an opportunity to practice self-care, mindfulness, and gratitude. Try to be present and observe your emotions, your anxiety, your fear, your hunger and pain, practice patience (while going through the colonoscopy prep., or while waiting for your turn at the clinic while on an empty stomach), etc.
The process of a colonoscopy and colonoscopy prep were also an opportunity for practicing gratitude:
- Gratitude for my encouraging test results even though the question still remains: what’s my “problem” then?
- Gratitude for having access to health care and health professionals (even the grumpy, rude ones. Yes, even them);
- Gratitude for having someone who cared enough about me to pick me up from the clinic (thank you V.!);
- And gratitude for coming out of this experience healthy, alive, and well.
It gives me hope for the upcoming MRIs.
Will you be having your first colonoscopy soon? Or perhaps are you a veteran? Got any tips, questions, or funny anecdotes? Drop me a comment! 🙂 Your messages totally make my day!