Irregularity got you down? Do your poops seem to experience chronic flight delays? Do they get hung up in the morning’s rush hour traffic? Do they come out soupy one day and like adobe bricks the next? Well, we can help with that. Here we offer ten suggestions to achieving healthier, more predictable poops. It’s all about consistency — both in timing and texture.
Follow these 10 suggestions, and you’ll be well on your way to poops that move down the tracks as smoothly as Japanese maglev trains.
Start by Keeping Your Eyes on the Goal
When we say “regular,” what does that mean, exactly? What’s normal? What’s healthy? Fortunately, doctors have been examining bowel movements and stool for millennia to diagnose illness. What have they concluded? Generally speaking, “normal” means pooping one to three times daily, and, according to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), healthy stools are medium brown floaters with little or no sheen.
Researchers at the Bristol Royal Infirmary — part of a dynamic and thriving group of hospitals in the heart of Bristol, England — have developed a more systematic gauge for judging the consistency of stools called the Bristol Stool Form or BSF scale, shown below. According to the BSF, stool types 1-3 are too hard, types 4 and 5 are just right, and types 6 and 7 are too soft. Unfortunately, the BSF doesn’t include anything about color, scent, or density (whether it floats or sinks), but it’s a pretty good gauge of whether you’re consuming enough water and fiber and whether you have some sort of intestinal infections or imbalances.
So, if you’re pooping one to three times daily, and you’re squeezing out snakes or soft blobs, you’re in good shape. No need to change anything. On the other hand, if you’re pooping too often or less frequently than once a day, and if you’re laying bricks or squirting Hershey syrup, the following suggestions can remedy the situation.
Use Common Sense: Listen to Your Body… and Your Doctor
The suggestions we offer here are just that: suggestions. We are not your doctor, and we aren’t privy to details about your body, diet, lifestyle, and frequency or consistency of your poops. Tune in to what your body tells you. If you up your fiber intake, for example, and start experiencing loose stools, the added fiber may be doing more harm than good. Try different methods, choose what works, and ignore the rest. And always consult with your doctor over any serious or persistent problems.
- Consume Enough Fiber
Hard poops typically indicate three problems. You’re not getting enough:
- Fiber (prebiotics)
Let’s start with fiber. According to the National Academies Institute of Medicine Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) for macronutrients, the average woman should be eating 21-26 grams, and the average man should be consuming 30-38 grams daily, depending on their age. Most people consume only about 15 grams of total fiber daily.
You can boost your fiber intake by eating more high-fiber foods, including vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes (beans), and whole grains. All of these sources of fiber contain water, so if you’re getting your fiber through food, you’re also boosting your water intake. Whether you need to take a fiber supplement is something to discuss with your doctor. Too much fiber can cause problems, as well, especially if you’re not consuming enough water.
- Drink Enough Water
The standard advice on water consumption is to drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water daily; that’s 64 ounces, a half-gallon. According to the DRI, you need even more than that; women should be consuming about 2.7 liters (about three quarts) of water daily, and men should be drinking about 3.7 liters (just shy of a gallon). That’s a lot of water!
Warning: Many people misinterpret that recommendation by failing to account for the water in foods and beverages. Water in juice, milk, coffee, tea, soda, and so on, also count toward your daily water consumption, as does the water contained in solid foods, including vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains, meat, cheese, and yogurt.
Yes, drinking water is better for you than drinking soda, but if you’re struggling to drink a gallon of water daily, and you’re peeing all the time, you’re probably overdoing it.
- Supplement with Pre- and Probiotics
Dry stools are often an indication of an imbalance of intestinal flora or gut bacteria and yeasts. These microorganisms in your intestines help to digest your food. They also retain the water that softens stool. An overgrowth of harmful bacteria, viruses, and fungi can interfere with digestion and cause a host of health problems that impact bowel movements or make the stool too hard or too soft.
Prebiotics (dietary fiber) and probiotics (beneficial live bacteria and yeast cultures) can help restore a healthy balance. For details, see our recent blog post, “Restoring Intestinal Flora Leads to a Healthy Gut and Happy Poop.”
- Embrace the Foods That Bind
If your stools are runny, consider a temporary shift to the BRAT diet:
- Applesauce (not apples)
Other foods that can be helpful in alleviating temporary bouts of diarrhea are white bread, peeled potatoes, white pasta, rice, and peanut butter, but any bland, low-fiber foods can help to alleviate diarrhea.
Avoid high-fiber foods, such as prunes, berries, cabbage, broccoli, beans, lentils, fatty meats, and greasy foods. Also avoid caffeine, alcohol, sugary drinks, and carbonated beverages.
Although the BRAT diet is still recommended by some doctors, it’s only a temporary fix, and it is being phased out. Now, the Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children with mild diarrhea continue to eat a normal diet supplemented with commercially available electrolyte solutions to replace the water and salts lost during diarrhea.
If diarrhea is severe or persistent or accompanied by a fever of over 102 degrees Fahrenheit, seek medical attention. Diarrhea can lead to dehydration, which poses a serious health risk.
- Embrace These Stool-Loosening Foods
It’s common knowledge that certain foods, such as prunes, can help you poop, but prunes haven’t cornered the market. Here’s a list of 14 foods to help grease the ol’ poop chute:
- Sweet potatoes
- Corn and popcorn (poopcorn?)
- Nuts and seeds
- Whole grain breads and cereals
- Prunes, plums, pears, apples
- Broccoli, green beans, spinach
- Dried fruit
- Aloe vera juice
And don’t forget the water!
- Put Your Body in Motion
One sure fire way to cure constipation is to take a long jog to somewhere miles away from any toilet. As soon as you’re a safe distance from any convenient dropping point, you will have an uncontrolled urge to do your business. We don’t have any medical studies to support this phenomenon, only plenty of anecdotal evidence. It’s called the “runner trots.”
But seriously, according to a study published in the Canadian Journal of Gastroenterology, regular physical activity, not necessarily an exercise regimen, can help with chronic constipation (CC), especially in older people who are less active. As for younger patients, the study concludes that exercise appears “to have little improvement in bowel function unless they engage in vigorous exercise.” The study goes on to state that “Exercise can still be recommended to patients because it improves quality of life and has other health benefits unrelated to CC.”
Stress is tough on your entire nervous system, part of which, the enteric nervous system (ENS), is devoted to controlling your digestive tract. For many people, stress contributes to constipation. For others, it gives them the collywobbles (stomach ache) and diarrhea.
In an article posted on Harvard Healthbeat entitled “The gut-brain connection,” Editor in Chief Anthony L. Komaroff points out that “the gastrointestinal tract is sensitive to emotion. Anger, anxiety, sadness, elation — all of these feelings (and others) can trigger symptoms in the gut.”
In fact, results of a study conducted at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), both Harvard affiliates, show that a nine-week training program that included elicitation of the relaxation response had a “significant impact on clinical symptoms of the gastrointestinal disorders irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and on the expression of genes related to inflammation and the body’s response to stress.” (See “Genomic and Clinical Effects Associated with a Relaxation Response Mind-Body Intervention in Patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Inflammatory Bowel Disease” published in PLOS One.)
If you’re feeling stressed out and experiencing bowel irregularities, you may want to look into starting a relaxation regimen centered on yoga, mindfulness, tai-chi, or some other deep relaxation technique.
- Review Your Medications
Experiencing chronic constipation or diarrhea? The root cause may be sitting in your medicine cabinet. Many medications can negatively impact digestion, including the little purple pill and its cousins, which are commonly prescribed for acid reflux (heartburn). If you’re having trouble pooping, we urge you to consult with your doctor, who can review your medications (both prescription and over the counter), and help you determine whether one or more of them may be the culprit(s).
- When You Gotta Go, Go!
A busy schedule isn’t the most conducive for regularity. As a result, many people resist the urge to poop when at work or in public. If you’re part of this group, you need to figure out a way to answer the call of nature when it arrives. The fact is, holding it is bad for you. When you resist the urge to poop, your stool is held in your colon, where moisture is extracted from it, and it hardens, causing, you guessed it — constipation. Hold it too long, and your poop can become impacted, your colon can become distended, and its ability to contract impaired.
The moral of the story — when you gotta go, go!
- Squat to Poop
Your body is equipped with three muscles to help you choose when to take a seat on the porcelain throne… and when not to:
- The puborectalis muscle loops around the rectum like a sling, pulling the rectum forward to create a more acute angle between the rectum and the anal canal. When you stand, the muscle crimps the rectum to keep the poop in. When you sit, the muscle relaxes to a certain degree, but it only relaxes fully in the squat position.
- The internal sphincter is a smooth muscle controlled by enteric neurons — nothing you have any conscious control over.
- The external sphincter is a skeletal muscle that you can consciously control, as in when you decide to deliver the package.
Whether you sit or squat, you consciously relax the puborectalis and external sphincter muscles, but only the squat position fully relaxes the puborectalis muscle to provide a straighter corridor through which your poop can travel.
Lesson here? Squat to poop. And we can definitely help with that. Squatty Potty gives you the choice of simulating the squatting position or going full squat over your conventional toilet. The result: A quicker, fuller elimination of poop with little or no conscious effort on your part.
Now we’re well aware that discussing poop in public is taboo, but we do it all the time anyway, and we encourage you to do the same… if you feel so inclined. Please share your poop problem and what you have done successfully, or not so successfully, to address the problem. It might just help someone else.