These days we talk and write a lot about eating and what we put into our mouths, but what about what happens on the other end? Bowel movement, BM, number two, poo, stool, dropping... there are so many names for it, yet it’s still a bit taboo.
As a nutritionist, healthy bowel movements are something that interest me, and I’ve noticed that once people manage to stop cringing, most are fascinated with this digestive process. So for those of you who might be reluctant to ask, here’s the lowdown on one of my favorite subjects:
What is a normal, healthy bowel movement?
Before I share with you my 10 ways to achieve healthy bowel movements, let's take a moment to talk about what constitutes a healthy bowel movement. Unfortunately there is no one “normal” that applies to everyone. Each person is unique and what is normal for one person may differ significantly from what is normal for another. I’m going to talk about what fits into the wide range of healthy and normal.
Frequency – Anywhere from three times per week up to three times per day, although the general average is once or twice per day. If you have a bowel movement three to four times a week, it comes out easily and you feel empty when done, then that’s probably your normal. Conversely, if you are going more than three times a day and feel like you have the runs, that’s probably not normal. And regardless of frequency, if you feel constipated, you probably are.
Duration – Contrary to popular belief, you shouldn’t need to take a book or newspaper in with you. Your BM should make its appearance within seconds, not minutes, without straining, pushing or cramping. Putting your feet on a low stool while you do your business can make it easier, since it’s natural for humans to poop in a squatting position. These new higher toilets that are becoming more popular are really counter-productive in terms of their ultimate purpose.
Sound – The quieter the better, which means accompanied by little or no gas. Silence is golden.
Smell – No smell indicates a healthy bowel movement, although a little smell is normal. If yours are super stinky all the time, it may be time to take a look at your diet. Really smelly may mean you’re eating too much fat (especially the bad kinds like trans and hydrogenated fats).
Size – Somewhere between 4 and 12 inches per day, over the course of one or more “sittings.”
Weight – Your stool should drop out and slide into the bowl, slowly falling once it reaches the water. If it sinks quickly, you may not be eating enough fiber. If it floats, you might be getting too much fat in your diet, or you may not be properly digesting and absorbing fats.
Shape – Ideally, an s-shaped sausage which maintains its form in the toilet bowl (like Types 3 and 4 in the chart below). Unformed, crumbling, long and super skinny, pellets or small pieces all indicate an imbalance in your digestive system, possible causes of which might include weak digestion, food sensitivities or allergies.
Texture – Stools should contain no visible undigested food, be soft and easy to pass and have the texture of peanut butter (I don’t mean to put you off peanut butter!). Ideally you will only need to wipe once. If there is mucous, that can indicate possible inflammation in the intestines due to such things as food sensitivities or irritable bowel syndrome.
Color – The standard stool color is brown or golden brown, but that can vary:
Green – This often happens after eating blueberries, kale, spinach, spirulina or wheat grass or when you’ve been taking iron supplements. It may also indicate that you have extra bile in your BMs, as bile is green.
Red – If you eat beets, your BMs are most likely going to take on a red color. If your BMs are red and you haven’t been eating beets, you may have blood in your stool.
Yellow – People with gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD) often have yellow-colored stools. This can also occur with a lack of bile, or when food is moving through your digestive system really quickly, such as with diarrhea.
When to See Your Doctor
Become familiar with what is normal for you, and be aware of changes. See your doctor if:
there is a sudden or drastic change in your bowel movements or stools;
you have pain, ongoing diarrhea or constipation;
your stools are red, black, grey or pale and you don’t know why; or
you are exhausted after taking a BM (a naturopath would be a better choice in this case).
10 Ways to Achieve Healthy Bowel Movements
Now that we know what we're dealing with, here are some helpful tips to help you optimize your BMs:
Chew your food well (30-50 chews per mouthful), especially if you see bits of undigested food in your stool.
Avoid overeating. Eat when you are hungry and stop when you are satisfied.
Increase your vegetable and fiber intake to add bulk. Adding one to two tablespoons of chia seeds or ground flax seeds to your meals every day can make a big difference.
Take probiotics. Look for a strain that has at least 8 billion bacteria per capsule.
Drink half your body weight in ounces of water per day (ex: you weigh 150lbs, drink 75 ounces, or 9 cups).
Reduce your caffeine intake as it can dry out your stools.
Get at least 30 minutes of light to moderate exercise per day.
To increase bile flow and digestive strength, drink the juice of ½ a lemon (or use one tbsp of raw apple cider vinegar) in a little water half an hour before meals.
Get good sleep and do what you can to keep your stress level as low as possible.
If you have the urge to go, don’t hold it in. This can lead to constipation and reabsorption of toxins into the body.
If none of these suggestions help, consider seeing a holistic nutritionist or naturopath to check for food intolerances, sensitivities or allergies.
So I'm signing off by wishing you the best of success in your future visits to the throne, the next time you ride the porcelain pony, do your business or drop your kids off at school….