Let’s Talk About Poop

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This article has been updated. It was originally posted August 2014.

Do you talk about poop at the dinner table? We did when I was growing up. My Mom, being a Naturopathic Doctor, asked each one of us if we had a good bowel movement that day.

I continued the tradition in my family.

Your poop can tell you a lot about your body. How often you go, how long it takes you, and what it looks like in the toilet are all clues. If your bowel movements are off, you are more likely to get sick – becoming more susceptible to germs and other more chronic conditions. Your stools are also a good indication if you are eating appropriately.

How Often You Should Go?
Your body was designed to have one bowel movement for every main meal you eat. If you typically eat a decent meal for breakfast, lunch and dinner, optimally, you should have three good bowel movements a day. As you eat one meal and it works its way through your digestive system, it is suppose to push through another.

Many of us do not eat three square meals a day. Some meals are eaten on the run or are more like a snack than a full meal. For this reason, I typically consider one good bowel movement a day, at a minimum, a good sign. Even better if it is first thing upon waking.

However, everyone’s normal will be slightly different. For some, one really good bowel movement every other day is normal. Conversely, if you do go one or more times a day but your stools are loose or you do not feel empty when done, then you are not having a complete bowel movement.

How Long Should It Take?
Going number two should not be much different from going number one. When you have the urge to pee, most people can relieve themselves and feel empty rather quickly. That is how it should be when you have a bowel movement. When you have the urge to go, you should be able to sit on the toilet and empty your bowels in one fell swoop. And, if you are pooping correctly, you should also have little to wipe.

What It Should Look Like?
Now, this is important. You may be going once a day or even twice a day, but if your stools are not the right shape and consistency, you may still not be optimal. Your poop should look a certain way once it is in the toilet. The Bristol Stool Chart, shown below, provides some graphics.


This chart was developed by K. W. Heaton and S. J. Lewis at the University of Bristol and first published in the Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology in 1997.

Type 1 and Type 2 indicate constipation. Type 5 through 7 indicate diarrhea and urgency. Type 3 is more ideal but Type 4 is the optimal bowel movement. Ideally, your stool should have the consistency of peanut butter and have a diameter of about 1 to 2 inches. It should also maintain its shape in the toilet bowl.

Other Poop Clues
In addition to the Bristol Stool Chart, there are some other clues to consider. These include:

  • Size: In addition to being 1 to 2 inches thick, a good bowel movement should be 8 to 12 inches long (on the shorter side for children). For some, this overall length may be spread out over the course of more than one “sitting” in a day.
  • Smell: No smell indicates a healthy bowel movement. A little smell is normal. However, really stinky stools typically indicate you need to change something in your diet. Processed foods, bad fats, and other food sensitivities (like gluten or dairy) may be the culprit.
  • Sound: A normal bowel movement should be continuous so that you hear only one quite splash. There should be little or no accompanying gas.
  • Floating: Your stool should sink to the bottom of the bowl, slowly falling once it reaches the water. If it sinks quickly you may not be eating enough fiber. If it floats, it typically means you are either eating too many fats or not properly digesting and/or absorbing your fats.
  • Color: Optimally, your stool should be brown or golden brown. Certain foods can change the color. For example, eating too many blueberries can make your stool darker, too many greens can make your stool green, or eating beets will make your stool reddish. If you have not eaten a large amount of these foods, the amount of bile in your stool can also affect its color – insufficient bile or a transit time that is too quick may make the stool yellow, pale or grey and too much bile can turn the stool green. Iron supplements and things like Pepto-Bismol may turn the stool black. Red or blackish stool may indicate bleeding and should get checked out. (Yellow stools can also indicate a Giardia infection, Gilbert’s Syndrome, or Gastro esophageal Reflux Disease (GERD).)

There should not be noticeable undigested food particles in the stool either. If there is mucous, it can indicate a possible inflammation in the intestines, possibly due to food sensitivities, allergies, or a leaky gut.

What If Your Poop is Not Optimal?
My Mom taught each of us to look before we flushed, so that we could report back to her at dinner time. Based on what we told her, she could monitor our health. She could also use this information to guide her: to adjust the foods she gave us, give us some extra nutrition, provide additional immune support, etc.

Some examples include:

Too Hard: This is often a sign of dehydration, especially if the poop looks like a bunch of little balls clumped together, like Type 2. The digestive system literally does not have enough quality liquids to keep it the right consistency, so Mom would make sure we drank more water. (We grew up using reverse osmosis water filter.)

Too Loose: Too loose can mean a number of things including: consuming too much fruit (or fruit juice), eating something that you are sensitive to, and starting to get sick. If you know you did not eat a culprit food, you should assume that your body is trying to get rid of something – parasite, bacteria, virus, etc. (It could be Salmonella from the salad bar meal you ate recently.) Mom would modify our foods accordingly. She would also make sure our immune system had some extra support. (See this previous blog for immune building suggestions.)

Other Ailments: Other common health issues that are a result of not having a good bowel movement consist of headaches, back pain, and stomach aches. If we had any of these symptoms, Mom looked to our stools first to see if we needed additional help.

Constipation and Diarrhea
When you have more than the occasional hard or loose stool, more serious issues may be at play. Chronic constipation and/or diarrhea, often indicate a gut imbalance (such as a leaky gut) and/or a food sensitivity (gluten, dairy, and soy sensitivities are not uncommon). Parasites or other microbe imbalances may also be at play.

  • Constipation: Constipation is more than having a hard poop once in a while, which can happen to anyone. Chronic (long term) constipation occurs if you are constipated at least 25% of the time. It can consist of regularly straining when going, unproductive bowel movements and/or incomplete evacuation, feeling like you are blocked, or having less than three bowel movements per week. Not only does your colon get impacted, but the waste products stay in your body too long and can cause other problems.
  • Diarrhea: The opposite of constipation, diarrhea is the frequent passage of loose (mushy) or watery stools. Diarrhea can be used by your body to rid itself of a bacteria or virus. However, chronic diarrhea can be dangerous, causing dehydration and loss of nutrients. The transit time is too fast.
  • Alternating Bowel: An alternating bowel is one that has both constipation and diarrhea. This can happen when the bowels get compacted but the stool at the top of the colon continues to get fermented by the gut bacteria, getting looser, and either leaks through or comes out after the hard stool.

If you have these types of bowel movements, on a regular basis, you should work with a good health practitioner to figure out what is going on. More common gut-related illnesses include diverticulitis, Irritable Bowl Syndrome (IBS), Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), Celiac Disease, Crohn’s Disease, and Ulcerative Colitis.

A professional can help you determine if there are foods you need to eliminate, if there is a nutrient imbalance or gut infection, or if another issue needs to be addressed. Certain lab tests can be done. Muscle testing is another great tool.

Perfecting Your Bowel Movement
It is critical to have regular bowel movements so that your body gets rid of its waste products and toxins. Too many bowel movements, especially Type 4 and 5, typically indicates a transit time that is too fast and your body does not have time to absorb the nutrients in your food.

For those of you who are less than optimum, there are a number of likely culprits that can affect how your bowels move. If you go like clockwork, the same time everyday no matter where you are or what you eat, count yourself fortunate. If you tend to need a little more help, consider the following factors:

  • Eat Consciously: It is important to take the time to eat consciously. Eat only when you are hungry and stop before you overeat. You should eat when you are relaxed, not when on the run or watching TV. You should also be chewing each mouthful 30 to 50 times! Digestion, after all, begins in the mouth. There are enzymes in the mouth that start breaking down your food as well as signal your stomach to get ready for digestion.
  • Drink Water: Much of your stool consists of water, so simply drinking more good quality water can help. The exact amount will depend on your size, how much you exercise, how many fruits and veggies you eat, what medications you take, and what climate you live in. Not all liquids are created equal. Caffeinated drinks such as coffee and soda, for example, are considered dehydrating, not rehydrating. Tap water can have a similar effect on some. One of the best ways to get things moving is to drink a large glass of warm water in the morning before you drink or eat anything else. (You can also squeeze in a half lemon and/or add a pinch of quality salt for extra hydration.)
  • Fiber in Your Diet: Fiber helps create bulk in your stool. Optimally, your diet should consist of plenty of vegetables, especially leafy greens, and some fruits. Legumes are another fiber-filled food. (Processed foods have little fiber.) If your diet does not consist of adequate amounts of food fiber, then you may need to temporarily take a fiber supplement. The type of fiber will depend on the person. Two natural options include ground flax seed and psyllium hulls. 
  • Food Sensitivities: If you continue to eat foods that your body is sensitive to, it can cause irregular bowel movements. Gluten and/or casein intolerance is extremely common as well as intolerance to food additives and artificial sweeteners. Others may be sensitive to salicilites, oxalates, etc. No two people are the same, so working with a health practitioner can be very beneficial. Pesticides and genetically modified foods are also common culprits.
  • Exercise and Movement: Regular movement and exercise is critical to stimulate peristalsis and keeping your digestive process moving. Just taking a walk can make a big difference. If you sit in a desk chair all day, be sure to get up and move about every half hour or so.
  • Hormonal Changes: It is not unusual to experience constipation around menopause, as hormonal changes occur. Women may also notice differences during their monthly cycle and when pregnant. Other chronic issues, such as an underactive or overactive thyroid, can affect transit times as well.
  • Stress: Being in a constant state of “fight-or-flight” when under stress diverts resources away from the digestive system and suppresses the urge to go. Unusual situations, such as traveling and high exposures to EMFs or wireless devices, can also make an impact. Others may have a “shy bowel” and can only use the toilet under very specific conditions, making it hard to have a bowel movement at school or work, for example. However, this can catch up to you. If you keep holding it in, you can cause constipation and other bowel issues. (Getting good quality sleep is important too.)
  • Bacterial Imbalance: Taking antibiotics and eating too much processed foods and sugar (among other things) can result in “gut dysbiosis,” where harmful gut bacteria outnumber the beneficial bacteria. Changing eating habits, adding quality fermented foods, and taking certain supplements such as probiotics can help reverse this.
  • Infections: Certain microbes can cause havoc with the digestive system. These include parasites (like Giardia or Cryptosporidium), bacteria (like Salmonella, Shigella, and E. coli), viruses (like Noroviruses and Rotovirus), and yeast/fungus (including Candida), among many others. It is not uncommon for these microbes to be present in the gut for a while before they are detected. Working with a health practitioner to resolve these issues is important.
  • Chronic Illness: In addition to the typical bowel-related illness mentioned above, other chronic health conditions can affect bowel habits. These include diabetes, pancreatitis, hyperthyroidism, and multiple sclerosis to name a few. Other health issues may be specific to the anatomy of the colon, such as rectal prolapse, rectocele, and pelvic floor disorders.
  • Medications: In addition to antibiotics, other types of medications can slow down peristalsis. These include narcotic pain medications, antidepressants, calcium channel blockers, and aluminum-based antacids. Chemotherapy can dramatically change your bowel habits as well. Even natural supplements, such as those that contain iron, can cause constipation.
  • Supplements: In addition to probiotics and prebiotics, other supplement that can help with constipation include magnesium, especially magnesium citrate, and minerals. Many people are deficient in these as exposure to wireless radiation can deplete these two nutrients. Other supplements may be beneficial temporarily, such as cascara sagrada and senna.

See where you need to make some changes. It may be as simple as drinking more quality water or creating the right environment in the bathroom. Some people benefit from using a Squatty Potty or using a low stool to put your feet on so that your legs are drawn up closer to your body. This emulates a squatting position which is how people naturally went to the bathroom before toilets were invented. (You can also try sitting on the toilet the same time every day to train your colon and pelvic muscles.)

You may not have realized that poop was so important! Maybe you should start asking your loved ones how they pooped today. At least take a closer look in the toilet next time you go, before you flush.

This article was written by Sharon K. Harmon, PhD, founder of Life Design for Health. As a “Health Designer” she has a passion for helping people find their way back to optimum health by looking at the body from a unique perspective. Please contact her if you would like to know more. There is a great deal of health-related information in her blog articles and on her website, including a healing foods and pantry list and recipes that are gluten-free, dairy-free and GMO-free. She is also passionate about EMF safety.

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