Bowel movements can either signal that you’re doing great, or suggest health challenges before other symptoms arise.
So, it is important we check out the messages, our poop is providing us
Gut Health – normal poop are soft and formed (not hard or lumpy). They are passed without urgency or straining. Water makes up more than 70% of our stool. The rest is a stinky combination of fiber, dead and live bacteria, cells and mucus. Soluble fiber found in foods like beans and nuts is broken down during digestion and forms a gel-like substance that becomes part of poop. On the other hand, foods packed with insoluble fiber, such as corn, oat bran, and carrots, are more difficult for the body to digest, which explains why they may emerge in our poop looking relatively unchanged.
When our gut is healthy and everything is working properly, it produces healthy poop. Problematic poo signals that something is interfering with our gut’s operations. This could indicate:
blood sugar irregularities
disrupted circadian rhythm (e.g. jet lag, shift work)
medications like antibiotics and painkillers
chronic diseases like Crohn’s and colitis
Choose whole, minimally processed foods like fruit, vegetables, and fresh fish – the richest sources of nutrients our gut needs.
Practice eating slowly and mindfully, and tune into your physical hunger and satiety cues.
This will help take care of any deficiencies and ensure that your food doesn’t move too quickly through the GI tract and hinder nutrient absorption.
Healthy poop should sink in the toilet – floating stools are often an indication of high fat content, which can be a sign of mal-absorption, a condition in which you can’t absorb enough fat and other nutrients from the food you’re ingesting. When your poop floats, it may also be associated with celiac disease or chronic pancreatitis.
Bowel movements are a necessity of life. They allow you to empty waste from your diet via your intestines. While all people make bowel movements, the frequency varies greatly.
Some researchers indicate that anywhere from three bowel movements a day to three a week can be normal. Sometimes the consistency of a person’s stool can be a more significant indicator of bowel health than frequency. However, if a person doesn’t poop often enough or too frequently, both can cause severe health problems.
You’re dehydrated – if your poo is small and hard, you may assume you need more fiber—but it may actually mean you‘re not getting enough water.
Why you should care
Water helps move waste through and keep gut flora healthy. If you’re not getting enough water, these two things won’t happen effectively.
If the gut needs water and isn’t getting it, it’ll pull that water from elsewhere to get the job done, which can compromise other systems. For instance, you might get muscle cramping or a dry mouth.
How to fix it
Drink more water, especially during and after workouts.
Look at your overall beverage consumption. How much of that is juice, soda, caffeinated drinks, and/or alcohol? Could you substitute water for those things instead, or at least alternate glasses of water with each beer or coffee?
You’re too stressed
Remember, your GI tract is connected to your central nervous system. Your upstairs brain and your “gut brain” talk to each other.
When you’re stressed (or afraid, or anxious, or rushed, or overwhelmed), your brain and gut know, and your digestion slows down.
Ever had the experience of not being able to eat when you’re feeling especially anxious? That’s because blood flow and enzyme production in the gut are limited during stress.
Your GI tract may slow down so that your body can focus on dealing with what it sees as a threat, so you may find yourself constipated, bloated, and dealing with indigestion.
Or your body may follow an “everyone out of the pool” policy, and things may run right through you.
Bottom line: If you’re constipated or frequently rushing to the toilet, your stress levels may be past the area of “good stress” and into unhealthy territory.
Why you should care
If your poo is telling you you’re too stressed, you might also be dealing with:
grief, loss, sadness
low sex drive, poor fertility, and/or a disrupted menstrual cycle (if you’re female)
How to fix it
Take stress seriously. Think about how to take care of you. (You’re worth it, after all.)
Make de-stressing a regular part of your routine.
Try stuff like:
getting outside for a walk… or just outside in general;
getting some sun and fresh air;
listening to relaxing music;
meditating and other mindfulness practices;
getting a massage;
taking a hot bath;
taking a few really good deep breaths;
snuggling a loved one or pet;
yoga, gentle mobility, and/or slow stretching exercises;
gentle swimming or water immersion (such as a hot tub);
relaxing in a sauna;
having sex (see? who says nutrition coaching is boring?);
physically playing (yes, playing… remember that?).
Follow basic food hygiene.
Wash your hands often, wash produce, keep your kitchen clean.
But don’t go scorched-earth. Regular, non-antibacterial soap and water are usually fine.
Eat a wide variety of produce.
Diversity in your diet means diversity in your nutrient intake and microbiome, so cast a wide net.
Try adding cultured and fermented foods to your diet.
This may include foods like:
fermented dairy such as yogurt, kefir, quark and skyr
fermented non-dairy such as almond or coconut milk yogurt
kimchi and other Korean-style pickled vegetables (which are traditionally fermented rather than brined)
traditionally made miso, tempeh, and tofu, if you can find it
You may also consider a probiotic supplement. In North America, look for brands with the Good Manufacturing Process (GMP) sticker.
Take your time to taste your food and notice how it makes you feel.
Slowing down will help your GI tract do its job (it hates to be rushed). It’ll help you eat the right amount for your body.
Paying attention to how your food makes you feel can tip you off to any food intolerances.
All of these help you maintain a healthy weight, healthy gut function, and healthy poo.
Talk to your doctor or nutrition coach about an elimination diet if you’re concerned about a food sensitivity, allergy, or intolerance.
We need water to move things through our GI tract.
Drink up—especially on hot days and when you’re active.
Manage your stress
Too much stress can harm your health.
If stress or anxiety are either plugging you up or opening the sluice gates, try some stress management techniques and improve the quality of your sleep.
Give yourself time to go to the bathroom. Respect your body’s needs; if you have to evacuate your colon, do it.
Grow a garden and/or hang out at a farm.
If you live in a city, try joining a community garden project. If you can, drop by a farm occasionally—buy some fresh foods, get a little soil under your fingernails.
Being exposed to beneficial soil bacteria (such as Mycobacterium vaccae, which may even act as an antidepressant and immune system booster) can help diversify your microbiome.
As a plus, a little fresh air and time amongst plants can help decrease stress.
Know when to go to the doc.
If you notice red in your stool that isn’t from red gummi bears or beets, talk to your doctor.
While the presence of blood (which can be red or black) can be relatively benign (such as hemorrhoids), it can also be serious (such as colon cancer).
One look at your poo is not a complete health assessment. That said, it can tip you off about possible health concerns, where early detection matters.
Don’t try to diagnose on your own: if something strange is going on with your poo, talk to your doctor.
If you’re curious, get your microbiome tested.
Thanks to modern science, you can now learn more about your own unique microbiome. Through programs like Viome you can get your microbiome tested through an online kit.
Bear in mind that there isn’t an industry standard in place yet. We still don’t know what the “best” balance of microbiota is. However, a test can tell you the basics, such as how diverse your internal ecosystem is.