Here’s the poop.
What goes in must come out, one way or another. What your body doesn’t burn for energy or store as fat from the food you eat gets eliminated from your body through either urine or feces. And what comes out tells a very accurate story of what’s going on in all the systems inside your body.
Even devoid of symptoms, the texture and frequency of your bowel movements can tell you if all is well or if something is a little off.
Your body doesn’t allow you to hide anything
You notice pretty quickly when something you eat doesn’t agree with you. If you have chronic–or even occasional–stools that don’t seem to be as they should be, you should pay attention to what your body is telling you.
Here is a poop scale to help you gauge what normal, healthy dookies should look like with some advice on what to do if you’re at one end of the scale or the other. It’s a little graphic but a picture is worth a thousand words.
Types 1 and 2 are what you manage to squeeze out when you’re stopped up–constipation. Food isn’t fully digested resulting in lumps–you can see whole pieces among the excelsior.
Constipation can happen for many reasons and can usually be treated with diet and exercise. Dietary fiber will help to push things through: prunes (or any dried fruit), leafy green vegetables, raw grain brans (oat and rice are easiest to digest), beans, berries, and nuts are all high in fiber.
Even moderate exercise helps your body work better; blood flows more freely, muscles are flexed, cells receive the oxygen they need, and your digestive system processes food more efficiently to give you energy. Drinking enough water is crucial for healthy stools–dehydration will cause your lower intestine to absorb as much moisture as it can to purge waste, leaving you with a very hard, lumpy product.
At the other end of the doodie scale is diarrhea, examples of Types 6 and 7. A funny word for a not-so-funny condition. Diarrhea is often accompanied by cramps and stomach upset. It can be caused by illness, allergies, medications, conditions like irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn’s disease, stress, or food poisoning. Dairy products and artificial sweeteners can also make food run through you. Chronically loose bowel movements are a real cause for concern and can indicate something serious.
Any significant changes should be addressed
If you routinely go from one end of the spectrum to the other, it could be a sign of irritable bowel syndrome and should be checked out by your healthcare provider.
If your stools are in the normal range, keep up the good work! There are things you can do to ensure you stay on the right track.
Probiotics are healthy bacteria that help your body break down food, keep the liver clean, and fight infection. Many delicious sources of these can be easily incorporated into your diet. Fermented foods are at the top of the list: sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, miso, tempeh, and yogurt are readily available.
Changing your body position while eliminating can help the physical purging of waste. Like giving birth in a semi-prone or upright position rather than lying flat on your back, gravity is already there so we might as well use it to our advantage.
Squatting improves the anorectal angle so waste has a straighter path to the outside world. Putting your feet up on a stool (the kind you step on to make you taller) while you sit on the toilet can accomplish this.
What and how you eat matters
The refined sugar and carbohydrates in processed foods can wreak havoc with your whole body. Avoid them. If you have a wheat sensitivity–which can cause gas, bloating, abdominal pain, and abnormal stools–try cutting out/down on gluten products.
Overeating overloads your systems in every way and increases the chances for defecation difficulties. Caffeine can also adversely affect digestion; if you experience unusual eliminations, try cutting down to see if that’s the culprit. Regularly high stress levels are detrimental for all aspects of life; do what you can to manage it comfortably.
How much water should you drink? It depends on your age, weight, activity level, and environmental temperature. A hydration calculator can help you target the right amount for you. A rule of thumb is two liters (about half a gallon) per day.
How much fiber should you eat? People under fifty need more than those older. Concentrate on healthy and not processed fiber: vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts. A combination of soluble and insoluble fibers is important to keep the digestive system working optimally.
|Age 50 or younger||Age 51 or older|
|Men||38 grams||30 grams|
|Women||25 grams||21 grams|
Keep track of any significant changes to texture, color, and smell of your feces. It will reflect what you’ve eaten but regular gray or pale stools can signal gallstones, yellow can mean you’re eating too much fat, and drastic changes in the frequency in which you have to go can mean something is going on internally that you should address.
As J.D. said in “Scrubs”: “everything comes down to poo”.