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Is Your Poop Normal? 6 of Your Questions, Answered

Maurice Beer M.D.
August 24th, 2021 · 6 min read

In this article:

  • Are we really talking about poop?
  • How often should I poop?
  • What does a good bowel movement look like?
  • What should I be eating for the best bowel movements?
  • What are the best fiber supplements for constipation?
  • Should I take anything else for poop health?
  • When should I be concerned about my poop?
Whether you’re reading this while on the toilet or proactively looking for ways to better your bathroom experience, our quick guide can be your number one resource for number two.

Takeaways:

  • An ideal bowel movement has certain characteristics and these are more indicative of poop health than how often you go.
  • Eating a healthy diet with lots of fiber is a good way to promote healthy and pleasant trips to the bathroom.
  • Supplements including fiber, probiotics, and others may be a helpful way to increase your bowel movement health.

1. Are we really talking about poop?

Yes. It’s a shame that the topic is considered taboo amongst most groups in society (toddlers and teenage boys excluded). Sure, it’s not the most pleasant conversation starter for the dinner table, but when it comes to communicating with your healthcare provider you should feel free to talk about this important bodily function. Having suboptimal bowel movements can not only be uncomfortable but can be a sign of other health issues that need addressing.
Some poop trailblazers have been leading the way to shed light on this shadowy bathroom topic. Dr. Anith Sheth published the wildly popular What’s Your Poo Telling You?, a humorous book packed with “loads” of health facts. Some celebrities have been open about poo-related mishaps, like when Al Roker revealed what happened to him during a visit to the White House. He had intended to pass gas but accidentally pooped his pants, a common side-effect of the gastric bypass surgery he had just had. Hopefully all of this helps everyday people feel more comfortable discussing poop.

1. How often should I poop?

This is a common question but is actually somewhat misguided. Experts say that anything from three times per day to three times per week is “normal” for adult humans. That’s a pretty wide range. What turns out to be more important is what your bowel movements actually look like when you do go (more on that later).
That said, your comfort level with your bathroom schedule is a valid concern, even when you fall within the “normal” range. If you find yourself sitting on the toilet yet again searching “is it normal to poop three times a day” on your phone, ask yourself whether you have some discomfort with the frequency or if there are other issues causing you to be concerned about your bowel movements. Similarly, if you lie awake at night watching TikTok splinting videos, consider whether you’re actually feeling backed up and would prefer more frequent trips to the loo. (If you’re not familiar with splinting, it’s a technique involving using a finger inside the vagina to manually push poop out, and yes, it went viral on TikTok.)
Even if you are pooping regularly, note that some occasional disruptions or need to “strain” are also typical in most healthy people.

2. What does a good bowel movement look like?

Ok, time to get down to the nitty gritty (nooty poopy?) and look at what’s in your toilet. Yes, you should always look. You don’t have to spend a long time gazing admiringly, but knowing what you just passed will help you understand what’s going on in your body.
The “ideal” poop has several characteristics. The color should generally be brown. The consistency should be solid and smooth and the shape should be like a log (the Bristol Stool Form Scale is a reliable tool used by medical professionals to classify consistency and shape). Size varies from person to person, but very small “pellets” are not ideal. You should not notice an overly foul smell, but everyone’s bowel movements do have some unpleasant odor (if you think your “s--- don’t stank,” you may be experiencing loss of smell from COVID-19 or perhaps you’re the subject of that classic Outkast song).
The experience of elimination is also important. It should be relatively quick with minimal straining and not accompanied by abnormal amounts of pain.

3. What should I be eating for the best bowel movements?

Eating a balanced diet is crucial for so many aspects of well-being and poop health is certainly one of them.
The most important thing to consider is your fiber intake, since most Americans are getting well below their recommended daily amount. Foods high in fiber include some vegetables and fruits, beans, seeds, and some nuts. Adding fiber to your diet can be easy by making some daily swaps like drinking real orange juice instead of the sugary processed kind, or dipping your finger foods in hummus instead of ranch dip. It is also simple to incorporate fiber-rich ingredients like avocado or beans into the meals you prepare.
If you’ve heard that nuts cause constipation, that’s generally not true as nuts are high in fiber and promote regular bowel movements. However, it is the case that some people with severe constipation may experience worsened symptoms with increased fiber intake. Keep in mind also that if you have even slight allergic reactions to nuts, this can cause constipation as well.
Adequate water intake is also crucial for healthy bowel movements. However, if you are already constipated, simply increasing your fluid intake will not alleviate your symptoms unless you are actually dehydrated.
A balanced gut microbiome also plays a role in healthy pooping. Some find that consuming the probiotics found in fermented foods helps improve their “go,” so consider adding a side of kimchi to your fiber-rich meal.
Even armed with knowledge about what is generally recommended diet-wise, pay attention to your own eating and how it relates to your bowel movements (as well as other aspects of your health). Everyone’s body is unique and if something is working or not working for you, that’s valid.

4. What are the best fiber supplements for constipation?

Sometimes you’re eating a healthy diet full of fiber but you still need a little more. Or maybe you’re traveling and don’t have access to the homemade chia pudding you keep on hand at home. If you find yourself constipated, fiber supplements can be a more gentle way to stimulate your movements than taking harsh laxative medicines.
A few you could try:
  • Metamucil: this well-known company offers flavored fiber supplements in many forms including powders, capsules, and gummies.
  • Now psyllium husk powder: this powder can be dissolved in liquid much like Metamucil powder. However, since it is flavorless, it can also be used in baking or added to smoothies.
  • Garden of Life probiotics for women: these probiotic capsules not only support vaginal health but also promote healthy digestion and contain a prebiotic fiber blend.

5. Should I take anything else for poop health?

There are other areas besides fiber that you may want to address. Probiotic supplements can promote a healthy gut, much the way eating fermented foods does. There are also many natural remedies like ginger and triphala that have been used for years for constipation and other issues. If you are lactose intolerant, taking lactase supplements will provide the enzyme you’re lacking when you eat dairy foods, helping you avoid the unpleasant consequences in the bathroom. Similarly, digestive aids like Beano provide enzymes that reduce the negative effects of eating beans and similar foods.
One way to proactively promote bowel movement health is to do at-home lab testing to measure various biomarkers related to your diet and digestion. If something is suboptimal, it may prompt you to change your diet or take supplements to help restore balance.

6. When should I be concerned about my poop?

Many of us have had the experience of seeing bloody poop in the toilet, remembering only after a panicked web search or call to the doctor that we ate beets the prior night. Sometimes unusual colors or textures are merely caused by a particular food or medicine we ingested recently.
However, if you haven’t recently consumed any red herrings (common ones besides beets include Pepto Bismol, seaweed, and blue corn) or your stool clearly contains blood or is black and smells bad, you might have a serious issue that needs medical attention.
If you are having frequent bouts of diarrhea or constipation accompanied by cramping or bloating, you may be suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a common disorder that remains frustratingly difficult to understand. Recent research hints that an allergic reaction in the digestive system may be involved.
Remember that an occasional “off” poop is normal, but if you are habitually suffering from difficult bathroom trips, this could be a sign of a larger health issue and could also lead to secondary problems like hemorrhoids or anal fissures.
If you have any concerns or questions about your bowel movements, make sure to discuss them with your healthcare provider. There’s no longer any need to be embarrassed about this natural and important function of the human body.

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