Talking about your bowel movements isn't the most pleasant conversation, but your poop can tell you much about your health. Regular bowel habits can be compared to cleaning your house. It's your body's way of taking out the trash and getting rid of the dust bunnies. If you don't do it on a regular basis, the house starts to smell and bacteria can start to grow. This begins a downward spiral of declining health as inflammation starts to build.
How often should you poop?
Bowel movements can vary widely from person to person. Studies have shown that anywhere from 3 stools per day to 3 per week is acceptable. Most people have a regular schedule of a certain number of times per day or week at a specific time of the day. Therefore, the definition of an irregular bowel schedule really depends on what is "typical" for that person. You should become concerned when your "usual" changes.
How long does it take the food you eat to end up in the toilet?
The average time it takes from the time food is eaten until it is passed as undigested fiber (poop) is 40 hours. A range of 12-72 hours can still be normal. Each person's body is slightly different. A healthy bowel movement should be painless and not require you to strain. The question is "What does your poop look like after it passes?" Your poop can tell you a lot about your health!
5 Tips to Help with Bowel Regularity
- Drink plenty of water spread throughout the day. Dehydration can cause constipation. This may make your stool look like a 1-3 on the Bristol Stool Scale. Your poop may be difficult to pass and you may be having bowel movements less often. Chronic constipation can put you at risk for developing hemorrhoids and diverticulitis (inflamed pockets on the inside of your intestines).
- Eat plenty of fiber from fruits, veggies, whole grains and seeds. Fiber helps to build bulk in the stool as well as draws fluid into the stool to soften it. I recommend aiming for at least 25 grams of total fiber per day. Some high fiber food examples include 1/2 cup beans or lentils (8g), 1 piece of whole fruit or 3/4 cup berries (3g), 3/4 cup whole grains like wild rice, buckwheat, quinoa, or barley (5-14 g), 1 cup broccoli, carrots, zucchini or winter squash (6g). Start to look at the Nutrition Facts labels to compare Total Fiber amounts in all products.
- Get moving! Exercise helps the food you eat move through your digestive system faster. This limits the amount of water your body absorbs from the stool helping it stay softer and easy to pass. This doesn't have to mean a sweaty workout. Just walking 10-15 minutes per day can be helpful.
- Establish a bowel training routine. Set aside a predictable time to use the bathroom each day at a time you're not rushed. If you have a history of constipation, this may mean sitting on the toilet for 10 minutes without anything happening, but this is part of retraining your body. Don't hold your stool in...when you gotta go, you gotta go.
- Address any food sensitivities. Constipation, diarrhea or a combination of the two, especially when combined with chronic gas and bloating is a sign of food sensitivities or intolerances. A Low FODMAP Diet can be a place to start. Natural and added sugars in foods, beverages, and chewing gum could be a culprit. Click here to read more about if a Low FODMAP Diet may be helpful for you.
3 signs that your bowels may be abnormal
- Painful gas and bloating that makes you feel uncomfortable. Gas is normal, but it should not be painful. Diet changes can help you to eliminate this problem and get back to feeling yourself! Click here to read more about how much gas and bloating is actually normal.
- Blood, mucous, or oily residue in your stool. This could be a sign of Irritable Bowel Disease and should be immediately discussed with your doctor. If serious conditions have been ruled out then diet changes and supplemental probiotics may help improve the inflammation that is likely present in your gut.
- Constipation or Diarrhea. If your bowel movements are 1-2 or 6-7 on the Bristol Stool Scale this is a "red flag". Nutrients aren't able to be absorbed well if food is traveling too fast through your intestines (diarrhea). On the flip side, too slow of movement (constipation) can interfere with your body removing toxic waste products. All bowel irregularity can also lead to changes in your gut microbiome or the types of "good" vs. "bad" bacteris in your intestines.
Your bowel habits and overall look of your poop can tell you a lot about your overall health so don't continue to suffer with constipation, diarrhea or painful gas and bloating. Schedule an appointment today to talk about how diet changes can help you! Your health insurance may be able to cover your visits at no cost to you. Nutrition Dynamix takes pride in assessing each patient's individual needs. There is no single diet that is perfect for everybody's bowel health.
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