Sometimes, I feel like I’m living every 12-year-old boys’ dream when I talk with my clients about poop. Frequency, consistency, and appearance are important in determining overall health. Today, we’re diving in and dissecting what could be wrong with your stool and what it should look like.
Your stool can be used for testing to diagnose disease, determine the variety of gut flora, and the foundation of a solid joke. Badum-tssss.
Your stool can tell me a lot about your health, particularly your digestive health. It can tell me if you’re:
- Consuming enough fiber and water
- Too stressed out and you don’t know it
- Exercising too aggressively
- Consuming foods your body doesn’t quite agree with (rebellion at its finest!)
- How well you know your own body.
Most people take a look in the toilet when they’re done. It just happens. We may not talk about it with others (unless you’re my son) but we look. Who knows why. Perhaps there is something ingrained in our DNA that requires us to turn around and take a peek. Or it may just be sheer curiosity.
Regardless, looking is normal and good.
I talk poop with all my clients
I don’t prep them in advance so they know it’s coming but I ease it into our initial session. I do my best to not make it uncomfortable for them since talking poop with a stranger is always weird. I usually start with benign poop questions like frequency, etc. And then I’ll get down to business – again badum-tsss! Here are some of the questions I may ask:
- How often are you going?
- Is it hard or difficult to pass?
- Does it sink or float?
- Are the edges flat or is the stool ribbon-like?
- Is it overly foul-smelling?
- What color is it?
- Describe what it looks like.
For some clients, I ask this at each of their sessions because this tells me a lot about their overall health and how they’re progressing along. Here’s what I am looking for when I ask each of these questions:
1. A healthy bowel releases one to three times daily.
Everybody should be passing stool at least once per day. I’ll say it again…you should poop daily! If you poop more than three times daily, that’s an indication your bowels are moving faster than they need. This robs you of the nutrients you’re consuming from your food. We would also need to figure out why they are moving so quickly.
If you’re going less than once daily, your stool is hanging out a bit too long and your body will start to recycle the waste back into your body. This isn’t a good thing!
2. I know there are some that make their bathroom trip their “me” time.
And that’s okay. When else can you slip away from the outside world undisturbed? Hopefully, you’re undisturbed, unless you have a toddler or brought your phone in and people keep texting you. Regardless of how much time you spend in the loo, you should only be spending a few minutes on the throne pooping. There should be no grunting, forcing, cursing, bracing, or screaming. You should be able to sit down and pass your stool with no pain and without breaking a sweat. If you struggle, there’s something amiss. And if you don’t feel empty, you’re constipated regardless of how often you poop.
3. Floating stool could indicate you are not absorbing the fats that you are eating.
In case you’re wondering, this is not a good thing. It could indicate a too quick transit time. Or there’s something bigger going on with your gallbladder. So I may ask some follow up questions about that. My first question would be, do you have one. If the answer is yes, I want to know how their gallbladder feels (right side pain or should blade pain). And if they have any other bowel issues. There’s a lot to unpack with this one.
4. If the edges of your stool are flat or perhaps your poop looks like a ribbon on a party package, I need to know.
To me, this indicates you may have something going on in your colon that I’d like for you to chat with your doctor about. I may also ask if you’ve had a colonoscopy, how recently, and what the results were. Something as simple as hemorrhoids could cause this. And something as major as polyps, Crohn’s, or colitis could cause this.
5. Yes, poop smells.
But you know your poop better than anyone else. Is it smellier than it normally is? Have there been any changes to the odor? This is important because it could be a sign that you’re not breaking down your food properly. And we need to figure out why.
6. Color is key.
Yes, your poop will change colors from time to time. For instance, if you have beets, you may notice the next day your poop is red or much darker than normal. This is okay if you actually consumed beets. It’s similar to babies who eat lots of peas and then poop green. But for the most part, unless you eat beets daily, your poop should be brown. The brown color comes from bile used to break down the fatty acids you consume.
7. It should look like soft-serve ice cream.
It shouldn’t be hard, broken in pieces, or super loose like diarrhea or watery. I’ll show you what I mean in a second here. Picture soft-serve coming out of the machine…this is what healthy poop looks like.
I like to use the Bristol Stool Chart. This chart was designed by Dr. Stephen Lewis and Dr. Ken Heaton at the Bristol Royal Infirmary in Bristol, England. Both gastroenterologists created a useful tool for all health practitioners to use to help patients/clients feel more comfortable discussing poop. We need to discuss poop because it’s a “gateway” to health!
Here’s the chart:
Where do you stand?
You should be at a 4. I know that it shows 3 as normal as well but I don’t like 3. I also know that many practitioners don’t like 3 either. It means you’re going down the path of limited fiber and perhaps limited water. It also may indicate your transit time is slowing. So, let’s shoot for 4…soft serve ice cream.
If you OCCASIONALLY experience something else for a very short period of time, that’s okay. If it returns to normal in a day or so, I wouldn’t be alarmed. If it never returns, I’d start digging in to find the answer to the change.
So, what are some things you can do in an attempt to correct your poop? You’re welcome to follow the process below, but just know this does not apply to everyone. If you’re experiencing long-term poop abnormalities, I’d bring it up with your physician or your nutritionist/dietitian (but they should have already asked).
1. Check your fiber and water intake.
You should be drinking half your body weigh in ounces daily. So, if you’re 100 lbs, you should be drinking 50 oz of water daily. Do not include working out in this equation. What you drink in the gym doesn’t count.
Ensure you’re consuming 25 to 35 grams of fiber daily. This comes from whole grains and vegetables, to name a few places.
2. Are you managing your stress?
We all have stress but what are you doing to manage yours? Do you:
- Have an outlet?
- Take walks?
- Have fun?
- Laugh daily?
- Do yoga?
Are you picking up what I’m putting down here? Stress can cause diarrhea and bloat. Many cases of IBS are stress-induced. Managing your stress may be all you really need to bring your stools back to the consistency they should be.
Find an outlet that works for you and do it daily. Fun Fact: I over-exercised and overstressed myself into IBS a few years ago. I changed my workout routine and worked really hard to reduce my stress and…viola!
3. You could always add in probiotic or fermented food!
Fermented veggies are so yummy by themselves or on a cracker. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it! You can buy a variety these days. And fermented veg is definitely better, in my opinion, than taking a probiotic. But some will need probiotics, therapeutically, if they have specific health conditions.
4. Maybe you’re eating something that does not agree with the body.
For a few weeks, track what you eat and how you feel afterward. It could be so simple as a specific food is wreaking havoc on your digestive system. Removing that food could change your life, literally.
That’s it. That’s poop in a nutshell…so to speak. How’s your poop? Do you know what your poop looks like? Are you at a 4 on the Bristol stool chart?
Sunny Brigham, MS, CNS, LDN is a board-certified clinical nutritionist and a licensed dietitian-nutritionist with an MS in Clinical Nutrition. She helps women reduce fatigue, eliminate bloat, and lose weight by healing the digestive tract, reversing Hashimoto’s, and repairing their relationship with food. Find out more at Complete Health. Article reposted from Complete Health.