I don’t remember how the conversation about bowel movements started. It was one holiday or some family event. I do remember my sister, Denise, arching an eyebrow at me and saying:
“You’re a vegetarian. You must be like a goose now.”
“I don’t know if I am as loose as goose but I’m good for about a three day.”
“What! That’s too much. That’s not normal!” exclaimed another family member, whom I am sure would prefer to have her identity remain private.
“How often do you poop?” I asked.
“Once every five days or so,” she said.
I am not sure if I said anything at the time but that sounded a little constipated to me… Turns out, there is no normal range of exactly how often one should move their bowels.
The major determinate of whether your bowel movements are regular is, well, what comes out. Guess what? There is a chart for that! It’s called the Bristol Stool Chart. (Go ahead, Google it right now… I’ll wait.) There are seven types of stools, ranging from Type 1, separate hard lumps, to Type 7, completely fluid. The normal range is Type 3, resembling a cracked sausage and Type 4, looking like a smooth, soft snake. So, if your poo is too hard or too soft, you’ve got work to do!
What to do if you are on the low end of the chart:
- Drink more water.
- Get more fiber in your diet like fruit, veggies, greens, seeds (like chia and pumpkin seeds!) whole grains and legumes. (Special shout-out to my dad, Hank Lenz, who is a long-time proponent of psyllium husks!)
- Eat less meat. Animal fat is a lot harder to digest and will hang around, putrefying in your bowels until some nice leafy green or grain brushes it through.
- Get regular exercise. Moving your body will make everything work better including your bowels. Yoga and stretching can be especially effective for helping with digestive issues.
- Try a probiotic. Probiotics will help restore the digestive flora in your gut. Gut flora can be compromised by illness, poor nutrition or even medication like an antibiotic.
- Avoid commercial laxatives if possible. Chemical laxatives and stool softeners will weaken your peristaltic muscles, making it more difficult for your body to evacuate on its own the longer you use them.
- Change your position. Technically, it’s better to squat than sit when moving the bowels. If you find that you are straining, it’s advisable to get your knees up higher than your waist and lean forward. You can keep a stool or squatty potty near the toilet for this purpose. If you are feeling exceptionally limber, go ahead and squat right on the toilet by drawing your knees up and placing your feet on the seat.
What to do if you are on the high end of the chart:
- Drink water. Although, it seems counter-intuitive at that moment, it’s important to keep your fluids up especially if you have diarrhea. You are losing fluids quickly and they must be replaced or you risk becoming dehydrated.
- Avoid meat and dairy.
- Follow a BRAT diet if you have diarrhea until your condition improves. BRAT stands for bananas, rice, applesauce and toast.
- Charcoal capsules can also be used for diarrhea to absorb toxins and excess fluid.
- Rest! Diarrhea maybe a symptom of food poisoning or infection. So, it is important give your body time to heal itself. (You’re probably not going to want to stray too far from the bathroom anyway!)
- Eat pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix!!!) Pumpkin flesh is great for diarrhea because it contains electrolytes, potassium and soluble dietary fiber. (By the way pumpkin is also excellent to give your canine buddy if he or she has diarrhea.)
- Diarrhea can also be the body’s last-ditch effort to deal with constipation, by liquifying the contents of your colon in a “blazing lights and siren” emergency sort of way. So, if you find you tend to get diarrhea after a bout of constipation, take a look at the first set of suggestions above.
Make sure that if you are on either extreme of the chart for an extended period of time, you get examined by a qualified healthcare professional. Diarrhea and constipation can be indicators of a serious illness and should not be ignored. Diarrhea can cause dehydration. Prolonged constipation can lead to fecal impaction. Contact your health care provider if you notice blood or abnormal colors in your stool. Similarly, if your stool has an unusually foul odor, you also want to get that checked out.
Do be sure to give your excrement at least a once-over before you flush! It’s an excellent indication of what is going on with your health in general.
Many blessings to all,