The Bowel Movement Story
By Jackie Cartier
June 20, 2016
We're going into uncharted territory here at Nutritional Weight & Wellness with a new topic—poop. Honestly, we're a bit surprised it's taken us so long to discuss such an important aspect of health. You've heard us call the gut (otherwise known as your intestinal tract, which is the path bowel movements travel through your body) our "second brain" because gut health is a true indication of whole body health. That said it makes sense that your bowel movements are a window into your body, which is helpful since we're often left guessing about what is going on in our own bodies. We have clues, yes, but none are as consistent (hopefully) as your bowel movements.
Dr. Kristin Struble, MD, FAAP, and author of the one-of-a-kind children's book How to Be A "Poop" Detective, agrees and makes the case for checking before you flush, "It's time to look for food-eating clues, as all good Poop Detectives do. Stop eating and drinking the garbage that is messing up your poo!" Dr. Struble continues with "Your pipe is warning you ... "Be on full alert! There's something you put into your mouth that made your body hurt.""
Before we go any further, it's important to note that most of the time stool variety in size, shade and frequency is directly related to what you've been eating—food you consume generally takes about three days or so to pass through your system. Dr. Struble adds, "A good Poop Detective asks himself: When and what did I last eat or drink? Was it the milk or was it the cheese? What is really making me stink?"
However, consistent changes to your bowel movements that last more than a week or two could be indicating something a bit more complicated. Now don't take this idea as an invitation to overanalyze! Just know that some variety is normal, but consistent and uncomfortable changes for the worse are not.
First, what exactly is poop? To better answer that Dr. Struble summarizes the stool process with a rhyme, "From that food, your body's pipe absorbs all the vitamins you need to grow. What's left is pushed on through the pipe and comes out down below." Of course, adults eat real food to stay healthy, not to grow. And let's not forget about all the water. In addition to the remnants of your recent meals, your stool can contain up to 70% water.
Ok, now onto the nitty gritty (literally); what should you be looking for when it comes to your poop? Dr. Struble's answer? The 5 S's! See the chart below for descriptions of what each S should ideally stand for. We'd also add that "regular" means anywhere from one to three bowel movements a day.
Bowel Movements Decoded
Sure, the graphic above shares the ideal poop ... but what about if your BMs aren't quite as they should be? Here are some common stool characteristics our nutritionists hear and what they may indicate.
- Small, hard pieces of stool – Lack of fiber and water. Amp up the amount of vegetables you're consuming. Don't be fooled by marketing ploys that claim cereal, breads or snack bar are "fiber rich" because vegetables will always be the best source of fiber. Additionally, this type of stool could signify constipation, food sensitivities and/or poor intestinal health.
- Diarrhea – If you're having frequent, loose, watery or urgent stools it could be a sign of food sensitives. It can also be related to the type of bacteria in your intestinal tract and a sign of something more serious. If diarrhea persists for more than a few days, focus on getting more fluids than normal since you're losing a lot of water.
- Floating stool – Intolerance to lactose from dairy products or a sensitivity to gluten grain products are two of the leading causes of floating stool. Another possible reason is from excess gas in your intestinal tract formed often from artificial sweeteners especially from products with sugar alcohols. The extra gas in your stool leads to a light, floating stool. On a more serious side, a floating stool could indicate an intestinal infection.
- Black or dark red stool – Your digestive tract is calling out and while it could be nothing, it also could be serious. Consult a doctor if you see this more than once. However, if you're taking iron supplements or recently consumed Pepto-Bismol® both of those can also turn your stool black, and beets can turn stool red, so no need for alarm.
- Oily stool – Oil on the surface of the toilet bowl water indicates excess fat in your digestive tract, which means something is preventing your body's ability to absorb fats from food. This is often seen with celiac disease or gallbladder issues. See a doctor if this persists.
- Constipation – Often times this indicates that you're not getting enough water and/or not enough fiber. Another reason for constipation could be a drop in physical activity. Going for a walk or doing certain yoga poses can help stimulate the muscles and nerves in the gut to get things flowing. If constipation doesn't resolve with those tips, there might be a larger cause of something that's causing it like food sensitivities.
Get Things Moving
To maintain good bowel movements or get back on track, our first recommendation is always to clean up your diet and eliminate processed foods. As Dr. Struble says, the first place to start is by asking, "When and what did I last eat and drink?"
Confused on what to eat? We recommend eating the Weight & Wellness Way—a variety of animal protein, carbohydrates in the form of vegetables and fruit, along with good healthy fats like avocados, coconut oil, olives or nuts to repopulate diverse bacteria. Additionally, we highly suggest daily probiotics, especially bifidobacteria, which helps our intestinal tract stay balanced and aids in good digestion. Bifidobacteria should make up 70% of the beneficial bacteria in your small intestinal tract. We offer a Bifido Balance that our nutritionists advise clients take one to two capsules ten to fifteen minutes before each meal. It's important to take Bifido Balance on an empty stomach so that digestion of your food doesn't interfere. Bifidobacteria helps crowd out other bad bacteria. Some people notice a difference within just a few days of starting it, while others notice they feel better within a few weeks.
For more specifics on bowel movements, check out our latest Dishing Up Nutrition podcast, The Story Your Elimination Tells with special guest Dr. Struble.