I’m excellent at pooping — I poop every day, sometimes as many as three times. Every morning, like clockwork, I enter the bathroom and empty myself out completely. It's typically over in under a minute. I'm never constipated, I never have diarrhea, I'm never bloated, there's no straining, and I barely need to wipe. I usually repeat this morning routine two more times before bed.
This is not something I often share publicly; as a society, we tend to shun poop talk. Not to mention that for women, bathroom topics are especially fraught. Privately, though, this skill brings me much joy.
That's because pooping well not only feels great, it also means your body is working properly. Diarrhea can indicate a food allergy, parasites, infections, IBS, or Crohn’s. Serious constipation is also a sign of internal problems, and can result in a host of unpleasant effects such as hemorrhoids, anal fissures, or an impacted bowel — a condition where a large, dry mass of stool is stuck inside your rectal zone. Strange-looking poos or non-productive poo habits offer an easy way to spot problems, yet we don’t discuss gastrointestinal health nearly enough.
When it comes to pooping habits, "there is no normal" gastroenterologist Dr. Patricia Raymond tells Bustle. “When we are trying to make people poop who are dissatisfied, we aim for one CSBM (complete spontaneous bowel movement) per day. You shouldn’t strain or rush to the bathroom, and you should feel like you got everything out.” In my household, we call a CSBM a P² — a perfect poo.
If you're concerned about how your poo might rate, consult one of the most commonly used diagnostic tools: the Bristol Stool Chart. It ranks seven categories of excrement from “very constipated” to “normal” to “lacking fibre” to “inflammation.” Take a gander; there’s imagery:
In search of your CSBM/P²? Here’s my healthy pooping roadmap:
1. Make Some Additions To Your Diet
Fiber isn’t a panacea, but as Dr. Raymond reminds, the typical American diet is light on this staple. Aim to fill up on dietary fiber (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds) instead of the medical options sold in drugstores; seven servings per day will do you. Fiber can help with both constipation and diarrhea. Just increase your intake gradually to avoid bloating and other digestive unpleasantness.
Water is crucial for all excretion purposes. Just like with fiber, most people are probably not hydrating enough. Medical experts recommend around four to six cups per day (people who exercise or are pregnant should drink more). Try starting your morning with a bowel-moving mug of warm water with lemon — hot liquids get your gut moving.
Probiotics can aid digestion too. You can either take capsules, or get healthy bacteria from fermented food sources like kimchi, yogurt, or kefir. A diverse gut bacteria community or microbiome is essential for a P². Scientists are particularly excited about this link in the excrement chain right now.
2. Subtract Some Items From Your Diet
Sometimes, it’s more about what you shouldn’t be eating. My bathroom habits weren't always perfect. For years, I ignored my lactose intolerance, eating cheese pizzas and ice cream that kept me up all night with stomach pain. Finally, I completely overhauled my diet, doing away with all dairy. I also cut way back on alcohol, caffeine, carbs, and meat.
According to the Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, “common foods and drinks linked to diarrhea and bowel control problems” are: dairy products, caffeinated beverages, cured or smoked meats, spicy foods, alcohol, fatty or greasy foods, some fruits (apples, peaches, pears), and sweeteners in diet drinks and sugarless products. “Meat is one of those things that can be not stellar for your GI track,” says Dr. Raymond. “A diet high in animal fats and low in dietary fiber can increase your risk of bowel cancer.”
I follow all these rules. This doesn't make me the life of the party. When you're the one asking the waiter what, exactly, is in that fish dish, or you're the one at the bar who isn't drinking, it can be tough, socially. I drink a ton of water, take a daily probiotic (and snack on fermented foods), load up on vegetables, and eat very little meat. My typical breakfast is warm water with lemon, then this smoothie plus some hemp seeds, then a small coffee. It's a one-two-three punch that's wildly effective.
3. Make Small Lifestyle Changes
If you find yourself straining a lot when you get to the commode, you should invest in a Squatty Potty, which retails for just $24.99 on Amazon. Reviews are glowing. Writes one happy customer, “This is by far the best bathroom accessory you can buy. I like to poop. It's literally the first thing I do in the morning. This will make it that more enjoyable. Sit down, pull it out from the toilet, put your feet up, and bombs away! It feels like a straight pipe coming from your colon. Remember those difficult to push out BMs? No more! With just a slight push, you are done.” Disclosure: I bought a Squatty Potty for my husband as a joke last year, and neither of us expected it would be effective. Turns out, it's incredible. In the morning, we jockey for it.
“Toilet posture is important,” Squatty Potty creator Bobby Edwards, who originally created the stool for his mother and has sold more than $15 million worth of the product this year, tells Bustle. “[The Squatty Potty] takes us back to the proper position and posture of elimination. We get a lot of emails from people who say this has changed their life.” Stools like the Squatty Potty are all-around great, but can work especially well for people with pelvic floor dysfunction (common after childbirth), says Dr. Raymond. The magic of the Squatty Potty is that it makes everything about elimination much easier, removing the need to strain and seriously cutting the time you'll need in the bathroom.
For clients that have excretion issues, Dr. Raymond sometimes recommends timed toileting (aka teaching people to poop on demand). Here’s how it works: Eat a high-fat breakfast followed by strong hot coffee followed by a brisk walk around the block. Then, go and sit on the commode. Repeat daily.
4. Exercise Regularly
When your stomach's all bound up, something as simple as a long walk can provide incredible relief. Exercise helps to move food through your digestive track, as any long-distance runner can testify. Try eating a huge Thanksgiving meal, then parking yourself on the couch. The result? You feel tired and bloated. In addition to walking, I find yoga hugely effective. It's hard to find scientific studies to back up my experience (is no one in medicine concerned about the yoga/great poops connection?), but anecdotally, I can say that the deep twists and stretches definitely stimulate my digestive system.
None of these recommendations are earth-shattering, sure. Eat right, drink enough water, get adequate exercise — this isn't just an outline of how to poop better, it's also tried-and-true advice for overall wellness. But like noted pooping evangelist Cameron Diaz says, poo, like pee, or snot, or anything else that leaks out of your orifices, speaks volumes about your health. We aren't just what we eat, we're also what we poop.