Earlier this week we talked all about digestion and all of the potential issues that can be strongly related to or even caused by poor digestion. Sometimes we aren’t always aware of the signs our bodies are trying to give us that something might be a bit off, but our poop is one sure way to tell if your digestion isn’t moving as smoothly (pun intended) as it could be.
We’re going to talk about some of the issues that can cause problems or change your poop, what to look, and some ways you can improve your number 2.
First of all, pooping should not be a marathon event. We want to get you to the point where you can sit down, do your business easily and not have any time to read a magazine! No need to bring reading material. I’m always surprised when I realize how many people are in the washroom long enough to read a book or a magazine.
Undigested food in your stool is usually a sign of poor digestion that is happening. Often people will mention specific foods that don’t pass well, and there can be several reasons for this. Sometimes there are particular foods like corn or nuts that can be difficult for our bodies to break down. It can also be an issue of chewing food thoroughly before swallowing, which seems like such a small step but can make an enormous difference. You don’t need to count chews to a particular number, simply ensure your food is completely broken up and will be easy to swallow.
Issues that can cause problems with pooping:
- Poor sleep
- Lack of physical movement
- Hormonal imbalances
- Medications, including birth control pill
- Crohn’s, IBS, colitis
- Autoimmune disorders
Yes, the birth control pill can have an enormous impact on your gut health and digestion. The birth control pill has been proven to wipe out many of the healthy bacteria in our guts even when taken for the short term, so adding in a probiotic supplement or extra probiotic-rich foods can be helpful (more on that below). I’m going to be going into depth all about the birth control pill and hormonal health in the next couple weeks, so keep an eye out for that.
Many other medications can also have bowel issues such as constipation as an unpleasant side effect, and some drugs can dehydrate you. It’s important to drink adequate water whenever possible.
A quick note on periods and their effect on the bowels. You may notice that you have more bowel movements when you’re menstruating, ladies. This is not a coincidence. During menses, the uterine walls contract in order to shed the lining, and this triggers the contraction of the digestive tract as well to move things through.
Anywhere from 1 – 3 bowel movements per day is considered to be normal, ideally at least one of these about a foot long. Your poop should smell earthy, but not foul. If you could clear rooms with the smell of your poop, it can be the sign of a bigger health issue.
Colour is also important. If you have eaten a ton of greens in the previous couple of days, your bowel movement might look a bit green as well. Beets can turn it red, which can be a little freaky if you aren’t expecting the colour change!
Be aware that your poop can certainly vary from day to day, but what you are looking for is the overall trend in the longer term.
As shown on this chart, type 4 is considered to be ideal, with Types 3 and 5 are within the normal range. Types 1, 2, 6 and 7 show strong signs of needing improvement and suggest potential issues with digestion.
How to Improve your Bowel Movements
Constipation has a number of physical reasons for occurring, but can also be mental or emotional. Intense emotions such as anger, grief, resentment, depression or anxiety can negatively impact how you pass a bowel movement, and constipation can indicate holding onto past emotions. Learning to let go and release what no longer serves you is a practice that can make such a difference both physically and emotionally. There is an old saying that anger ages you, but it can also make you constipated!
Being under intense stress is another strong influence on digestion in general, and on your poop. One major stress-buster that is worth a try is meditation. I was listening to one of Lori Harder’s podcasts last week and she was speaking with the guest about meditation. Specifically, both she and her guest use a visualization when meditating about walking into the ocean and physically letting go of emotional baggage that has been weighing them down. Meditation is very personal and there are all different ways to do it, but overall it can be so helpful for feeling calmer, more focused, centered and letting go of what no longer serves you or is holding you back.
We covered hydration in the previous post as well, but it’s worth mentioning again. If you are suffering from constipation, increasing your water intake is one of the easiest ways to get things moving again. Any caffeine or alcohol that you drink should be compensated by drinking extra water as well.
Squeezing a wedge of fresh lemon juice into warm water every morning when you first wake up can stimulate bile and jump start your digestive system. The combination of the warm (not boiling) water and the fresh lemon juice can stimulate the bile and wake up the digestive system. Many people find that it can help to trigger a bowel movement.
One of the absolute best types of movement you can do is to walk. Walk often and if you can, walk in nature. It will not only keep things moving internally as well as externally, but it’s another great stress buster. Double the benefit!
Magnesium is a supplement that can be used to stimulate the bowels, and many of us could benefit from some extra magnesium in our lives even without the constipation issue. It has a huge number of effects on the body including regulating blood sugar, blood pressure, muscle and nerve function, has a calming effect and can aid sleep, and a long list of other potential benefits.
There are several different types of magnesium supplements, and different kinds have different properties that can be beneficial or influence how well they are absorbed into the body. For constipation, magnesium citrate when taken as directed is likely the best route as it usually increases the amount of water in the intestines, stimulating bowel movements. Another great option for magnesium that will relax you at the same time? Try an Epsom salts bath! You can absorb the magnesium from the salts through your skin and it will relax your muscles and regulate peristalsis (muscle contractions stimulating the bowels), also increasing the likelihood of a bowel movement.
There are lots of foods you can eat that are not only nutrient dense, but full of fiber that can help regulate how often and the quality of your poop. Beans, legumes, cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and cabbage, chia seeds, ground flax seeds and squash to name a few. Be sure to introduce these foods gradually if your current diet doesn’t contain much fiber, otherwise you might be spending all day in the washroom!
6. Sensitivities, Intolerances or Allergies
Diets high in processed foods, red meat, sugar, dairy can create issues in the bowels and with digestion in general. Keeping a food journal, even for a short period of time, can give you a better snapshot as to how you are eating and what kinds of changes might be beneficial. As mentioned in the previous post Digestion Part 1, removing other potential common allergens to see the effect it may have on the body can be helpful as well, depending on the individual.
7. Foods with Prebiotics
While probiotics are discussed more often, probiotics are important as well and most of us can benefit from eating these kinds of foods. Raw onions, garlic, leeks, dandelion greens, chicory, jicama and asparagus are some of the highest in prebiotics, and these prebiotic-rich foods contain compounds which can fuel the healthy bacteria in our gut and improving digestion overall. They work best in conjunction with probiotics.
8. Foods with Probiotics
We also touched briefly on probiotics in the last post, but I wanted to go over a few foods that are chock-full of probiotics as well. Probiotics are healthy bacteria that help restore some of the good guys in the gut and aid digestion by breaking down foods more efficiently. Fermented cabbage (and other veggies) like sauerkraut and kimchi are enzyme-rich and offer support to the healthy bacteria in the body. Miso is made from fermented soybeans, and if you purchase organic it’s a wonderful option in soups and sauces.
Kombucha is a probiotic-rich drink and personal favourite of mine, you can find it in many grocery stores now, or make your own! I just began learning how and will share my experience once I have a better handle on what to do. It’s a delicious, mildly carbonated fermented drink made from black tea that can be flavoured to suit your taste and is incredibly helpful for digestion.
**A word of warning: except under very particular circumstances, I do not recommend using laxatives, even strong herbal remedies. They can be very harsh on the digestive tract and colon, and the body can eventually form a dependency on them if used often enough. By dependency I mean that you could reach a point where you would have great difficulty passing a bowel movement without their use.
Focusing on adding in some small steps one at a time is the best way to begin to shift how we treat our bodies and move in a more positive direction, rather than trying to remove or replace old habits all at once. Sometimes the best way to go about making changes in slow and small, adding up to big wins.