Unless you’re a toddler in the throes of potty training, we’re going to guess you don’t spend much time talking about your poop. Or even acknowledge that they happen. But here’s why you might want to give your #2 a glance before you flush: It’s actually one of the best clues you have to your health.
Let’s face it, talking about poop and anything having to do with your bowels can be slightly uncomfortable. To allay these concerns, just remember what the decades-old children’s book tells us: Everyone poops. And as off-putting as the topic can be, tuning in to what you see in the toilet—from the color, shape, size, and smell of your poop—can tell you a lot about what’s going on with your health, so it’s important to pay attention. Plus, we’re supposed to be adults, remember?
If your poop is…Hard, in pieces, and you have to strain to pass it:
Hard little individual pellets mean you could be dehydrated or constipated. Dr. Anish Sheth, gastroenterologist and co-author, with Josh Richman, of the book “What’s Your Poo Telling You”, says that “short-lived stool changes” can be due to “diet and stress,” so managing those two factors can help relieve discomfort. Drinking more water and eating food high in both soluble and insoluble fiber (like broccoli, artichokes, berries, and whole grains) can help.
If it’s like a nut-filled candy bar
Solid, lumpy pieces (like a nut-filled candy bar) also signal dehydration and constipation. “Drink more water, check thyroid, [and] take magnesium 400mg every night,” says Deborah Malkoff-Cohen, a registered dietitian and nutritionist. “Magnesium increases water in the colon, making stools ofter and easier to pass. It also relaxes the walls of the intestine which helps with motility.”
“Poo-phoria,” says Dr. Sheth. A big log with few cracks on the surface is a healthy poop. You should be producing one of these per day. “Once a day is recommended as poop is essentially garbage. It’s the waste products of your food—whatever cannot be used by the body in some form is pooped out. So holding it for days before eliminating is not ideal. Conversely, if you’re going more than 3x per day, that can signal other issues,” says Dr. Malkoff-Cohen.
Like a snake:
A long, smooth poo situation, like a snake, also signals good digestion. “Should be easy to pass with minimal straining/pushing,” says Dr. Malkoff-Cohen.
Kind of like chicken nuggets but… shittier:
Small, soft stools with clear edges (kind of like chicken nuggets but… shittier) could signal low soluble fiber consumption, imbalanced gut bacteria, or a gastrointestinal disorder. See a doctor if symptoms persist longer than a day or two.
Mushy, oatmeal-like poop:
Mushy, oatmeal-like poop is another telltale sign of diarrhea or intestinal inflammation. Keep eating fiber and introduce bacteria-rich foods, like yogurt and kombucha, to keep regular. Dr. Malkoff-Cohen says, “Think BRAT diet: Bananas, Rice, Applesauce and Toast. These foods can help firm up the poo.”
Watery poop is a nightmare. Another signal of a lack of fiber, food poisoning, bacteria imbalance, gastroenteritis, food allergy or intolerance. Drink lots of water to stay hydrated. Again, if you’re not back to solid stuff within 48 hours, consult your physician.
Clearly, there’s a lot more to your number two than you might have realized. Next time, take a closer look before you flush all that information down the toilet.