Bowel health doesn’t need to be a stigmatized mystery shrouded in uncomfortable laughter. Our bowels have their own way of communicating with us and they can tell you whether everything is A-OK or not-so-great with the rest of our bodies. Whether it’s something up with your diet, your latest workout or your mental health, your poop is a great indicator of your well-being.
Is your poo telling you your immune system is off? More than 60 percent of your immune system originates in your bowels. Even our moods can be determined by our bowel health — because serotonin receptor sites are primarily found in the bowel. Healthy bowels can even help you sleep better.
In general, adults should experience at least one well-formed bowel movement per day. “Well-formed” means solid but not hard as a rock. If you’re seeing something different, your poo might be telling you something. If you notice changes in your usual bowel routine be sure to discuss it with your doctor. But here’s a few different poop shapes/situations and what you might want to eat to improve them:
If your bowel movements resemble small chunks rather than three- to four-inch cylinders, this can indicate that your protein-to-fiber ratio is off, that your body is having a difficult time processing the protein you’re taking in. This is something I sometimes see in clients who are low-carb dieters.
Feed your bowels: Try eating higher-fiber produce like celery, cucumbers, kale, spinach and apples. Pellet-like bowel movements can also indicate that you are not hydrating well. Aim to drink half your body weight in ounces every day. For a 150-pound person, that would be 75 ounces. Also try eating foods high in pectin, like apples, grapefruit and chia seeds.
Thin and ropy
Long, skinny, soft bowel movements can indicate that your mucosal lining (the membranes lining your intestines) may be swollen or irritated.
Feed your bowels: Gluten-free psyllium, slippery elm tea, cauliflower and jicama are soothing to the mucosal lining. Intestinal parasites can also cause the membranes to swell; try eating pumpkin seeds, which have natural anti-parasitic properties. (Of course, see your doctor if the condition doesn’t clear up.)
Poop that has a green tint can indicate an imbalance in bile. Bile is made of many substances, including lecithin. That green color can mean your lecithin balance is off.
Feed your bowels: In this case, try foods and supplements that offer gallbladder support, like sunflower lecithin and milk thistle tea. Foods supportive of the gallbladder include cold-water fish (like salmon and trout), avocado, sweet potatoes, green beans, tomatoes, berries and onions.
Floaters or sinkers?
Stools are supposed to sink in the toilet. If they float, that can indicate an imbalance in digestive juices.
Feed your bowels: Include lots of herbs and spices in your meals, like parsley, oregano and cayenne, which can stimulate digestion. Floaters can also indicate a wheat intolerance or Celiac disease. Floaters can also point to an imbalance in blood sugar, so make sure you have a steady stream of protein throughout the day. Be sure to eat three meals and two healthy snacks per day.
Interested in tracking your poo-communication even more and staying on top of any changes? Maybe try keeping a journal — a Little Brown Book, if you will — of your bowel movements (we know, but it doesn’t have to feel gross) to have a record to look back on.
And, if you want to work on adjusting how your body poops, squatting is a natural position for a good movement. Accessories that help your pooping posture don’t need to be an eyesore in your bathroom — Toilet stools — like Squatty Potties (which come in a range of design-friendly options) — can totally help perfect your pooping position too.
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A version of this story was published May 2014.
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