Can I ask you an awkward question?
Have you ever turned around after taking a dump to see what’s left over in the toilet bowl? Or maybe, even asked yourself the following, “why is my poop green?”
I know, I know. It’s not first date conversation material, let alone regular dinner table chit-chat, but then again, nothing we talk about here ever is.
If you answered no to the above questions, I highly encourage you to take a look even if you’d rather not. Believe it or not, your poop and your parents have a lot in common – they’re both excellent teachers!
Seriously, you can tell a lot about what’s going on with your digestive health based on your adventures in the porcelain throne. The color, size, shape, sound, texture, smell, ease and frequency give you the inside scoop on poop. Let’s dive in.
Good Poop vs Bad Poop
Constipation: Where’s My Poop?
Diarrhea: Who Opened the Floodgates?
The Bristol Stool Chart
Bowel Transit Time
But First, The Big Question: Why is My Poop Green?
Disturbing as it may seem, who among us hasn’t asked this question? If you haven’t, it’s probably because your eliminations are too few and far between, which means you’ll want to visit the “Constipation: Where’s My Poop At?!” section.
Now, as for the rest of us, who have turned around only to find, to our dismay, an emerald colored log wading around in the john, let me put your mind (and hopefully your elimination) at ease.
The first and simplest reason that your poop is green is because you’ve downed some chlorophyll. Seeing as chlorophyll is a green plant pigment, taking a concentrated dose of it will turn your poop green. Check to see if you’re taking any supplements with contain it. In this case, green poop really isn’t a cause for concern especially since chlorophyll has so many incredible health benefits (which include better detoxification and elimination!).
However, if you’re not supplementing with chlorophyll and you’re scratching your head wondering why your poop is green, that’s another story.
In this case, green poop can indicate:
- Malabsorption issues
- Gallbladder issues
- Bile production issues
Bile is a liquid produced by the liver. It’s then stored in the gallbladder with the purpose of aiding in digesting fats from the foods we eat. Can you guess it’s natural color? Yep, that’s right. It’s green.
It changes color as it travels through your intestines, thanks to bacteria and enzymes, and ends up being brown.
Green stools are a loud and clear indicator that the relationship described above isn’t working, which usually means that things are moving through your system too quickly so your bile doesn’t have the time it needs to break down the nutrients you’ve consumed, meaning they don’t get absorbed properly.
If this is you, here are some steps you can take right now (aside from that trip to the doctor’s office)
- Ease up on fats that could be overexerting the liver & gallbladder
- Replace those fats with coconut oil (which doesn’t require bile for proper digestion)
- Taking a quality ox bile supplement
- Read this article on fat malabsorption by Empowered Sustenance.
You’ll find that slowly but surely your poop will turn from green back to its ordinary brown. 🙂
Speaking of ordinary… what is ordinary–and what isn’t–when it comes to excrement? The answers might surprise you.
Good Poop vs. Bad Poop
Contrary to popular belief, your poo actually shouldn’t smell like shit. It should smell kind of earthy in general. I’m not saying you’d want to bottle it up and spray it on like Chanel No. 5, but it also shouldn’t smell foul like spoiled tuna.
What else constitutes a good poop?
On an emotional level, I’ve heard people refer to a good poop as akin to reaching a temporary state of nirvana: no pain, no strain, just straight up satisfaction. Your poop should pass easily and come out comfortably in one gentle plop.
From a purely visual standpoint, you want your poop to look like #4 on the Bristol Stool Chart (see the chart below):
- Smooth + soft
- Sausage-like (a relatively large one)
- Light brown in color
The reason a normal stool is light brown in color is actually due to the pigment from your broken down red blood cells which is called bilirubin.
You know how when you go to the doc’s office, they ask you if you have regular bowel movements? Well, there’s a reason. A good poop usually happens at the same time or times of day every day. Most people should be squattin’ over the potty between one to three times a day.
Bad poop, on the other hand, is another story. It’s generally anything that’s not a #4 on the bristol stool chart – runny, lumpy, hard, rabbit-pellet-like, off-colored…shall I go on?
Improper poo makes for a pretty unsatisfying trip to the bathroom in general. Often-times there’s not only strain, but also pain.
If you’re shooting out rabbit pellets, you’ll probably hear a symphony of splashes behind you which is not ideal. You may hear the same noise if you’re constantly running to the bathroom producing anything that looks like you could drink it through a straw (eeew, gross!). Both are sure-fire signs of intestinal irritation and likely inflammation.
You also don’t want to see:
- Any undigested food particles (corn, nuts, and seeds are common ones)
- Any weird colors (chalky, mucusy, red, green, purple)
- Any poop stool sink to the bottom of the can
All three are indicators that your body isn’t properly breaking food down, or you’re not properly absorbing and using the nutrients from it.
As Mark Sisson points out,
“Your bowels are sensitive and contain important nerve endings and beneficial bacteria. If these becomes stressed or out of balance, you’ll know just by looking at your feces (and you’ll likely feel this, as well, with bloating, cramping, or discomfort).”
Seeing as we’re already on the topic of bad poop, let’s dig a little deeper on one of the most frustrating kinds – the non existent kind; i.e., constipation.
Constipation: Where’s My Poop?
To quote our friends over at SCD Lifestyle,
“The word constipation is a lot like the word healthy. It seems everyone has their own definition of it largely based on preferences. I think it’s important…to critically assign a definition to both of these words.”
And boy do I agree. So, let’s take their advice and do exactly that. Here goes.
The two main factors in constipation, which comes in varying degrees, mild, moderate, and severe, are frequency and quality of your bowel movements.
- Going every other day is mild constipation (usually more along the lines of sluggish motility)
- Going every third day is moderate constipation
- Going once a week is severe constipation
Bowel movements between a 1-3 on the Bristol stool chart below, that are painful or involve a lot of effort, will likely be common and are indicators of where you might find yourself on the sliding constipation scale.
What’s a guy or gal to do if he or she can’t poo?
How to Poop When Constipated
If frequency, quality, and ease of bowel movements are at stake due to constipation, here are some tips that can help you lube up your internal pipes and reverse your stagnation.
- Eat more fat
Because of Ancel Key’s controversial scientific research in 1950’s, the “war on fat” has dug into the American psyche so deeply that it’s still hard for many to understand that fat is a necessary part of a both a gut-friendly diet and a weight-loss promoting diet.
Unfortunately, far too many people are still afraid to consume fat, which is why I’m here to say that consuming the right fats actually helps lubricate and speed up the bowel evacuation process. It also helps to promote bile production and release which is necessary in order to break down fat the right way. Adding fat into your diet is one of the easiest (and tastiest!) things you can do to improve your constipation. Some great, healthy fats to incorporate are: olive oil, fish, fermented cod-liver oil, avocados, nuts, and flax seeds, pasture-raised bacon, coconut oil, and avocado.
Triphala is a very safe ayurvedic supplement which helps to gently relieve constipation by moistening the gut lining. It’s made of amalaki, bibhitaki, and haritaki, 3 fruits, which synergistically support the liver detoxification and strengthen the immune system. Take the recommended dosage (or whatever your health practitioner has recommended) just before bed.
- Drink some Traditional Medicinals, Smooth Move tea
This tea is great for relief from occasional constipation. The combination of senna, fennel, coriander, and ginger works together to curb cramping and stimulate your body’s natural elimination processes. Prepare a mug and drink before bed.
- Better yet, drink some bone broth
Bone broth contains glycine, arginine, glutamine, and proline. This helps regulate bile secretion (important for fat digestion), reduce gut inflammation, as well as, repair any damage to the intestinal wall. All of those factors are very much at risk in that case of diarrhea (or hyper motility).
This puts you in the optimal poop position by un-kinking your colon (naturally designed to stop you from eliminating in a regular seated position), making it easier for your fudge to flow. Proper toilet posture makes a difference people! Get to squattin’!
Eliminate dehydrating substances dairy, refined sugars and carbs, alcohol, and caffeine.
- Up your movement and exercise time
Movement and exercise simultaneously stimulate and massage (depending on the type of movement) the nervous system, organs, and muscles involved in elimination. It also helps to relieve emotional stress, which can be an important factor in the mystery that is a sluggish bowel.
- Increase your probiotic + fermented food intake
There are an endless amount of reasons to regularly consume quality probiotic supplements, as well as, fermented foods. In my opinion, the most important in this case are that they help to repopulate the gut with good bacteria, reduce gut inflammation, and strengthen our immune system (which is intertwined with proper gut function). Probiotics play a critical role aiding in both constipation and diarrhea.
- Eat more non-inflammatory carbohydrates (i.e. gluten/grain-free)
Eating too few carbs can decrease thyroid hormone production which is a huge impactor in slow motility, constipation, and further hormonal imbalances. Between 75 and 150 grams daily seems to be where the sweet spot lies. Great carbs to add in here would be sweet potato, quinoa, wild rice, turnips, squash, plantain, and cassava.
I recommend starting with tip #1 – eat more fat – first (try if for about five days at least), and then building upon that foundation.
Now, should you find yourself in the opposite camp, we’ll have to take the conversation in a different direction. Let’s talk diarrhea.
Diarrhea: Who Opened the Floodgates?
I define diarrhea as runny bowel movements (we’re talking entirely liquid here) that are being discharged from your body frequently.
Now, like constipation, diarrhea rears its head in varying degrees:
- Going once a week is mild diarrhea (and is likely from a temporary, isolated issue)
- Going every third day is moderate diarrhea
- Going every day is severe diarrhea
- Going multiple times a day is extremely severe diarrhea
Diarrhea when prolonged is dangerous. If you’re experiencing any of the above, especially ongoing (more than a couple of days) moderate, severe, and extremely severe diarrhea, you need to make sure to get yourself to a doctor’s office ASAP.
How do you end up with diarrhea? Well, like with constipation, there are a lot of causes.
Women often experience small bouts of diarrhea (not more than a couple of days) just before menstruation or at its onset. It’s fairly common, quite annoying, but not a very serious issue. During this phase in a woman’s cycle, a sex hormone called progesterone drops signals the uterine lining to shed, which releases prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are fatty acids with hormone like effects that stimulate muscle contractions in the uterus, and, when excessively produced, also stimulate hyper motility. More on that here.
However, non-period related diarrhea is caused by different types of inflammation. The 10 most common reasons are:
- Food & drink: alcohol, caffeine, grains (especially the prolamins in them)
- Leaky gut
- Emotional stress
- Chronic cardio
- Blood sugar imbalance(s)
- Hormonal imbalances
- Antibiotic use
- Bacterial, parasitic, and viral infections
Take a look over the list and circle your top five reasons, if you know them. It feels good to have a clue doesn’t it? Empowering even!
So, you’ve got an idea of why it’s happening, now, it’s time to cover what you can do about it.
How to Get Rid of Diarrhea
Here are some great tips to bulk up your stool and get rid of diarrhea.
- Eat Turmeric
Turmeric contains a powerful, anti-inflammatory ingredient called curcumin, which is ultra-helpful during those period-induced bouts of diarrhea. Women’s Health & Functional Nutrition Coach, Nicole Jardim, recommends eating it every day in the form of a turmeric paste, which you can DIY with this recipe or buy here.
- Identify food sensitivities
When you’re eating foods to which you’re sensitive they can absolutely wreak havoc on your digestive system. The gold standard for identifying food sensitivities is to do an elimination diet. Basically, you remove certain foods for a period of time, usually 4-6 weeks, then systematically incorporate them one by one to see how your body reacts to them, which helps you figure out what can stay and what must go. Here’s a great guide on how to do that.
Otherwise, Cyrex Labs is very well known for their gluten and food sensitivity panels (in fact, they’ve got some of the best panels out there). Look for a doctor in your area who can provide with you one of their test kits. Sometimes the easiest way to get a hold of one is to simply call the Cyrex support team and ask them to help you find a doctor near you.
Often, a piece of the diarrhea puzzle has to do with dehydration and electrolyte imbalances. Here’s a simple recipe to make your own electrolyte drink. Otherwise, raw coconut water (i.e. nature’s gatorade) or Lyte Balance are great, premade alternatives. Also, bananas and plantains are high in the electrolyte potassium, which diarrhea depletes. In that way, they can both aid in replenishing your electrolytes and hydrating your body.
- Drink bone broth
It works with diarrhea for all the same reasons it works for constipation, as written above. Check out our bone broth guide if interested in learning more about the benefits.
- Manage your emotional stress
The enteric nervous system lives in your gut making your gut programmed to respond to stress (like for instance, the nervous sensation you get before stepping on stage). This, is one of the reasons we’re starting to refer to the gut as the “second brain.” When that system gets overexcited, it can easily lead to hyper motility i.e. diarrhea. Which means, if you’re constantly living in an overly-excited state, it could very well be a cause of your diarrhea.
So, part of your answer is going to be decreasing your emotional stress. Some places to start are: look at your calendar and cut out the non-essentials, start a gratitude journal, declutter your desk + living space(s), flush out negative relationships, meditate, barefoot walk, spend time in the sun, and ask yourself “What do I love?” then add more of that into your life.
- Reduce insoluble fiber intake
Chris Kresser said it best, “While soluble fiber can be soothing for the gut, consuming large amounts of insoluble fiber when your gut is inflamed is a little bit like rubbing a wire brush against an open wound. Ouch.” Veggies that are high in insoluble fiber are: greens, corn, peas, bell peppers, celery, onions, garlic, broccoli, eggplant, cauliflower, brussel sprouts
- Eat more probiotics and fermented foods
If you read the description above, in the constipation section, the same goes for diarrhea. Read more on probiotics and gut health here.
I recommend starting with tip #2 – identify food sensitivities – first, as it’s generally one of the most eye-opening and produces results quickly, before building upon that foundation with some of the other strategies.
The Bristol Stool Chart
This is a simple chart that shows you beautifully illustrated scale of poop-types.
The perfect poop is #4 – soft, smooth and shaped like a sausage.
Ideally, you’re moving your bowels between 1-2 times a day without:
- Having to strain
- Seeing undigested foods in your stool
- Smelling a foul odor
Source: Radicata Nutrition
I recommend printing this out and taping it to one of the inside doors of your bathroom cabinets so you can easily identify where you are and take the necessary steps you need to take to reach poop perfection (i.e. #4).
Before we end this stinky article, it’s very important that we discuss bowel transit time.
Bowel Transit Time
Transit time sounds like it would be a synonym of ETA (estimated time of arrival), and in a way, it sort of is, but not the kind you find on google maps. Bowel transit time is the amount of time it takes for your food to pass through your digestive tract, from the time it enters your mouth to the time it passes out of your body in the form of a bowel movement.
Since healthy functioning of our digestive system and its related organs is critical to optimal health, testing transit time is a simple and effective way to detect potential imbalances that may lead to future symptoms and disease. Simply stated, the frequency of your bowel movements is a clear indication of your overall health.
Testing your transit time is an easy way to determine if you have diarrhea (although that one may be pretty obvious), the severity of constipation, as well as, other imbalances that may be going on throughout your digestive system and could potentially lead to more serious health issues down the line. Which, we know, could be any number of things (hypothyroidism, leaky gut, SIBO, Candida, low stomach acid, autoimmune issues…) since the gut is the “second brain” and all.
Normal bowel transit time is somewhat subjective as there are many factors that play into how often you’re going to empty your bowels – fiber intake, fat intake, liquid intake, stress, movement & activity, and the health of your gut lining all have an impact.
It’s generally agreed upon that ideal transit time is 12-24 hours.
Less than 12 hours means that food is moving through your digestive tract too quickly which is a big concern because if it’s chronic and not addressed, it can:
- Prevent proper nutrient absorption
- Lead to malnourishment and abnormal cell function
- Trigger the body to rob nutrients from it’s own connective tissues
More than 24 hours means that food is moving through your digestive tract too slowly which is a big concern because if it’s chronic and not addressed, it can:
- Allow waste to sit, ferment, and putrefy in the intestines
- Overload the intestines with harmful bacteria
- Inflame the intestinal lining
- Causes the body to reabsorb toxins + hormones back into the bloodstream
- Increase the risk of colon cancer
How To Test
Easy – The Transit Time Test – which is both cheap and something you can perform on yourself at home.
Here’s how it works –
- First, you’ll need to gather the “Bowel Transit Time Food Marker”, which in this case is 3 beets. You can consume them juiced or cooked. It’s up to you.
- If you don’t like beets, you can substitute 4 caps of activated charcoal or 2 Tbsp liquid chlorophyll.
- Drink or eat them (all in one sitting) after your first bowel movement of the day and make sure to write down the time at which you consumed them.
- From here on out, turn around and look at your poop every time you have a bowel movement. You’re looking for signs of your “Bowel Transit Time Food Market”, which will be red (unless you used the activated charcoal – look for black – or, the liquid chlorophyll – look for green).
- When you first see the marker, that’s your cue to write it down and calculate your transit time.
If you find yourself within the 12-24 hour range, take a second to celebrate! Woohoo!
If not, be sure to recap on the above sections dedicated to diarrhea and constipation and the section below with tips on how to take an epic dump.
This test is a simple and empowering one. I recommend that you repeat it every couple of months to measure just how optimal your poops really are, especially if you’ve suffered from digestive issues.
Alright, so, we’ve talked good poop, bad poop, constipation, diarrhea, green poop, poop charts, and poop transit time. Now, I believe the only pieces of advice left me to give in this epic Once-Upon-a-Potty-esque tale are thus:
- Enjoy your toilet time because nothing gratifies like an epic poop (especially if you’ve had to work really hard to get one)!
- Remember to wipe from front to back!
Delfina is the spirited nutrition + movement coach and alternative health blogger behind Code to Wellness. She uses her #eatmovethink method to help clients reclaim their health & thrive in their bodies.