Healthy Gut

Here’s What You Need To Know About the Gastrocolic Reflex, AKA Having To Poop Right After You Eat

Emily Laurence

Photo: Stocksy/Guielle Faingold
You just polished off a delicious dinner at an outdoor restaurant with a friend and you're lingering over a post-meal cup of tea (or cocktail) when it hits you: you gotta poop. Among the questions you're likely asking yourself (How do I end this meal ASAP without being rude? Does this place have single stalls?) is this one: Is it normal to have to poop right after you eat?

This (ahem) shituation actually has a name: the gastrocolic reflex, and it's something gut-health registered dietitian Amanda Sauceda, RD recently talked about on Instagram. (Girl isn't afraid to go where your friends won't.) "The gastrocolic reflex is the fancy pants name for having to [poop] after you eat," she shared. Here's what else she revealed when I reached out to her for more info.

First of all, the gastrocolic reflex is totally normal; it helps control the movement of your digestive tract. The stomach stretches after eating, which triggers the gastrocolic reflex to push more food out of the colon to make room. "That natural process is you having to poop after you eat," Sauceda says. "Your body is making room for more food so your colon says 'heave-ho' to whatever is inside and you get the urge to poop." You're not pooping out the food you just ate though, a common myth that Sauceda has encountered among clients. "This is not the case," she says, explaining that it's actually the body making room for what you just ate by emptying out what has already been digested earlier.

Sauceda also says that some food and drinks often make people have to go quicker than other types of foods. If your meal is high in fat or oversized (like a holiday meal), that can speed up the workings of your digestive system. Coffee is another poop instigator, although Sauceda says in some people, coffee can actually cause constipation. "It's important to remember that everyone has their own gut-friendly foods so you may notice something triggering the gastrocolic reflex that wasn't mentioned here," she adds.

Here's an RD's guide to the foods that will help you poop... and the ones that'll plug you up:

While having to poop after you eat is totally normal—what goes in must come out—Sauceda says there are a few signs that something potentially problematic may be going on. "If you are having to poop after every single meal, feeling like you might have an accident if you don’t make it to the bathroom in time, have a lot of cramping or pain, or when you do poop it’s more on the looser end, like diarrhea, this could all warrant a trip to the doctor," she says. Sauceda also adds that irritable bowel syndrome can exaggerate the gastrocolic reflex, something else you can talk to a G.I. doc about if it's getting in the way of you living your best life.

TL;DR: Having to poop after you eat is supposed to happen. It's NBD and a fact of life. But if it's so urgent that finding a bathroom in time is making you sweat, then it's worth seeing a gastroenterologist about. After all, it's their job to be flush with all the poop knowledge you need.

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