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

Photo: Getty Images/ Thomas Barwick
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 have to poop. The poop sweats begin, your lower tummy starts to rumble, and before you know it, you're mentally mapping out the quickest way to the bathroom.  Among the questions you’re asking yourself, like “How do I end this meal ASAP without being rude?” and “Does this place have single stalls?,” is this one: “Why do I have to poop right after I eat?” You can chalk it up to the gastrocolic reflex, which is something gut-health registered dietitian Amanda Sauceda, RD has talked openly about on Instagram. “The gastrocolic reflex is the fancy-pants name for having to [poop] after you eat,” Sauceda wrote on the post, and in an interview with Well+Good, she assures that it’s typically a normal part of healthy digestion.

According to Sauceda, 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,” she 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.”

Experts In This Article

Foods that trigger the gastrocolic reflex

Sauceda says some food and drinks often make people have to go quicker than other types of food. If your meal is high in fat or you consume a large meal that can speed up the workings of your digestive system. Harvey Hamilton Allen Jr., MD, chief gastroenterologist at Mohawk Valley Endoscopy Center, echoes Sauceda’s sentiment, adding that processed food and carbohydrates can also trigger the gastrocolic reflex. Coffee can also make you want to poop, thanks to its caffeine content and few other factors, though Sauceda says that in some people, the gut-friendly drink has the opposite effect and causes constipation. That said, Dr. Allen posits that every body is different, and what might make you want to poop instantly might not necessarily apply to another person.

The food you just ate isn’t what makes you poop instantly though, which is 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.

Discomfort with gastrocolic reflex

Gastrocolic reflex is normal but some people can experience diarrhea after eating, which is indicative of a heightened gastrocolic reflex, according to Dr. Allen. In addition to diarrhea, a heightened gastrocolic reflex causes, among certain individuals, stomach pain, bloating, flatulence, or frequent bowel movements after eating, and among others, it can have the opposite effect of constipation. He says these heightened gastrocolic reflex symptoms can be associated with irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS—and, in any case, these symptoms are uncomfortable.

This can pose a problem when you’re in a restaurant or at a friendly dinner party. There is no shame in having to poop when duty calls, but your first impulse might be to keep it in until you’re in the privacy of your home. Holding in your poop though is never the solution—and thankfully, it isn’t the only solution to ease the discomfort that can come with a heightened gastrocolic reflex.

How to calm gastrocolic reflex symptoms

Dr. Allen says that there are things you can do to calm heightened gastrocolic reflex symptoms.

If you experience diarrhea or frequently have bowel movements after every meal, “eat small meals,” he says—and conversely, avoid eating super fatty meals, meals loaded with carbohydrates, or highly processed foods, which can all distend the stomach, triggering one’s urge to to use the bathroom. In addition, “pay attention to the foods that trigger you most,” he says. “Some people will eat very spicy foods and that will trigger [the reflex], while others can eat spicy foods with no consequences.” Knowing this information can help, particularly if you often find yourself having to poop after every meal.

He also mentions that there have been a few studies that show that normalizing the colonic flora can help regulate the trigger response of a heightened gastrocolic reflex. How to normalize your colonic flora? “Take probiotics,” says Dr. Allen Probiotics can help the gut digest food and break down nutrients, and typically the best time to take probiotics is before a meal or right before you begin a meal. “Taking your probiotics at this time will make their passage to your gut a little easier and ensure you get the most from those beneficial bacteria,” creator of the Candida Diet and nutritionist Lisa Richards, CNC, previously told Well+Good. However, as with any supplement, it’s best to talk to your doctor before including probiotics in your supplement routine.

With all this in mind, if you have the persistent urge to poop after every meal or frequently experience stomach pains or diarrhea after eating, Dr. Allen recommends consulting with a medical professional who can rule out whether it’s associated with IBS or other medical issues and provide you with an appropriate gastrocolic reflex treatment plan, which might include the prescription of certain medications or antibiotics.

Frequently asked questions

Is gastrocolic reflex normal in adults?

“Most of the time, people wonder if the gastrocolic reflex is bad, but it’s a normal reflex that the body helps food move along,” says Dr. Allen, and for some people having to use the bathroom multiple times per day or less frequently is normal. However, if you notice a significant change in your bowel movements, often have diarrhea, stomach pains, bloating, or are pooping after every meal, he says you may want to check in with a medical professional. “A lot of different things can cause these [symptoms] and there are also a lot of different treatments,” he says, and often a doctor would know how to best address them.

How do you control a gastrocolic reflex?

There are a few things you can do to calm a heightened gastrocolic reflex. If a heightened gastrocolic reflex causes you stomach pain, Dr. Allen says that drinking a warm cup of tea can help alleviate the hurt. Gut-healthy teas, like peppermint tea can soothe the stomach by preventing stomach muscle contraction and chamomile tea comes with the recommendation of Dr. Allen for its calming properties. He underscores, however, that drinking tea doesn’t necessarily solve the issues that come with a heightened gastrocolic reflex but rather, assuages some painful symptoms, like contractions or stomach spasms. In addition, he mentions that drinking a glass of water or standing up from your seat can help, too.

What foods are commonly associated with gastrocolic reflex?

There are a few foods and drinks that can commonly trigger your gastrocolic reflex, like foods that are high in or carbohydrates as well as processed foods. Having a large meal can also trigger your bowel movements. Some people, but not all, may also have the urge to go to the bathroom after drinking coffee. However, every person’s gastrocolic reflex triggers are unique. For instance, some people who eat spicy foods will have to poop right after their meal, while others can take the heat without having to bear the consequences. All that is to say, if you want to know what makes you poop instantly, it’s important to pay close attention to what you eat and how it affects you.

Well+Good articles reference scientific, reliable, recent, robust studies to back up the information we share. You can trust us along your wellness journey.
  1. Chumpitazi, B P et al. “Review article: the physiological effects and safety of peppermint oil and its efficacy in irritable bowel syndrome and other functional disorders.” Alimentary pharmacology & therapeutics vol. 47,6 (2018): 738-752. doi:10.1111/apt.14519

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