- Rachel Larkey, MS, RD, CDN, CLC, dietitian and certified Intuitive Eating counselor based primarily in New York City
Focus on your food and water intake
The two necessary nutrients you need for getting your poops back on schedule are water and fiber. "Water keeps your stool soft and your gut muscles healthy which is essential to pooping," says Erin Lisemby Judge, RDN, owner of the gut health-focused dietetics practice Gutivate. Fiber helps form stool that moves more easily through your intestines. and there are two types. Soluble fiber, like carrots, apple, beans, and barley, break down into a gel-like substance. Insoluble fiber like whole wheat flour, oats, sweet potatoes, and cauliflower do not break down entirely but aid in moving the stool along by bulking up its solidity, the Mayo Clinic says. Both fiber types are essential for your system, but insoluble fibers are often relied upon to help encourage poops or reduce constipation.
Additionally, prebiotics are plant fiber that feeds the existing "good" bacteria in your gut microbiome, which is vital in the brain-gut neural pathways that control digestion and defecation," according to Rachel Larkey, MS, RD, CDN, CLC. Prebiotic fiber-rich foods include fruits like apples, berries, citrus, melon, veggies like leafy greens, celery, broccoli, root vegetables and, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
"It's also recommended that you consume fermented foods like yogurt, miso, kefir, kombucha, and sauerkraut," says Larkey. While they aren't fiber, they are probiotics that have the potential to add "good bacteria" to your gut microbiome. Additionally, Larkey and Judge recommend getting enough water throughout the day. These two factors help optimize your stool consistency and encourage your muscles to work correctly.
One of the most critical aspects of pooping regularly, according to Larkey, is eating enough. "Dieting and restricting can cause constipation," says Larkey. Your gut needs regular food intake to stay on schedule, she adds. Diets like intermittent fasting and others can disrupt the types of food you're taking in and how much you eat. It's common for me to see lots of folks with digestive woes caused by under-eating, Larkey adds.
Try to stick to a meal and sleep schedule
Aside from food intake, Larkey recommends that you stick to regular meal and sleep routines. Doing these regularly can allow your body to adjust to a routine, and your poop schedule will normalize with consistent fiber-rich meals, hydration, and sleep.
One way to usher your body towards a more regular schedule is attempting "toilet time" at the same time every day, Judge says. "This means you sit on the toilet for five minutes around the same time each day to train your body that this is the time to relax and poop," she says, adding that this is best done in the morning after a big glass of water, a cup of coffee, or your first meal. Judge says this allows your gastrocolic reflex, the mechanism that controls how your intestines move food through into the rectum, to help you have more success on the toilet. Five minutes is the recommended amount of time you should take to poop, according to the Cleveland Clinic, so if nothing happens during that time, try again later.
Pay attention to digestive irritants
It should be no surprise that some of the things we ingest can interrupt the digestive cycle, but it is very different for everyone. "For example, alcohol can interfere as a gut irritant," Judge says. "Caffeine and coffee can also speed your gut up and throw off your schedule." According to Larkey, coffee often helps keep people on a bowel movement schedule, but you find that it causes adverse symptoms, though that's a sign that it may not be benefiting your digestive system.
Another potential factor in slow-moving poops is how much fat is in your diet. Fats are less water-soluble and create firmer, slower stools, according to Judge. Fats are an essential part of nutrition, so eliminating them isn't the goal—instead, adding fiber to your diet can help food move through your body at a better pace.
Reach out to your doctor if you suspect something is wrong
If you're doing all of this and you still have concerns, something may be up, Judge says. Don't hesitate to reach out to your doctor about stool symptoms, especially when it comes to symptoms outside of your general schedule. Going days without pooping, or having loose, watery stools, abdominal cramping, black or bloody stool (diarrhea) are all symptoms that could indicate illness and require medical attention, according to the Mayo Clinic.
It can be overwhelming to learn just how many factors play into getting your bowel movements on track. It's fantastic that you're exploring ways to improve your body's digestion. Just incorporating any one of these steps could help you learn more about your body. Practice does make perfect—even when it comes to toilet time.
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