What Does "Normal" Mean?
Normal poop, called "stool" by medical professionals, is brown, well-formed, sausage-shaped, uniform and thick. It should feel fairly easy—or not like too much of a struggle—to pass. Most people poop once or twice each day, and the most common time of day is either at waking up or after breakfast, Bulsiewicz says.
The frequency and time of day of pooping can vary with normal stool, confirms William W. Li, M.D., an internal medicine physician and scientist in Boston and the author of Eat to Beat Your Diet. Our guts are like our fingerprints—unique to the individual—so the best course of action is to become familiar with your routine and notice when you stray from it.
"The most important thing is that you don't have discomfort. If you're not having regular bowel movements or feeling fully evacuated after going to the bathroom, you may be experiencing constipation," says Kenneth Brown, M.D., a gastroenterologist in Plano, Texas, and the host of the Gut Check Project podcast.
Are you constipated? Here are the symptoms of constipation, per the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases:
- Fewer than three bowel movements per week
- Hard, dry stools that are difficult to pass
- Feeling like there's more stool, you'd like to eliminate, but can't
While it can be short-term and relieved by the lifestyle adjustments noted below, constipation can also become a chronic challenge. In that case, it's not just uncomfortable with bloating and abdominal pain, but constipation can also be detrimental to your health, Brown says.
According to Stanford Medicine Health Care, the potential complications of chronic constipation include:
- Rectal bleeding
- Anal fissure, or a small tear in the anus
- Fecal impaction; in other words, a hard, dry stool that cannot be passed
- Rectal prolapse (when the large intestine pushes out of the rectum)
"It's perfectly normal not to have a bowel movement every single day. But if more than several days have gone by without a bowel movement, especially if you have discomfort or any swelling or pain in your lower abdomen, it's important to seek medical attention to evaluate if there is an obstruction blocking normal bowel movements," Li says.
On the flip side, pooping more than three times per day, having chronic diarrhea, urgency or waking up at night to poop are all examples of diarrhea-related issues that are worth chatting about with your doctor, Bulsiewicz says.
The Fastest Way to Relieve Diarrhea, according to a Dietitian
Factors That Affect How Often You Poop
How often you poop is personal. You may poop more or less often than the next person due to:
You may be able to (partly) blame your poop frequency on your parents. Research suggests that there are genetic factors that affect stool consistency and frequency, according to research in Cell Genomics in 2021. Genetics may also influence your gut microbiome.
Your microbiome affects many responses in your body, including your BMs. For example, an imbalance of gut bacteria, called dysbiosis, may contribute to chronic constipation, according to 2019 research in Frontiers in Medicine.
About one-third of all American adults over 60 have symptoms of constipation, according to the NIDDK.
What you've eaten in the past few meals, the amount of fiber you're consuming, and your hydration levels impact how much and how often you poop, Li says.
Many underlying medical conditions can affect your bowel habits, including digestive conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), as well as other medical problems like thyroid disease.
Certain medications can cause constipation or diarrhea as a side effect. For instance, NSAIDs (such as ibuprofen), metformin (for diabetes), heartburn medication and chemotherapy drugs can all trigger diarrhea.
4 Ways to Stay Regular
To hit the sweet spot of around one poop per day, or to fall into a steady stool routine that feels good for your gut, try these gastroenterologist-recommended strategies:
Eat a Fiber-Rich Diet: Bulsiewicz likes to compare fiber to "a canoe that floats your poop through your intestines." A well-balanced diet with fiber-rich foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seeds, nuts, beans and legumes can help promote regular bowel movements. Insufficient fiber intake can lead to constipation or irregular bowel movements. Add high-fiber foods to your next supermarket list to make hitting your 28- to 34-gram-per-day fiber goal easier.
Stay Hydrated: In that same boat reference, Bulsiewicz says that H2O helps "float the poo canoe down the river. When you don't drink enough water, your canoe will get stuck on the rocks," he says. Since normal poop is 74% water, per an October 2021 study in Nutrients, water intake can make a big difference in the texture of your stool—and how easy it is to pass. You can tell that you're hydrating enough by looking at your urine. It should be pale yellow (similar to lemonade) or lighter. If it's darker and more like apple juice, drink up.
Move Your Body: Regular exercise can help stimulate the muscles in the digestive tract and promote regular bowel movements. "It helps the canoe move briskly downstream instead of lingering too long," Bulsiewicz says. (No wonder many doctors deem physical activity the top activity to help you poop.) Aim for—or work up to—150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity cardio per week, plus two total-body resistance training sessions. Yes, walking counts as a workout!
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- Aids digestive health.