For many of us, poop isn’t easy to talk about. But it’s also a simple fact of everyday life, and having questions about poop is normal. Healthy bowel movements are part of having a healthy body, so we're answering the poop questions that everybody has but nobody wants to ask.
When it comes to how often you should poop, the answer varies. People have different frequencies while still having healthy bowel movements. On average, having a bowel movement once every day to once every other day is usually considered healthy. However, some people can have up to three bowel movements a day or as few as three per week and still be considered within a normal range. If a person has fewer than three bowel movements per week, they are generally considered constipated.
If you are concerned about the frequency and regularity of your bowel movements, talk to your healthcare provider. Many factors that can impact this, including:
Diet — Foods that are high in fiber, such as vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, can increase regularity. A fiber intake of 20 to 25 grams per day is generally recommended to relieve constipation.
Activity level — Increasing your physical activity level, such as walking, running, or other forms of exercise, can activate peristalsis — the internal movement of the intestines. Exercising regularly can also increase regularity of bowel movements.
Water intake — Constipation is a common side effect of dehydration. Increasing water intake can help ease constipation and increase the likelihood of regular bowel movements. Conversely, decreasing those things that tend to dehydrate, like alcohol and caffeine, can also help.
(Stress level can also affect bowel movements. Read “How Stress Levels Impact Your Digestive System and How to Manage It” for more.)
When the GI tract has a change in function, it can often result in a change in poop color. Here’s what your poop color says about your gut health. (Curious about improving gut health? Read “How to Improve Gut Health: Everything You Need to Know.”)
Any shade of brown — Any shade of brown is a sign of healthy, normal gut function.
Slightly green — Slightly green poop can also mean that your gut function is healthy and normal. The color change can happen from increasing your vegetable intake, especially leafy greens. However, fully green poop can indicate that your poop is passing through your GI tract too quickly or that the digestive bile enzymes haven't had a chance to break down normally.
White — Poop that is white, chalky, or clay colored can be a signal of low bile — a digestive fluid that comes from your liver and gallbladder. Poop this shade may mean that your bile duct is blocked, or that there is a problem with liver function. In some cases, it can also be a side effect of certain medications, such as an overuse of antacids.
Yellow — Poop that is yellow with a strong odor can be a sign of too much fat in your diet, or can also be a sign of a nutritional deficiency.
Red — Red poop is most likely a sign of blood in the poop, and should be reported to your doctor right away. However, red poop can also be caused by having eaten red foods like beets, cranberries, or tomatoes, or foods with red dye — in this case, it’s nothing to be concerned about.
Hemorrhoids are another reason you might notice blood in your toilet bowl. These swollen blood vessels on the outer rectum or anus can bleed and make pooping very uncomfortable or even intensely painful.
Black — As with red, black stool is also most likely a sign of the blood in the poop. However, a black color means the blood is likely coming from the upper GI tract and has had time to dry while moving to the lower GI tract. Black poop should also be reported to your doctor right away.
In addition to the color of your poop, the size and shape of your poop can also tell you a lot about your gut function.
Here’s what you can look out for:
Hard, separate lumps — Small pellet-like poop that is difficult to pass typically means you are constipated.
Log-shaped and lumpy — Poops that are log-shaped but still have lumps can be another sign of constipation
Log-shaped, with some cracks — Poop that is log-shaped is indicative of a normal, healthy digestive tract.
Smooth and snake-like — Poop that is entirely smooth is also considered normal and healthy.
Soft, separate lumps and/or mushy poorly formed pieces — Soft poop can be a sign of mild diarrhea, especially if it occurs multiple times a day.
Watery — Poop that is entirely watery with no solid pieces is considered diarrhea. This means your poop moved through your bowels extremely quickly and did not have time to form into a solid poop. Stay hydrated because diarrhea can cause you to lose a lot of water. If diarrhea or mild diarrhea doesn’t pass on its own within a couple of days, contact a doctor.
Diarrhea, or stools that are loose and frequent, is one symptom of celiac disease, as well as of irritable bowel syndrome.
When it comes to bowel movement frequency, there’s a wide range that can be considered “healthy” or normal (and there are many factors that come into play, including your metabolism). Once every other day to once or twice a day is usually considered healthy. If your typical schedule has changed dramatically or is accompanied by pain that does not subside, make an appointment to talk to your healthcare provider.
Some research has shown that sitting with a tight angle between your thighs and your pelvis (closer to a squatting position) may be a more ideal pooping position than the standard “sitting in a chair” position — as it helps you give an extra push to your pelvic floor. And there’s no need for an infomercial gadget — stacks of books or a stepladder will work just fine.
And now that you know what to look for when it comes to your bowel movements, it’s important to discuss any changes lasting more than a few days with your primary care provider. Some poop issues or symptoms may be due to a change in diet or lifestyle, but sharing this information with your provider can help them determine if there are any underlying conditions that need to be addressed.
At Carbon Health, we offer high-quality, shame-free care that is accessible to all. No topic should be considered “too embarrassing” when it comes to your health and wellness. We know that a relationship with a trusted healthcare provider is a key resource to overall health, and we’re here to provide the incredible care you deserve. Book an appointment for an in-person or virtual visit today.
Carbon Health’s medical content is reviewed and approved by healthcare professionals before it is published, but it is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Talk to your healthcare provider about questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition, and before making changes to your healthcare routine.