poop 101: why looking in the toilet after your #2 could tell you everything you need know to improve your digestive & overall health

What happens in your bathroom can give you a lot of insight about how your digestive health is doing. Paying more attention to the frequency, consistency and appearance of your poop could help you get the clues you need to improve your digestive health. After all, health starts in the gut as Hippocrates wisely said over 2,000 years ago.

If your digestion is not working properly, you’re more at risk of having a weak immune system, struggling with mood disorders like depression and suffering from malnutrition (even if you’re eating the most nutrient-dense foods!). Better understanding your digestion is the first step you can take to optimize your overall health, whether you have weight issues, suffer from unpleasant symptoms like fatigue, headaches or skin problems, or are dealing with an autoimmune condition.

Let’s take a look at four of the most common poop problems you can encounter in the bathroom:

  1. the rabbit poop,
  2. the out-of-shape poop,
  3. the open menu poop, and
  4. the floating poop.
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The rabbit poop

Does you poop look like rabbit poop? If you see separate hard lumps in the toilet, chances are that you have a tendency towards constipation. This type of stool is often accompanied by straining and can eventually cause painful hemorrhoids. Rabbit poop can also indicate that you have a slow transit time, which means that your stools stay longer inside your digestive system, putting more at risk for being exposed to harmful waste products for a longer period of time.

What does rabbit poop say about you? First, it’s important to know that it doesn’t mean that you lack fiber and should be eating more whole grains as many people unfortunately assume when they transition to a grain-free Paleo diet. What it could mean though is that you’re not getting enough hydration, healthy fats or gut-friendly probiotic bacteria.  It could also mean that you have a food sensitivity to something you’re currently eating, even if you’re already eating Paleo, whether it be dairy protein (even butter!), nuts or eggs.

The out-of-shape poop

While rabbit poop is more on the constipated end of the spectrum, out-of-shape poop is on the opposite side in the diarrhea category. Unformed poop is often associated with a short transit time, which means that the food you eat moves too fast within your digestive tract. Such a quick transit time leaves little time for your body to assimilate the important nutrients it needs to heal and be healthy.

Despite the standard advice of eating more soluble fiber to manage diarrhea, it’s not necessarily the best approach to take. It might help temporarily, but it doesn’t address the root cause of your problem. You’re not deficient in fiber, but you’re rather likely to be eating a food or taking a supplement that your body is sensitive too, making your body want to get rid of it as quickly as possible. A chronic gastrointestinal infection (from any kind of microbes like parasites, bacteria or fungi) might also be the cause of your chronic diarrhea.

The open menu poop

Can you see most of what you eat in the toilet? If your poop is like an open menu, it’s a sign that you’re not properly digesting (and therefore not absorbing) some of the nutrients you’re eating. What a waste if you’re eating Paleo and trying to source the best quality foods you can find! If your digestion is not optimized, it doesn’t really matter how nutrient-dense your diet is because the nutrients in your food are not getting into your body. It’s literally like throwing money down the toilet.

For many people, an open menu type of poop is indicative of low stomach acid. Stomach acid is very important to start breaking down food in your stomach and, when released into your small intestines, it becomes the signal to let your pancreas and intestines know that it’s time to release digestive enzymes to further break down your foods. Low stomach acid can be caused by stress, antacid medications and an H. Pylori infection. It also appears that eating a vegetarian diet for a significant period of time, which is the case for many people turning to the Paleo diet, can also lower your stomach acid levels.

The presence of undigested food in your poop can also be caused by inadequate chewing. Remember that there are no teeth in your stomach! Damages to your gut lining can also prevent your body from properly digesting and absorbing the food you eat. These damages are often caused by an inflammatory diet, food sensitivities or a gastrointestinal infection (past or current).

The good news is that you can easily supplement your diet with digestive support like betaine HCl and digestive enzymes (ideally under the supervision of a qualified health professional). In the long-term though, stress management and other strategies to promote gut healing are keys to help your digestive system work as well as it should be again.

The floating poop

Floating, pale, foamy and foul-smelling poop is a clear sign that you are malabsorbing fats. The medical term for this digestive problem is steatorrhea, which is associated not only with the inability to properly digest and absorb fats but also a reduced capacity to get crucial fat-soluble nutrients inside your body.

The number one reason for floating poop results from a drastic increase in your fat intake. This is especially common in people just transitioning to the Paleo diet and finally letting go of the low-fat dogma. It’s not that fat is bad, but just that the liver and gallbladder need a bit more time to adjust and increase bile production. If you have this problem, cut back on your fat intake and increase it more slowly to allow more time for your body to adapt.

If you had to say goodbye to your gallbladder, you’re very likely to not be able to digest fats very well and to have floating poop. While your body can somewhat adapt over time, the best strategy to help you benefits from stabilizing and nourishing traditional fats on the Paleo diet is to supplement  with what your body is not longer able to store. If you’re malabsorbing fats, whether you have a gallbladder or not, supplementing with ox bile, sometimes accompanied with the enzyme lipase and extra betaine HCL to improve your stomach acidity, can do wonders for your digestion and overall health.

The perfect poop

What should the perfect poop look like? It should look like a soft brown sausage with a smooth appearance and it should be easy-to-pass. If your digestion is optimal, you should ideally have at least 1 bowel movement a day and up to 2-3 per day.

For some people, implementing the above strategies on top of following a Paleo diet may not be enough to optimize their digestion and get perfect poop. If it’s your case, it might be important to get tested for gastrointestinal infections, SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) and candida overgrowth, or to start on an elimination diet to identify other possible food sensitivities (FODMAPs, eggs, nuts, etc). Tweaking your digestion may take a bit of time and effort but your body will soon reward you for it.

Bottom Line

If you want the best health, you should expect your poop to be perfect because it is the best indicator of how your digestion is going. Abnormal digestion is a sign that your health is not optimal. Health starts in the gut, so make sure you get your digestion in order if you want to achieve optimal health.

If you need extra help to get there:

* Article originally published in Paleo Magazine.

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