How Often Should You Poop?
Poop is an important part of life. For many people, it’s part of daily life. We tend to discount it — since it’s gross and stuff — but your fecal matter is one of the most powerful tools you have at gauging your own health. You probably realize, and that’s why you’re reading this. You’re wondering if your bowel movements are normal and on time. If they aren’t, what does that mean for your health? You can’t ask WebMD because it’s just going to tell you that you have cancer. Instead, you’re hoping for a toned-down explanation of poop. Maybe you can learn a few things without facing existential dread.
You’re in the right place. We’re about to explain way more about your own poop than you can possibly need to know. Mixed in with that should be a few sincere answers to your many poopy questions. So, let’s kick this off. How often should you poop?
The Same As Yesterday
Is that vague enough for you? Often times, when we take a scientific or medical look at a common question, it turns out that the question isn’t really asking the right thing. How often you poop is a lot less important than the consistency of your poop schedule, much less the nature of the poop itself. We’ll get into the dirty details in a minute, but there is no magic number of times you should poop each day or week.
According to modern medicine, pooping anywhere from three times a day to three times a week is healthy. That’s a pretty big range, and it brings us back to the age-old answer to every biological question. The answer depends on the unique aspects of your physiology. As long as you’re in that wide range, you’re in good shape.
What matters more is that your poop schedule is consistent. There are plenty of things that can cause it to shift, but in a general sense, you should be able to predict your next poop. If you don’t have that consistency, you’ll want to pay extra attention when we talk about ways to control the frequency of your bowel movements. So, now that the general answer is covered, let’s get to shit talking.
The Survey Says
So we know what healthy poop schedules look like, but how often are people really squatting on their porcelain thrones? It turns out that Healthline had the same question, so they surveyed a few thousand people. According to their results, roughly 50 percent of adults poop once a day. Another third of the population poops twice a day. That means a mere 20 percent are either pooping more than twice a day or less than once a day. If you’re in either group, you’re in a minority (but not necessarily unhealthy).
Of the people who poop once a day, 61 percent do their business in the morning. It turns out the old stereotype of grabbing a coffee and a newspaper has some merit. The other third of the population is split between pooping at different times. It really is all over the place, but if you’re regular every morning, then you’re also pretty average.
We’re going to harp on this a bit because it’s the most important part of the conversation. You don’t need to be pooping when everyone else is in the bathroom. What you need to look for are changes to regularity. If you’ve been hitting the toilet every evening for a while, and suddenly it’s been two days, that should set off a warning in your head. It doesn’t mean you’re dying, but it’s worth noting because it can tell you a whole lot about your general health. Speaking of health . . .
What Makes Poop Healthy?
Since the frequency of bathroom visits isn’t the key to healthy defecation, we have to wonder what is. What should you look for in your pooping habits to make sure you’re a pillar of health? The basics are pretty easy to follow. Pooping shouldn’t hurt. In fact, it should be at least a little soft and come out without a significant struggle. If it’s dry or hard, you’re on the constipated side of things (we’ll discuss what adjustments you should make in a bit). If it feels like you have to rip yourself a new hole just to evacuate the bowels, that needs attention. Significant or chronic constipation can lead to hemorrhoids and other medical issues. It can also signify some dietary issues.
Conversely, if it’s too loose, then you have an opposite problem. Water in your stool is a bigger problem than most people realize. It’s actually pretty easy to get dehydrated when you’re squirting some juice alongside your turds. We’re not talking about the middle-school-gym-teacher version of dehydrated. Watery poops can get you to the stage of dehydration where doctors are worried about you. This is because your large intestine is where you absorb most of the water you drink. If it’s coming out your butt, you aren’t getting it into your body, and that leads to dehydration pretty quickly. So take it seriously, and drink some extra water.
Aside from firmness, you also want to check the color of your poop. Normally, it’ll be brown, ranging from pretty light to fairly dark. Those are all healthy colors. Sometimes, your poop will turn green. This can seem scary if you’ve never seen it before, but it just means you passed some food a bit faster than normal. Double check your diet and see if you might have an intolerance if you face green poop. But, unless it’s persistent (meaning multiple days), it’s nothing to worry about.
The poop you do want to worry about is red or black. This is the stuff you’ll find on WebMD, so if you’re skittish, go ahead and skip to the next section. When blood gets in your stool, it can be pretty dark. Note that a light red or pink color probably isn’t blood and is more likely from something you ate (like beets). Anything that looks like coffee grounds is serious trouble. If you think for even a moment that you have blood in your stool, go to the hospital. Don’t wait for a routine doctor visit. Go directly to a hospital.
Now that you’re way too worried about the color of your poop, let’s change gears! Is there anyway to control how often you poop?
Controlling the Frequency
If you’re pooping multiple times a day, it might be annoying. Even if you have pretty regular bowel movements, you might prefer to shift your daily potty time. There are plenty of motivations, so let’s explore how to manage your poop schedule.
Is anyone surprised that it starts with your diet? The things you poop literally come from the things you eat, so obviously what goes into your mouth will dictate what comes out of your butt. There are two things to keep in mind when considering dietary effects on your poop schedule. First, you need to track what you eat. Every food will have a different impact on your gut. Food intolerances (lactose, peanuts, and gluten are common culprits) can really mess you up inside and send you to the bathroom more often than you might like.
Aside from intolerances, you need to consider the level of fiber you consume. More fiber usually helps you poop a little more often and keeps things a little softer. Less fiber will push things in the other direction. Most people tend to need a little more fiber, but the nature of your defecation patterns are a great litmus test to remember. Infrequent poops want more fiber. Endless trips to the bathroom might want less. In either case, a rapid change in fiber consumption is something you’ll probably feel in your gut pretty quickly, so make the adjustments in increments.
You also need to think about hydration. If you’re not getting enough water into the digestive system, it’s going to slow down the process. It’s going to make you poop less frequently, and you’ll have more of a struggle every time you’re on the pot. The most universal advice in the world applies once again. Drink lots of water.
The second way that diet affects your poop schedule is with quantity. No matter what you eat, having more of it necessitates that you poop more. Eating less provides less raw material to pass through your system. Now, we’re not advocating you give up eating just to poop less, but it’s important to remember this relationship. If you’re transitioning into an intense workout regime and are getting mad cravings left and right, you’re going to increase your poop frequency by meeting your new calorie quotas. That's just how it works.
Even more to the point, a single big meal can actually accelerate your poop schedule. When you overeat, distention of the stomach puts pressure on the intestines. That pressure forces them to move things along. A really big meal, like Thanksgiving, can actually send you straight to the bathroom if there’s enough pressure.
This is getting generic pretty fast. Health advice that tells you to watch your diet and exercise?! What a revelation. Sarcasm aside, exercise does several things to your poop schedule. For starters, your activity level pretty much dictates your rate of metabolism. That’s a big deal for digestion. So, if you’re more active, you’ll digest a little more quickly, and you might see your poops arrive sooner than if you’re inactive.
That’s not the only way exercise can change digestion. Part of the way your intestines move things through the tract is with peristalsis. The simple explanation of this is that your intestines siphon energy from your general motion and use it to move things along a little more easily. Being active provides more energy that your body can leverage for peristalsis.
That gets amplified when you strengthen your core, but maybe not the way you expect. The digestive tract uses smooth muscles. Those are not getting a workout when you do crunches and what not (unless you’re doing them horribly wrong). But, when the abs and core muscles get stronger, they can more efficiently aid with peristalsis. Having a strong core makes it easier on your digestive tract. In the long run, that can accelerate your poop schedule. In the short run, however, a sore abdomen can actually cause you to move around less and reduce peristalsis. So, a strong core makes you poop sooner, but a sore core might slow your schedule.
Just when you thought we couldn’t be any more generic . . . But, seriously, there are some general health issues that need to be discussed. You already know that getting sick can completely destroy your gut and rewrite your poop schedule. The stomach flu is something we’ve all experienced, and it goes without saying that it will play jump rope with your normal poop habits.
Other infections can be equally troubling. You’ve heard of salmonella. It’s an infection that usually comes with a strong case of the runs. E. Coli can have a similar impact, but it’s often even worse (especially because E. Coli is more prone to getting into the bloodstream).
Aside from infections, you have issues like IBS, inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn's disease, and ulcers. Each will impact your digestion differently, but all will cause abnormal things to happen to your poop schedule. This brings us back to the first thing we told you. The regularity of your poop is what matters. If it’s all over the place, it could be an indicator that you have one of these conditions, and they’re all worth discussing with your doctor.
The last general health issue that can ruin your poop schedule is abdominal injury. If you get kicked in the gut by a horse, your poop will let you know. Of course, the injury doesn’t have to be nearly that obvious or severe. Hernias, stress injuries, and other issues that are sometimes less overt can all shift when you poop. This only reinforces what we’re saying. Pay attention to when your schedule changes and doesn’t quickly revert.
Now, we’re getting into the fun stuff. It turns out that there are some random things that can mess up an otherwise normal poop schedule. Science can’t fully explain any of them, so we thought you’d like to explore a few mysteries of the body’s black hole.
The first is coffee. Sure, you say, everyone knows that coffee makes you poop. What everyone doesn’t know is that science can’t explain why. Researchers have seriously looked into this question, and they’re shrugging. You might think it’s the caffeine, but decaf seems to stimulate the bowels just as much as caffeinated coffee. More mysterious is the fact that coffee tends to elicit a bowel response within minutes of consumption. That’s not because coffee magically passes through your system faster than anything else. Instead, the speed of the response is why researchers are convinced that coffee isn’t directly, chemically causing people to poop. Instead, they chalk it up to a neuro/hormonal response that they can’t remotely explain.
As interesting as that is, coffee’s impact on your bowels is nowhere near as strange as bookstores. You read that right. There’s a phenomenon where bookstores (and libraries) can actually make people feel the urge to poop. It’s common enough that it’s a fairly well-known Japanese colloquialism. You may not have heard of this before, but if you ask around your circle, there’s a chance you’ll find someone who experiences book-induced bowel movements. If you’ve heard of people who sneeze when they look at the sun, this is like that except with books and for your butt.
It’s entirely possible that you can have unique mental triggers that send you to the bathroom. Science has a hard time tracking what really runs the phenomena, but if you’ve experienced a storage bathroom-inducing trend, it might be a real mental trigger.
That’s about all there is to say about poop today. You learned some important things. Sure, we talked about healthy poop and how to take care of yourself, but you also learned that the brown note is written, not musical. Who knew! Hopefully, this is enough to sate your curiosity of all things brown. You can dazzle dinner guests with your newfound knowledge, and you might even get proactive about regulating your bowel movements. Until next time, this should give you plenty of think about on your next trip to the bathroom.