Potty Talk: What is a Normal Bowel Movement – And Why Is This Important For Your Health?
By Jeremy Holt
Mar 24, 2016
Updated Nov 17, 2023
5 min read
How do I know if I have normal potty habits?
When talking about potty habits (known in high society as bowel habits), your “normal” is whatever is normal for you. Confused? You’re not alone.
Many well-meaning people will tell you what they think are supposed to be normal bowel habits. However, studies show having a bowel movement happens at a different frequency for everyone. If, for most of your life, you have a bowel movement every day, that’s YOUR normal. Some people have a bowel movement about three times a week, while others, only once a week. So, after all these years, you should know what’s normal for you. (Please note: there ARE some “unhealthy normals” discussed later in this article.)
Healthy bowel movements are those that allow you to empty your colon (sometimes called your intestines) often enough that you don’t feel bloated or in pain, and you don’t have to strain hard to get the job done. There’s even a chart describing what you should see before you flush the toilet (called the Bristol Stool Scale). Don’t worry! It’s alright if you don’t want to have to look at this visually-stimulating chart.
Here is the summation: if your poop looks like pebbles, you’re constipated (if you aren’t an infant), and if your poop is practically a liquid, you have diarrhea. What you want is soft, easy-to-push-out poop (hereafter referred to as “stool”).
I just realized I only experience unhealthy bowel movements!
So, what if you DO have abdominal pain and bloating, and constipation, and this is how it’s been for years. Talk to your doctor. You may just need to add a laxative to your routine, and this will help you get to a comfortable, new “normal.”
You may need to also adjust your lifestyle to get into a healthier routine (more about this later in this article). Your doctor will also advise you on whether medical testing should be done to rule out diseases affecting bowel movements. Some of these colon diseases are only inconvenient, while others can be life-threatening, so don’t delay talking to your doctor.
Why have things changed for me?
Now that you know the normal frequency for your bowel movements, what should you do if your bowel movements become abnormal?
There are a lot of things that can upset your colon. First, let’s be sure we’re all talking about the same body part. Where is your colon?
The colon is in the lower part of your abdomen, and it’s the last place the food you eat travels before it exits the body. If you look at the picture, you’ll see where the colon (large intestine) is compared to where your stomach sits. Most of us know where the stomach is if we’ve gone for a while without eating.
Food poisoning or eating a lot of an unfamiliar food (especially high-fiber foods) can cause colon irregularity for a while. But if neither of these things are the problem, there are several easy-to-determine things that can cause your colon problems. Vacations and other types of traveling often cause changes in your bowel habits. This is because you are often eating a lot of different types of food instead of your “at home” diet, and you may not be drinking as much water as you usually do.
Additionally, if you’re hurrying around having fun, you might not be taking time for a good, old-fashioned “rest” in the restroom. So don’t be surprised if you lose your “normal.” The good news is, when you get back to your work and home life, you’ll soon revert back to your normal self.
Another common reason for changes in your bowel movements are new medications. Many medications have a side -effect of constipation. On the other hand, antibiotics are commonly associated with diarrhea. If either of these happen, consult with your doctor so you can get back to normal.
What diseases and disorders can give me abnormal bowel movements?
Many diseases and disorders can cause abnormal bowel movements. In the following examples, your “normal” is actually “abnormal,” and you should see a doctor if you have any of the following:
What can I do to increase my colon health?
The most important way to be sure your colon is healthy, especially if you’re over the age of 50 and/or have a family history of colon disease, is to get a colonoscopy. Before and after the age of 50, there are many studies on how to avoid cancer of the colon or at least reduce your risk factors. However, one of the most frequently asked questions is: Does a colon detox work, and if so, how does it cleanse your colon? The answer is: We really don’t know. There haven’t been enough scientifically-broad studies on the effect of a colon cleanse.
Before using any of the following scientifically-studied suggestions, consult your doctor to see if any of your medical conditions would prohibit you from following these rules provided by the American Heart Association: