Let’s talk about bowel movements. We all pass ‘em, but some of us more than others, which got us wondering what’s normal. So, how often should you poop? We asked Dr. Jonathan Kung, medical advisor to Nouri and gastroenterologist at Mt. Sinai and got the answer to our question, and then some. Read on for the full scoop on poop. (Spoiler: Two to three times a day is excellent, but pooping less is fine as long as you’re regular.)
How often should you poop in a day?
There’s a range of what’s considered normal here—some people poop multiple times a day, and some three or so times a week. The key is that your bowel movements are consistent and regular. So, if you reliably empty your bowels every other day, you’re doing fine; the same goes for folks who go twice a day.
Still, Dr. Kung says that “on average, two to three soft bowel movements per day is best,” so if you’re striving to be on top of your poop game, that’s the goal. (Note: If you experience sudden changes to the color, frequency or consistency of your stool, you should see a doctor.)
What are some things that affect your poop cycle?
So why such a big range of normal? Well, it turns out that there are four major factors that can affect how frequently (or infrequently) you poop.
The expert tells us that “what you put into your gut plays a large role in your bowel movements.” Specifically, a high-fiber diet is key to more consistent bowel movements, while meats and processed foods are likely to slow down your poop cycle and, in some cases, can even cause full-blown constipation.
There are many benefits of maintaining a regular sleep cycle, and improved digestive health is one of them. According to Dr. Kung, “a regular sleep cycle of 7 to 8 hours for adults will keep bowel peristalsis regular by lowering stress levels, which lowers the amount of cortisol your body produces.” If sleep deprivation is contributing to unhealthy stress, you might experience constipation or diarrhea—and both are pretty crappy.
We touched on this already, but if quality shut-eye has a positive impact on your poop cycle by lowering stress, it stands to reason that stress is a major factor in the overall equation. Indeed, “stress can influence your eating habits as well as directly impact your gut health, [which is why] maintaining low stress levels is important for normal gut function and peristalsis,” says Dr. Kung. Roger that.
4. Gut microbiome
Yep, the gut microbiome (sometimes referred to as flora) is super important for digestive health. But, um, what is the gut microbiome again? Basically, the gut microbiome is a fancy term that refers to the variety of bacteria found in your gut; ideally, these microorganisms live in perfect harmony together…but alas, that’s not always the case. Per Dr. Kung, “the billions of bacteria that live in our gut play a huge role in how we metabolize food and how we form stool, [and] a diversified gut microbiome leads to healthier, more regular bowel movements.” As such, if you’re experiencing problems with your poop schedule, it could indicate that your gut bacteria is out of balance. (More on what to do about that later.)
How can I maintain a regular poop cycle?
We’ve already outlined the potential poop cycle problems (dare we say shit-stirrers?) but some of the solutions are more intuitive than others. Here, an outline of actionable lifestyle changes you can make to improve regularity and support your overall digestive health.
1. Keep a balanced diet
As previously mentioned, foods that are high in fiber will help move things along, while excess protein from meat will back you up. (Sorry, keto friends.) That said, there’s no need to eliminate meat from your diet—just don’t overdo it and be sure to get your roughage, too.
2. Sleep at least seven hours a night
If you’ve been burning the midnight oil and skimping on sleep, you might want to rethink your routine. Lack of sleep leads to stress, and stress messes with your bowels—so if you want your digestive system to run like a well-oiled machine, it’s wise to aim for a solid seven hours each night.
3. Seek ways to decrease stress
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, stress is bad for your bowels. Adequate sleep is a must, but it’s not always enough to address increased stress levels. As such, the doctor suggests seeking other means of decreasing stress, such as exercise or therapy when needed.
4. Maintain a healthy gut
A whole bunch of things can affect the delicate balance of flora in your gut—genetics, medications and diet, to name a few—and a messed-up microbiome can manifest in many ways, including issues with your bowel movements and regularity. For this reason, Dr. Kung recommends taking a probiotic that contains lactobacillus and bifidobacterium on a daily basis to help straighten things out.