Did you hear the one about the guy who couldn’t go number two for 10 years?
Apparently, everyone doesn’t poop. But this was a very rare and extreme case, and most likely you do. The questions are: When and how often?
Whether you’re going three times a day or once every three days—both of which are totally normal, by the way—when it happens like clockwork, that’s a sign from the body that things are going OK. And if your bowel movements all of a sudden shift, don’t worry. There are a few possible explanations for irregularity, and it’s generally fairly easy to get back on track.
A change in fiber intake
Fiber not only slows digestion in order to help the body absorb nutrients, but also binds to stool to bulk it up and make it easier to pass. If you’re going less often than normal, you might be running low.
Here’s how much fiber you should be getting daily, according to the American Dietetic Association:
- Women younger than 51: 25 grams
- Women 51 and older: 21 grams
- Men younger than 51: 38 grams
- Men 51 and older: 30 grams
Americans only average about 15 grams a day—clearly not enough! So eating more fiber-rich foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, seeds, and legumes is probably a good choice. It goes both ways, though—eating too much fiber, too fast could make you go more often. Increase your intake gradually over a few weeks to let your gut adjust, and to avoid running to the bathroom constantly.
An inconsistent exercise routine
Getting the urge to expel in the middle of a workout is pretty common. That’s because exercise speeds up the process of food moving through the large intestine, and stimulates contraction of the intestinal muscles, too.
If you’re feeling blocked up, and you’ve been skipping workouts, that could be the culprit. Take it as a good excuse to get moving again!
Vacation and weekends
How much about your diet and exercise regimen changes when you’re taking some chill time? For a lot of people, probably quite a bit. When you’re just trying to enjoy life, it’s tempting to replace spinach salad with tacos and let workouts take a backseat to cocktail hours.
There are a couple of other factors at play, too. Spending long periods of time immobile on a plane or in a car may slow down the food moving through your intestines. And jet lag or time zone shifts could be the reason your bathroom schedule seems off.
Thankfully, the effects are only temporary and things should normalize once you get back into your regular routine. If an unpredictable poop pattern does stress you out, you can help things along by staying as active as possible during your time away.
For women who experience more active bowels during their period, here’s the explanation (finally!). Some women may produce more prostaglandins—hormones that prompt the uterus to contract in order to release the uterine lining, along with the blood. Some of these prostaglandins can make their way over to the nearby bowel and trigger the same action there. (Science—it never ceases to amaze.) There isn’t a whole lot you can do to avoid this, but at least you know it’s not weird. If it’s bothersome, talk to your doctor.
Even if you miss your regularly scheduled visit to the porcelain throne every now and then, you probably don’t have anything to worry about. Now, if you miss it for 10 years, that’s another story.
Illustration by Karley Koenig