Oh, poop. What's the scoop on poop?
Updated: Sep 2, 2020
Poop can reveal a whole lot about your health, and although it may not be your top choice of conversation-starting material, it can answer the common question: "how are you doing?"
Whether your poop is green or brown, watery, or looking similar to rabbit droppings, there's often a relatively simple explanation (and solution!) for what's going on.
What does normal poop look like?
While "normal" bowel movements can certainly vary, healthy poop should generally follow some basic criteria: "Poop can range in shapes from what I'll call bunny poops, which indicate constipation, to a thick pipe (ideal), to watery, which indicates either an infection, too little fiber, or some kind of food sensitivity or reaction," according to functional medicine physician Wendie Trubow, M.D.,"Poop can be a number of colors as well depending on what you are eating (which you know if you've ever eaten beets) but tends toward shades of brown, from light to dark."
Different types of poop and what they mean.
Your poop color, shape, and texture can indicate certain things about your body and overall health:
Brown: This is normal.
Red: This could indicate lower GI bleeding, or simply that you ate red-colored foods (like beets).
Green: This could be a sign of undigested bile, green vegetables in your diet, blue or green food coloring in something you ate, or other digestive issues.
Yellow: This could possibly mean gallbladder problems or Giardia (parasites).
White: This may be a side effect of taking antacids, or it could indicate pancreatic disorder or liver disease.
Black: This might be a sign of upper GI bleeding, eating an excess of meat, or a side effect of taking iron supplements.
Image from Penn Medicine
Texture, shape, and size
You consult the Bristol Stool Chart, a science-based scale outlining different "types" of poop (from Type 1 to Type 7) based on shape and texture, and what they indicate: Types 1 and 2 indicate constipation, Types 3 and 4 are considered normal, and Types 5 to 7 indicate diarrhea and urgency. But in summary:
Type 1: Hard small lumps that look almost like little pebbles and are hard to pass. This type of poop is a sign of constipation.
Type 2: Log-shaped but lumpy and a bit hard. This type also indicates constipation.
Type 3: Log-shaped with a few cracks on the surface and easy to pass. This type of bowel movement is considered normal.
Type 4: Smooth and snake-like, and easy to pass. This is also normal.
Type 5: Soft blobs with clear cut edges that are very easy to pass.
Type 6: Fluffy, mushy pieces with ragged edges that can be an indicator of mild diarrhea.
Type 7: Watery with no solid pieces. This is a clear indicator of diarrhea (i.e., stool moving through your bowels very quickly).
Once a day is not the "norm", while most people go at least once a day, there are many who do not poop for 2-3 days at a stretch - and this can be a norm. Your poop cycle depends a lot on your diet. For example, if you are eating too many carbs, your poop will harden and if you are feasting on roughage, it will loosen up. However, bear in mind that with a healthy diet, one should be pooping 1-3 times daily. So if you haven't hit that sweet spot of 1 poop a day, maybe consider changing up your diet a little.
Pooping after a meal is normal. Though don't worry, this is not the food you just ate!
What to do if your poop is abnormal.
Everyone may have a different “normal” bowel pattern but it is important to understand that if you have a change in bowel habits or you are seeing black tarry stools or red blood in the stool, you need to seek immediate medical attention.
If you're not pooping enough, or you're dealing with type 1 or type 2 stool, you're likely experiencing constipation. For many, this is caused by dehydration and low fiber intake. In this case, simple changes such as taking a probiotic with Bifidobacterium (or a spore-based type of probiotic), increasing fluid intake, eating high-fiber foods, and exercising regularly can help manage constipation and get you back into balance.
*Although we suggest always consulting with a physician, especially if your problem persists.
On the other hand, if you're pooping too frequently and dealing with stool types 5 to 7, you're likely experiencing diarrhea. If this is the case (and you don't think it's caused by something like a stomach bug), there are some things you can try at home. In addition to a probiotic, you may also try incorporating starches like rice, and boosting your intake of soluble fiber can help bulk up your stool.
*However, if you're feeling concerned about the size, shape, or color of your stool, check in with your medical practitioner to determine the best course of action.
If your poop never seems to sink in the toilet bowl, that can be a reflection of your diet and certain health conditions. Floating poop can be caused by:
Poor absorption of nutrients — called malabsorption
Too much gas, which can occur with a change in your diet
A gastrointestinal infection
Usually, floating poop isn’t a cause for concern on its own. However, if you have other symptoms, such as significant weight loss, talk to your primary care provider to see what’s going on.
Your poop may not smell like flowers, but the odor of your poop should be familiar. If it’s suddenly extremely bad-smelling and has you running for the air freshener each time you go to the bathroom, this can be a sign of a problem. Foul-smelling poop can be caused by:
Chronic pancreatitis, which is inflammation of your pancreas
Cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease that can affect your lungs, pancreas, liver, kidneys, and intestines
An intestinal infection, which can be caused by a virus, bacteria, or parasites in your intestine
Bottom line - Monitor your poop habits.
If you didn’t make any major changes to your diet and your poop suddenly has a strong odor, or any "extreme" change in texture, color (granted you haven't eaten beets or loads of leafy greens), or frequency, or is painful to pass, there may be a problem so it's then best to holler at your doctor!
Resources: mbg, Penn Medicine