Sunday, November 24, 2013

Your Farts and Poop are Talking to You

And no, not just in a stinky air that clears the room or warns others to not come in after you.

We don't talk about poop and farts nearly enough in this country. It is taboo and grotty and awkward, so we all just pretend it doesn't exist and that we all don't do it, but the reality is, if we don't talk, we don't know. We don't know what is normal, what is OK, and more importantly what isn't OK. We need to be more comfortable talking about bowel movements so that we know what ours are saying to us and what is means. 

Ever notice how animals poop and then immediately check the poop. They smell it, they are checking if everything is OK. Do you ever check your poop? Poop is an immediate indication of what is going on internally. Poop is the excrement of what we eat and what is not absorbed by our bodies, and yes there is a difference between good poop and bad poop. Poop is an immediate indicator of how your digestive tract is working, or not working, for that matter.

Farting is the prelude to a bowel movement, to some extent. Farting simply is your intestines, colon and rectum releasing air. Farting to a certain extent is normal (and yes, girls fart too!), with peristalsis and contraction/release of the intestines and colon comes air, hence farts. But there are other farts that are worth noticing. Ever notice how after you eat something you immediately fart every time you eat it? Or if you eat too fast, you fart? Or are you farting unknowingly and not noticing patterns, well maybe now you will (and yes there are patterns to your farting that are worth noticing).

Eating too fast, we all do it! We eat on the go. We cram in lunch during our busy work day. We eat watching TV. We eat so hurriedly that we still feel hungry after clearing the plate. Did you know on average it takes 20 minutes for the body to even know it is consuming food? How often you do you finish a whole meal in under 20 minutes? Often, I would imagine, we all do. Eating is a whole process that involves your brain, your mouth, teeth, tongue, esophagus, stomach, intestines, colon and rectum. You need every portion of that tract to properly digest food and when you disengage a certain connection your body does not properly digest. Women in particular digest slower. It is only at the 20 minute mark that your body identifies food being consumed at which point neurons fire telling your stomach it is getting food, which subsequently tells your brain when to trigger the satiated feeling. If you rush through the entire digestive process, never engaging your brain or your stomach, to the point where they are speaking to each other, then your conception of hunger, satiation and digestion will all be off. Also eating processed food that block these receptors can cause a disconnect in your digestive system.

Eating too fast makes you intake large amounts of air while eating, this too, can add air to the digestive tract.

Assuming you are eating consciously and healthfully at a slower pace, yet still are particularly gassy, then maybe it what you are eating. We all know the typical foods that cause gas: beans, cruciferous veggies, like broccoli and cauliflower, which have sugars that when broken down cause air in the intestines. Also there are soluble fibers in many vegetables and legumes that as being digested cause addition digestive gasses to be produced. Eating slower and limiting these foods in your diet can be helpful. Or if you are like me and love both, adding papaya extract enzymes to the end of each meal will greatly aide in reducing the gassiness that comes with such foods.

The other foods that cause gas are dairy and gluten, gas produced by consuming these items might be an indication of an intolerance and are worth taking note. Dairy intolerance is the inability to properly digest lactose which is the sugar found in milk products. Lactose intolerance is caused by a deficiency of the enzyme lactase, which is produced by the cells lining the small intestine. Lactase breaks down lactose into two simpler forms of sugar called glucose and galactose. Gas from lactose intolerance is often painful and extremely smelly and happens almost immediately with consuming a milk product. If you recognize this gassiness often after consuming dairy, you might want to consider removing dairy from your diet. If you continue to consume lactose it could lead to diarrhea as well.

Gluten intolerance often causes more severe digestive issues such as diarrhea or constipation, so farting would be a mild indicator of gluten intolerance. If you are able to recognize discomfort to gluten with gas (good for you!) because of your awareness of your digestive system, then possibly you could catch a gluten issue before your get regular diarrhea or constipation. Should you not identify the gas as an indicator and continue to eat gluten the villi and microvilli of your small intestine deteriorate over time with gluten consumption creating an autoimmune reaction each time you consume gluten. The gluten is not properly broken down during assimilation allowing particles to slip through your intestines, which your body identifies as an invader, causing an inflammatory reaction to thwart off the invading gluten intruder. If you didn't notice the preemptive gas, but notice the diarrhea and/or constipation after consuming gluten, your body is telling you it is not happy.

Poop, the good the bad and the down right stinky-ugly. What is considered normal should be medium brown in color, low odor, solidly formed, but not hard to pass, easily cleaned up and should happen 1-2 times per day everyday often around the same time. I have learned over time, very few of us have this regularity, and if you do, good for you, you are eating well and either have gotten a handle on your food allergies or you have none (in which case you suck, jk).

But then there is a multitude of other poops to be aware of. Your poop will fluctuate to a certain extent, inevitably because few of us eat the same thing everyday, but the fluctuations, especially extreme, matter, and should be closely paid attention to:

  • If your poop varies in color, but is generally solidly formed, showing you what you recently ate, then you are have some digestive issues and your poop indicates mild food intolerance. 
  • You could have runny, unformed stool, but not completely diarrhea, but looser than should be "normal," this is your body's "everybody out" mechanism indicating whatever you most recently ate did not digest well. 
  • Next is dark in color, and pellet-like, meaning your gut flora (your happy gut enzymes) are not so happy, you might be dehydrated, stressed or not eating enough fiber. 
  • The last two are an indication that your digestive system is mad and whatever you have been eating for a while is not working well for you. If you do not poop on a daily basis or when you do it is very dark in color, very sticky, hard to cleanup and even greenish-yellow in color you are eating way to many processed, non-whole foods, and your digestive tract is screaming at you to make some serious changes now. Increase your real food intake, it should be alive and colorful and fresh; fresh veggies, fresh antibiotic-hormone free meats and take into serious consideration potential food allergies such as gluten and lactose intolerance. 
If you continue to ignore your stinky-smelly, irregularly, sticky poops, you are asking for many serious health complications down the road, see So What I Love Gluten post for a list of health issues that come if you chose to not address your unhappy digestive tract. Your poop is telling you something. Poop shouldn't be gross. It should be simple, quick and easy to pass and easy to cleanup. 

I guarantee you, you won't think poop is so gross when you understand why it is so gross now and implement what you can do to fix it. Pooping shouldn't be gross, and if it is, that is a red flag for you. And if you happen to have a irregular poop from time to time, use that as a barometer for you to know to check in with your eating habits and remind yourself to come back to center.

Happy pooping! No shame, no embarrassment, no more not talking about it, because your guts are talking to you, and you better listen!

Side Note: I am not implying that if you have irregular bowel movements it means you have food allergies. While irregular bowel movements are part of life (as we eat differently day to day and some days we drink too much, or go out with friends and indulge) the number of commercials showing lately, about "cleaning up" and "having that fresh-clean feeling" or the most recent, "poop perfume" (I know I was a little baffled too) leads to me to believe many people are having messy, irregular bowels and are concerned more about the clean-up and cover-up than the intake. So if your bowels are irregular, particularly stinky and/or sticky, think about your eating habits. Are you eating well? And clean? And fresh? Then maybe this end of your digestion should be considered first, not just the disgust at the excrement. 

A great resource for your digestive tract balance and a Guide to your Poo see Practical Paleo: A Customized Approach to Health and Whole-Foods lifestyle by Diane Sanfilippo, BS, NC, page 75. The different types of poops are detailed and explained with great reference in her book with ways to solve your pooping problems with a Paleo diet (should that work for you). 


  1. I have read and heard that poop should take all shapes of the alphabet as it lays in the toilet: J, S, I, etc. All letters except, which isn't a letter, a "period" - ploppy mess. Any thoughts on this concept?

    1. Intuitively this makes sense. If your poop is firmly solid, as it should be then, letters make sense. A period-type poop to me would mean something like diarrhea or be more similar to pellet-like bowel movement, both of which are concerning, see above for more specifics on those. Ideally yes, you should have an S or J, and yes you should look and be aware enough to think, "huh that looks like a (fill in the blank)."