Oh my gosh, it's your worst nightmare: You poop and, quite honestly, you feel so much better. Like a lighter, better version of yourself. Only then you turn around and look in the loo. The log is so large you're worried it's not going to flush down. (Seriously, will it?)
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"[Taking a large poop] can be really embarrassing for people, especially if it happens when they're out at a restaurant or someone else's house," says Jacqueline Wolf, MD, a gastroenterologist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston and author of A Woman's Guide to a Healthy Stomach.
A toilet-clogging BM can happen for a few reasons, Dr. Wolf says. Either it's your diet, the fact you haven't gone in a while or you're not getting everything out completely when you do go. Let's chat about each of these.
1. Your Diet (and It Might Be Super Healthy)
You've probably been told at one point or another to eat more fiber. Indeed, when it comes to fiber recommendations, the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans advise getting between 25 and 34 grams a day if you're under 50, or 22 to 28 grams if you're over that age.
Because fiber is considered one of the shortfall nutrients — meaning most of us aren't getting enough — it's probably safe to say you should be eating more than you are now. And if you're making an effort to really pack in more fiber-rich foods (broccoli, leafy greens, beans, whole grains), well, that's a boon for your overall and GI health, but the change may have some unexpected side effects.
"Fiber helps bulk up the stool, while water also gets drawn into your stool. And so, sometimes, if you've consumed a lot of fiber and fluid, you'll make a big stool," Dr. Wolf says.
That's certainly not a call to eat less fiber or get dehydrated — indeed, both help promote regularity and healthy, pliable BMs. But if you've really been hitting the fiber, that might be the reason your poop is different.
2. You Haven't Gone in Awhile
You don't have to go every day to have a healthy GI system. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases says that constipation is having fewer than three BMs per week, stools that are hard and dry or stool that's difficult to pass.
Basically, everyone is going to have their own unique rhythm that dictates what's normal for them. But if it's been awhile for you, well, things might be building up or drying out, making it harder to pass.
To avoid this problem in the future, you'll want to make sure that you eat the recommended amount of fiber for you, Dr. Wolf says. And focus on physical activity.
"Exercise will increase stool output because it moves things along. It does this by changing the hormones in your gut and also impacting the way muscles [in your GI system] are moving," she says.
What also helps is having a BM when you get the urge to go.
"When you hold it in and you lose the urge, stool just sits there," Dr. Wolf says.
Giving yourself time in the morning to go or consuming coffee can encourage things to get going when you're in an opportune and comfortable place (your home) versus when you're out.
3. You’re Not Getting All of Your Stool Out When You Go
So, here's a little (entirely beginner) anatomy lesson: Once stool travels through your digestive tract and gets to your rectum and fills up, it sends a signal that the contents must go. Your pelvic floor then relaxes rectal muscles and the anal sphincter opens.
"In some people, this process doesn't work very well," Dr. Wolf says. Straining to go actually works against you because you're holding onto stool while pushing really hard.
That said, raising your feet might not be the answer for everyone. You may need to get evaluated for pelvic floor disorders. In that case, Dr. Wolf wants you to know that there are people out there called pelvic floor physical therapists who can teach you how to use everyday tools like breathing exercises to relax and have a full poop.
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.