I realize the title sounds gross, but you can tell a lot from your bowel movements! When my sons were small and came to me complaining of a tummy ache, the first thing I would ask them was “have you had a good poop today?” If they said no, I would cut up some apples, sprinkle them with cinnamon and serve them up this healthy, nutritious, full-of-fiber snack with a large glass of water. This trick worked every time (except when one son actually had appendicitis, but that’s another story). More often than not, within an hour or two they would have a good poop and would then feel much better…
Now that my sons are grown up and rarely tell me about their stomach (or other) ailments, I use the information for myself. If you look at the Bristol Stool chart below that categorizes poop with pictures, you will see shapes and consistency from one extreme (constipation) to the opposite (diarrhea). Stage three or four is ideal; your bowel movements should not cause pain, the poop should come out easily, without straining, and in the shape and firmness of a sausage (their words, not mine) or a snake.
Regularity is the key, one of these bowel movements a day or every second day is normal.
If you do not fit into the “normal” category indicated in the chart, try increasing your daily intake of water by the glassful or by eating more fresh fruit and vegetables. Taking a pill or other forms of medication (laxatives) to soften your stools or increase their frequency is only a band-aid fix that can land you in more trouble by causing serious side effects and dependency on the medication. The same thing applies to diarrhea; medication should be a last resort, especially if you suspect the diarrhea is caused by something you have eaten or taken.
Constipation can and does happen to anyone and everyone, young and old, but some people more readily than others. Too much sugar, too little water, too much fat, too much protein, and too little fiber can all cause problems or irregularity with your bowel movements. Medications, allergies, and food sensitivities can also wreak havoc on your body, causing constipation or diarrhea. Constipation and diarrhea are your body’s way of telling you something is wrong and a warning that you should change your habits. Of course, if either condition lasts longer than a day or two, you should see your doctor as it could be a sign of more serious problems.
If your children automatically look for a snack as soon as they come in the door, consider having cut-up fresh fruit or vegetables readily available, with or without a dip. Fresh fruit and vegetables are loaded with fiber and contain a large amount of water, both great for keeping their bowel movements in the healthy zone. Another trick I used when my children were young was to add water to their juice cups. (half and half) They would probably tell you now that it tasted awful, but it worked. Years later, I still encourage them to drink more water and eat more fiber to maintain their health.
Although I usually eat fairly well, I like everyone else, do like to indulge in things that are not so good for me. It does not take long for my body to react to things like junk food, excess alcohol, and lack of exercise. Adding fiber and water back into my diet works wonders in getting me back to the right category of the chart.