Fecal Matters

Estimated read time... 6 minutes

I grew up in a family, for better or worse, where poop was talked about at every meal, even large family gatherings on holidays.

Even now, it is not a family get-together without poop being discussed. As a kid this was hilarious, a teenager super embarrassing, an adult hilarious and shocking, and as an herbalist this is fascinating.

Let’s face it: everyone poops.

When I don’t eat my usual diet, my guts get messed up and my bowel movements get… off.  Things don’t flow they way they usually do. I cannot imagine eating the way many of us tend to eat over the holidays, year round! I don’t know about you, but I definitely feel blah after all of this celebrating with friends and family. I think this is why so many people want to do “detoxes” and “cleanses” this time of year, but there are better ways of going about feeling better without subjecting our bodies to the opposite extreme of holiday celebrations: juice cleanses in the middle of winter. Alas, post-holiday detox and cleanse alternatives will have to be saved for another post!

If you don’t poop, you feel terrible or out of sorts, congested; if you poop too much you feel drained and exhausted. Establishing a balance with your bowel movements, frequency, shape and texture are all important for feeling your best.

What does your poop say about you?

There are differing opinions regarding the frequency of bowel movements: some people say once every three days can be “normal for you” whereas others say that one bowel movement per meal is “normal for you”. “Normal for you” seems to be the prevailing statement no matter what the frequency may be whether this makes logical or rational sense or not. I’m of the opinion that going daily, within a couple of hours of waking is great, and if you go a second time that day – that’s great too. More or less than that is not ideal. Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese medicine also state this. If you go more than that, your body is possibly flushing out too many nutrients (thus not absorbing enough); if you go less than that, your body is not eliminating waste frequently enough. Medications can affect bowel movement frequency, be aware of this. Think about it: you eat three meals a day, plus snacks if you are so inclined, how often are you going to the bathroom? Does once every three days sound great to you?  Does three or four times a day sound great?

The shape, color, and smell of your stool matters!!!

The Bristol Stool Chart is a handy reference as far as the shape is concerned. Hard stools, or stools that are difficult to pass are not ideal, nor are stools that are loose or watery. Between type three and four on the Bristol Stool chart is what you should be aiming for: well-formed stool like a banana, without cracks or lumps, and not broken into smaller pieces.



Color should be a nice neutral brown (like milk chocolate – neither red, nor green, nor orange, black or white/pale) is considered the optimal color.

My family, in typical poo-talking fashion, says, “corn today, corn tomorrow”. In general, there should be no undigested food particles in your stool. Chew your food well, don’t inhale it.  If you eat a lot of raw foods (salads, juices) try switching to cooked foods for a period of time and see what happens.

If you still have undigested food in your stool after ensuring that you are chewing thoroughly and avoiding raw foods, this means your overall digestion is weak with Spleen Yang Deficiency.  Basically, your Spleen (the ruler of digestion and absorption) has no fire (lack of Yang) to cook (digest) your food with and it goes through you raw (uncooked, undigested.)  If you have the tendency towards lower backache, coldness in your lower back, have the tendency to be cold, and/or have possible early morning (cock’s crow) diarrhea, then you may have Kidney Yang Deficiency. The Kidneys are the root of Yin and Yang in the body and affect all other Organ processes.  In both cases (Spleen Yang Deficiency, Kidney Yang Deficiency) eat cooked foods, and include warming spices to support your Yang (fire, warmth): cloves, ginger, black pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, rosemary, star anise, nutmeg, fenugreek, fennel, chives, scallions.  Keep your digestive fires burning bright!

Do you have mucus in your stool or really sticky stool?  This is called Dampness.  You might want to keep a food diary, and avoid Damp forming foods such as: dairy, processed foods, nuts, yeasted foods, alcohol, fried/fatty foods, and so on.

Do you tend to have very dark and tarry stools, and are not eating beets or taking a supplement/medication that can account for this sign?  Having dark/tarry or red stools can be a sign of blood in your stool – get thee to a doctor.  It is also wise to seek medical attention if your stools suddenly change, you can’t find a direct correlation (ie eating too many blueberries) and your stool doesn’t return to what was once normal for you.  Suffice it to say that if you have pain when passing stool (before, after, during), get it checked out by a doctor.

Does your stool tend to be green or orange and you don’t eat an enormous amount of leafy greens or orange produce?  Green or orange colored stools, unrelated to food intake, indicate Organ imbalances.  Which Organs they are, depends on other presenting signs.

Is your stool unusually pale, and you can’t trace it to a white food-dye/coloring/coating?

Does is smell so awful no amount of Poo-pouri or lit matches saves you or your loved ones? Yes, yes, poo should smell, but it shouldn’t smell so awful you have to avoid the bathroom for an hour!

Do you alternate between loose stools/diarrhea and constipation?

Do you strain to go?  Do you rush to the bathroom with urgency?  Do you have to sit on the toilet for long periods of time in order for your stool to pass?

These are all signs that your stool is not optimal, that your diet and lifestyle need to be carefully assessed and that you may need herbal support in addition to your dietary and lifestyle changes.  In the meantime…

What can you do to improve your poo?

  • Drink enough fluids – Are you drinking enough water and staying hydrated?  Are you always thirsty, but don’t remember to drink water (or don’t like water?)  Try adding some slices of lemon, cucumber, bunches of mint or herbal teabags to flavor your water and make it more appealing.  I love water, but sometimes get bored of the same thing over and over, that’s when I put a squeeze of lemon or orange into it, or switch it up and get carbonated water.
  • Eat enough fiber and chew your food thoroughly – eat plenty of leafy greens, veggies, whole grains, lentils and seeds
  • Watch the common food allergens: dairy, wheat/gluten, corn, soy, nuts. If you have chronic loose stools or digestive issues, it is wise to figure out if you have a sensitivity to the aforementioned foods as you could be irritating your gut unwittingly.  I have issues with dairy, though I love it, and if I have it frequently (ie more than every once in a while) my stomach and gut become rather unhappy: loose stools and diarrhea, stomach aches and pains, even skin rashes!  If I don’t have dairy, I don’t have these issues.
  • Omega 3’s and healthy fats- are you getting enough healthy fats in your diet?  These fats are not only great for your outer appearance, but for your internal organs as well!  If your stools tend to be dry, yet you drink enough fluids, try incorporating more healthy fats into your diet.
  • Triphala!  Triphala is an Ayurvedic combination of three fruits: Amalaki (Amla), Bibhitaki (Belleric Myrobalan) and Haritaki (Chebulic Myrobalan). Take triphala before bed and you’ll be amazed after a couple weeks with how you feel; your morning will be an entirely new experience!
  • Probiotics – eat fermented veggies (my favorites are sauerkraut and kimchi) on a daily basis.  This keeps the “good guys” well populated in your digestive tract, and improves overall digestion and elimination.  You don’t have to eat tons, a couple of forkfuls a day is plenty to start with to bring about gut balance.
  • Put your feet up!  When you sit down to do your business, put your feet up on a toilet stool. These stools raise your knees and feet to bring better alignment of your colon and ease the passage of your stool.  Don’t have a toilet stool?  No worries, flip your bathroom trashcan over, get a small wooden box, an old storage bin, or anything else that you can grab to get your knees slightly higher than your hips.  This is especially useful when stools are difficult to pass!
  • Monitor your stress levels and emotions – stress and emotions can affect your digestion and elimination.  Are you processing things in your life, or are you holding onto things that you’d be better off letting go?
  • Magnesium – if you tend towards tight muscles, try a little magnesium supplementation.  I like taking and recommending Natural Calm Magnesium before bed.  The magnesium works to loosen up tight muscles and tissues.  Start with half the recommended dosage, then work your way up to what is most comfortable for you.
  • Move!  Are you sedentary all day and experience sluggish bowels?  Get out there and move!  Walk, dance, bike, jump, swim – get your body and blood moving so your bowels can get moving too!

For the next few days, observe your bowel movements and ask yourself, “what is my poop trying to tell me?”

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1 reply
  1. Pete
    Pete says:

    Your health will always be your top priority. Always eat healthy and live a healthy lifestyle. Thank you for this great information.

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