Everything We Learned About Poop in 2020, Because Your Gut and Butt Will Thank You

Everybody poops (except me, when sharing a small space with a love interest), and yet the ins and outs (pun intended) of our bowel movements have remained somewhat of a mystery to most of us throughout our lives. After all, poo is taboo, and no one but your gastroenterologist—and that one TMI friend/toddler you know—wants to talk about it.

Or so it may seem, but based on the popularity of Well+Good’s sh*ttiest content, readers apparently do very much want to talk about it. As a result, we covered quite a bit of information regarding bowel movements last year, asking experts all the things you would sooner die than inquire about. From whether or not your poo is actually wafting onto your toothbrush to why you might actually cry during defecation, the answers are ours at long last. And they can be yours, too; below, 12 things we now know about poo that you should, too.

1. It should take a fairly specific amount of time to poop 

If you’re reading books on the toilet (aka “if you’re scrolling Twitter on the toilet…”) something is not right. According to experts, it should only take somewhere between 10 seconds to a minute to do your business. Any longer than that, and you’d be considered constipated. Any shorter than that, and you’ve got the opposite problem—diarrhea. The latter could also be symptomatic of a gastrointestinal issue, such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).

Fortunately, if you are posting up for more than a minute, no harm, (some) foul. Constipation is more so uncomfortable than dangerous, and a little added fiber might be all that’s needed to lessen the load, so to speak. In the meantime, you can catch up on The Odyssey (read: all the tea on Twitter).

2. Bathroom emergencies (or “poop sweats”) have one main cause 

Almost nothing is worse than experiencing the sudden urge to defecate where you stand, save possibly for experiencing said urge nowhere near your bathroom in the middle of a pandemic which has rendered strange toilets risky (or, riskier). It’s difficult to prevent such situations, too, unless you understand why they occur.

According to experts, the bulk of the blame falls on the vagus nerve, a key component of your parasympathetic system that supervises digestion. As such, it controls a function known as peristalsis, an involuntary constriction and relaxation of the intestinal muscles that makes you feel 911 vibes emanating from your anus. It’s usually triggered when your bowels are too full, but it can also be triggered by stress. So if you frequently experience poop sweats and aren’t, for some reason, consistently packing it in without release, you probably need to chill out. Because again, you don’t even know stress until you’ve pooped yourself (or so I’m told… this has definitely never, ever happened to me, twice).

3. Fortunately, there are ways to avoid poop sweats

Not sure how to chill out your vagus nerve so it doesn’t cause you to literally sh*t yourself in the dream job interview you’re totally manifesting for yourself this year? Breathing practices can help relax you and it, experts say. Try one of these six techniques.

4. Stress could be causing you the opposite poop-related problem, too

If you’re less so inadvertently exploding than you are expanding (via constipation), the culprit could also be stress. According to experts, spikes in the stress hormone cortisol can slow digestion, leading to backups and bloating.  If you’re experiencing inexplicable bloat, you may want to check not only your stress levels but also the potential side effects of stress spikes—e.g. eating garbage-y, non-fiber-rich foods and getting insufficient exercise or movement in your day—which can make the problem worse.

5. Heat waves can sometimes make you poop abnormally 

Not that many of us have to worry about this anytime soon, but apparently high temps can indirectly affect your bowel movements. According to Niket Sonpal, MD, a New York-based internist and gastroenterologist, this effect is usually due to inadequate hydration. It’s also sometimes the result of a loosening of the reigns on your lifestyle—e.g. drinking more sugary things, perhaps eating more ice cream than broccoli, etc.—in warmer (read: more fun) months. To beat the heat poops, drink more H20 in the summer than you do in the winter, and make sure you’re balancing your sundaes and Slurpees with a dose of fiber.

6. Your “stomach” may go on strike if you’re not getting in your steps

Unless you live somewhere where you walk all the time (aka New York City) or have a job that requires you to be on your feet, modern life makes it extremely difficult to make consistent use of your lower body for the purpose of walking—and the pandemic has only compounded this problem by giving many of us fewer places to go. (For example, my current daily life consists of a twenty-foot walk from my bed to my desk in the morning followed by a ten-foot walk to my couch at night and that’s… it.)

This is not good for the purposes of digestion, because your stomach muscles do not contract when you’re sitting, and contraction helps to push out gas and stool. So if you’re disappearing into a cloud of your own farts while binging Bridgerton, you might try breaking for a walk around the block or, if it’s too cold/you can’t tear your eyes from the Duke, pacing (promenading?) in front of the TV works, too.

7. You can still be constipated after you poop

It’s reasonable to assume pooping relieves constipation but apparently, this isn’t always the case. According to Fiber Fueled author and gastroenterologist Will Bulsiewicz, MD, you can go number two without fully emptying your bowels, and if this happens multiple days in a row, you can end up with gnarly symptoms of constipation despite regular visits to the loo. If you think this might be the case for you, he recommends clearing your system by drinking magnesium citrate. Or, you can take nightly magnesium citrate supplements followed by fiber supplements in the morning for ongoing digestive assistance.

8. Toilet plumes are a real thing you should be worried about

When you flush your toilet, everything inside of it is aerosolized—which essentially means that poop, pee, and even period blood is shot out into the room in tiny microscopic droplets. Cool, right? Especially since your toothbrush is sitting unprotected next to your sink, just collecting that (literal) sh*t up! What’s perhaps most disturbing is that it’s possible COVID-19 could spread this way. Fortunately, however, this is an easily solvable problem—put the toilet seat down before you flush to contain wastewater ejaculate.

9. Toilets that takes pictures of your poop are a real thing, too

A lot went down this year, so you’d be forgiven for missing the news that researchers at Stanford University created a smart toilet equipped with four cameras aimed at collecting photographic evidence of your droppings. While it’s not yet available to the public, the idea behind the Paparazzi Potty™ (my name, not theirs) is that it when it does reach homes, it can work as a diagnostic tool, analyzing stool samples for signs of IBS, colorectal and urologic cancers, and other diseases and then notifying your doctor. Between this and a colonoscopy, this invention seems like a far preferable method for assessing the health of your digestive tract. Hopefully it’ll make its way to our bathrooms soon (but celebrity hacking victims, beware!).

10. This is why you cry when you poop

Apparently, there are entire Reddit threads dedicated to this phenomenon, which I myself have not experienced but which, candidly, sounds cathartic AF. In any case, if this happens to you, there is no reason to be concerned. According to Dr. Sonpal, the tears are not the result of pain but rather of an increase in intra-abdominal pressure to help your rectum push out the stool. Pressure is simultaneously increased in the skull, which can squeeze out tears, too. Typically, this happens when the stool is large or particularly difficult to pass, and the antidote is (you guessed it) more fiber and water.

11. Sometimes, pooping can feel orgasmic

While you’re just out there having regular ol’ bowel movements, some people are experiencing “poo-phoria,” aka highly pleasurable deuce-dropping. While the phenomenon is not all that well understood, it’s thought to have something to do with stimulation of the vagus nerve—the same kind of stimulation, in fact, that typically leads to orgasm.

12. You can put a stop to anxiety-induced pooping 

When you’re anxious, your brain and your gut start sending mixed signals to each other, which may make you feel the urge to hit the can more often than usual. (This explains so much about 2020.) To alleviate this issue and keep yourself regular, experts recommend reducing your caffeine intake, eating well (more fiber, less dairy!), exercising, and even meditating. If your symptoms don’t subside, be sure to visit a pro, even in pandemic times, to ensure there aren’t more serious issues at play.

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