Updated: Mar 2
Sounds like a bit of a weird one, but if you feel you are now ready to improve your digestion for once and for all, it might pay off to start looking back, quite literally.
In order to know what positive changes you can make to improve your digestion (and with that, a lot of other health aspects), it's important to know a bit more about what and how your body is digesting food.
You could go about cues your body gives you, such as one of the 9 signs you might have digestive issues, you could get a host of tests done, some of which are not very reliable and most of them very costly, or you could pay attention to what's coming out on the other end. It's 100% free and no interventions needed!
Knowing the 'state of your stool' can tell you a lot about how you digest your food. There are whole cultures where looking at what comes out is normal, and there are even toilets that make this easier. (Those European toilets with a flat landing surface can really come in handy on your travels, just saying)
Things to look out for.
What's good, what's bad and what's normal can vary greatly, depending on each person. It may also depend on your current health state.
Here are some red flags to look out for, if you experience any of these symptoms, make sure to get this checked out by your GP asap! Some foods such as beets and licorice may change the colour of your stool, keep this in mind and be sure to mention it to your practitioner.
Bright red colour, or visual blood (this might indicate bleeding in the colon, or could be caused by hemorrhoids or even a tear in the anus)
Black, tarry coloured stool (this is a sign of bleeding higher up in your digestive tract, such as your esophagus or stomach)
Clay coloured stool (or greenish stool, may indicate issues with your liver and/or bile)
Thin ribbon-like shaped stool (could be caused by an internal obstruction)
Prolonged constipation (not going to the bathroom for more than 5 days, and having to strain for several minutes)
Prolonged diarrhea (more than 2 days, especially combined with dark urine, fever and weakness or fainting)
What is normal?
As mentioned before, what is normal for you, might not be normal for me, or the other way around.
Some people go as often as 3 times per day, while others go every 2-3 days and feel perfectly fine.
If you are not sure what your own normal is, or if you recently made some changes to your diet and your bowel habits might change, it could be a good idea to track what happens for a while.
Depending on what you eat, you might notice a more or less compact stool. If you eat a lot of fiber, your stool is usually softer and more regular. Things such as sweet corn can come out undigested, but other foods might also not digest very well and you'd actually be able to recognise this. If you see a lot of undigested foods and you notice your transit time (the time from when you eat until you poop it out) is less than 48 hours, I would suggest keeping an eye on it and letting your GP know.
Strong smelling stool can be caused by spices (something you might have noticed after eating a curry) or certain foods such as beans and other pulses, or cruciferous veg. (Cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts etc)
You can refer to the well known Bristol Stool chart to be able to give your bowel movements terms in case you want to discuss this with your practitioner.
The bottom line...
No pun intended!
How and in what form your food comes out at the end, can tell you a lot about your current state of health, and can also answer some questions in terms of how well you absorb your food and therefore your nutrients!
Get comfortable with being curious about what is going on and how your tummy feels as well.
You can even go as far as tracking your bowel habits. Some of my clients create their own discrete symbol chart they add into their diary or journal.
By tracking what goes on, you could identify certain patterns or possible food sensitivities, upon which you can act. Either by changing your eating or lifestyle habits.
Why not make your life easy and use the food symptom tracker below.