By Glenn Ellis
Bowel movements might not typically come up in adult conversation, but their overall nature provides an indication of how quickly your digestive system is working. If you have diarrhea, for example, during which your bowel movements are runny and frequent, your digested food is moving through your system too quickly. In the case of constipation, in which your stools are hard and infrequent, your digested food isn’t moving quickly enough.
Hopping on the bathroom scale to weigh yourself before and after you have a bowel movement might be tempting, but unless your scale is highly accurate, you won’t likely notice a difference in your body weight. Even if you did, emptying your bowels doesn’t count as true weight loss. Although regular bowel movements are part of your overall health, losing weight depends on your caloric intake and expenditure.
One of the most frequent questions I’m often asked is: Is it true that we weigh less in the morning?
Generally, yes, because you don’t have the added weight of a recent undigested meal. During the day, when you’re eating and drinking, those foods (and fluids) add weight—at least until they’re digested and excreted. Just a cup of water adds half a pound, for example—and 20 percent of most meals are water, which adds up to a lot of extra weight. Since you’re not eating or drinking during the night (unless you get the midnight munchies), your body has a chance to remove extra fluids (that’s why you pee so much in the morning when you wake up). So, weigh yourself in the morning … after you pee.
In general terms, the amount a person poops at any given time weighs between one and four pounds. For someone who is regular, the weight is lower. For someone managing chronic constipation or other intestinal issues, the weight can be toward the higher end of the spectrum when the constipation resolves itself.
It’s not cause for concern if your bowels don’t move at the same rate as the bowels of your family members, since there is no firm definition of bowel regularity. It can be normal to have one bowel movement every day or two, or to have three bowel movements in a single day. It is a concern if you don’t have more than three bowels movements in a week, however. You can often alleviate constipation by eating fiber, increasing your water intake and exercising daily.
If people in this country were actually eating the right foods in the right way, there would be no reason for us to rely on gallons of antacids or acid inhibitors, or enormous amount of laxatives.
Eating a high-fiber diet contributes not only to healthy bowel movements; it can also help you lose weight and positively affect your overall health. Getting 25 to 38 grams of total dietary fiber per day helps you maintain regularity, while also scrubbing your intestines to keep them healthy, while also reducing your risk of colon cancer. Fiber also helps regulate your blood sugar, which prevents food cravings, and sends your brain the signal that you’re full.
With the magnificent digestive system we’re equipped with (in my opinion, the most spectacular piece of machinery ever built. Check it out sometimes.), we still suffer from mechanical breakdowns like gas, cramping, constipation, and generally feeling sluggish after eating. These “red flags” pop up, yet many of us continue to ignore them, and remain oblivious to the potential problems they can lead to.
There is no question we are not eating the right foods. Adding stress and eating on the run creates a combination of factors that can lead to heartburn and indigestion, and may develop into ulcers and colon disease.
The large intestine (or colon) is responsible for the absorption of water and provides a “holding tank” for the storage of waste until you have a bowel movement. Needless to say, this reservoir of waste is the perfect environment for bacteria to breed (moist, warm, dark) and can either serve to enhance our health or be a contributing factor to its’ breakdown. This is because not all intestinal bacteria are bad. In fact, the “friendly” bacteria help to synthesize nutrients in the intestinal tract, prevent disease-causing organisms, and maintain a healthy environment. Chemicals and drugs, particularly antibiotics and chlorine, can destroy these friendly bacteria. For example, a single course of antibiotic treatment from your doctor can destroy most of the friendly bacteria. This leads to candida and yeast infections.
Unless you suffer from bowel disease like ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, in my opinion, you can’t get too much fiber in your diet.
A little side note: If the number on the scale affects the quality of your day, focus on staying between a 5-pound-range (plus or minus)—not an exact weight. If your weight fluctuates a couple of pounds, it might just be because you’re in between bowel movements, or you had a salty meal.
Remember, I’m not a doctor. I just sound like one. Take good care of yourself and live the best life possible!
The information included in this column is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. The reader should always consult his or her healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan.
Glenn Ellis is a Health Advocacy Communications Specialist. He is the author of Which Doctor?, and Information is the Best Medicine. A health columnist and radio commentator who lectures, nationally and internationally on health related topics, Ellis is an active media contributor on Health Equity and Medical Ethics. Listen to Glenn, every Saturday at 9:00am (EST) on www.900amwurd.com, and Sundays at 8:30am (EST) on www.wdasfm.com. For more good health information, visit: www.glennellis.com.