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  • Writer's pictureSandhya Gokal

Everything Comes down to poo

Updated: Feb 4

(How altering your eating habits can affect your bowel movements)

You know how some things just stick in your brain? Like once you know them, you can never again un-know them.

I will never forget that viagogo is a resale site that is insanely expensive. Learned that the hard way after paying $900 for Ed Sheeran tickets.

Nor will it escape my memory that multi-tasking, true multitasking, is almost impossible - my brain just switches rapidly between tasks making me much less efficient and churning through my energy. 

And it is etched onto my brain that increasing your fibre intake without increasing your water intake will give you constipation. 

It is one of those pieces of information that constantly surprises people when I mention it, whether casually or professionally. 

And it comes up surprisingly often.

But let’s back it up a little bit. 

What’s a normal bowel movement?

It’s astonishing how varied bowel movements can be from person to person. 

Pharmacist nerd alert! Did you know that NORMAL bowel regularity can range from several motions a day to once a week? 

The thing that distinguishes regularity from abnormality is the way you feel.

If you feel like your stomach is emptying regularly, and you are not suffering any negative symptoms from your bowel habits, then this is normal.

It is when your “irregular” bowel movements start causing discomfort, such as bloating, gas (aka. The fart bombs) or difficulty passing stool that it ventures into the realm of constipation. 

You big GIT!

You’ve probably heard of the term “gut health” right? It’s been flung around willy nilly in the last decade. There are studies being done on gut health left right and centre nowadays, and for good reason! The gut, what a GIT (hehe, Gastro Intestinal Tract, get it?!). 

Jokes aside, the GIT is responsible for absorbing nutrients and getting rid of waste. It plays a major role in immunity, energy levels and of course, bowel movements. 

The GIT starts with your mouth, and ends at your rear end. As you chew food in your mouth, saliva is produced which helps break down foods to smaller parts, so that it can move easily through the pipes. 

Your body will extract the nutrients it needs throughout the process, and transport them to where they are needed. 

Once all the good stuff has been taken out, what is left is deemed waste, and passes through your intestines in a mad squiggly tubular race down to your bowels, where it exits the body as poop. 

Almost 30 years ago, BP, the petroleum company, played a TV commercial where they showed petrol travelling down pipes, as if on a rollercoaster, finally ending with a slide down to the petrol pump. That’s what I always imagine the GI tract as. The food is the petrol, and the petrol pump is…well…your butt. 

What I find incredible is the speed changes in the GIT. For a normal functioning GIT, food travels pretty slowly. It can take up to 36 hours for food to travel from your mouth through the entire colon. But, if you’ve ever eaten something a little bit fishy, you know things can speed up considerably, and you’d be on the toilet sometimes within the hour! Amazing how the body works. 

What eating habits affect the GIT?


All of them.

What you eat directly affects your digestive system and bowel movements.

If you pay attention to what you eat, you can pretty much predict what is going to happen in your upper and lower intestines. 

What you eat directly affects many areas of the GIT. It affects the quantity and quality of the nutrients that you absorb. The food may affect the lining of your stomach walls, or intestinal walls. If you have food intolerances or allergies, your GIT is what feels them the most. 

The more you pay attention to your food habits, the more likely it is you can predict what your GIT is going to do.

For example, as I have aged, like a fine wine, I can no longer handle onions. If I eat foods filled with onion, I can reasonably predict that I will have a negative olfactory outcome on my surroundings (in other words, I make the good farts.) It is something I have come to accept, and I have my ways to combat it, figured out through trial and error (to the detriment of my partner.)

There are foods that are known to make digestion harder. These include:

  • Cruciferous vegetables

  • Beans and other legumes

  • FODMAPs, naturally occurring sugars which can ferment during the digestive process (onions are in this group)

  • Fried foods

  • Dairy products

  • Foods high in fibre (ahh, but there’s a way around this, and I already gave it away)

What to expect if you….eat more vegetables

Eat more veggies. The eternal mantra of all healthy eating experts. “Cue roll of eyes.”

The truth is, eating more vegetables has immense benefits. More energy, more nutrients, increased satiety, amongst others!

But what does increasing your vegetable intake do to your bowel movements?

In the words of Ms Trunchball from Matilda the Musical (via the genius of Tim Minchin), “It gives me a warm glow in my lower intestine.”

Pretty accurate, actually!

Vegetables, especially those of the green leafy variety and woody variety, have fibre. Lots and lots of fibre!

A slight detour on the scenic route: Fibre land

Fibre is touted as one of the best things for constipation. 

Well, I’m here to tell you that this is both true and untrue. 

Fact: Fibre keeps you fuller for longer. The indigestible fibre that is found in fruits and vegetables absorbs water and expands as it passes through the digestive system. By doing this, it calms symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, keeps you regular and promotes a feeling of fullness. 

Fact: Fibre is known as something called a pre-biotic. It feeds the good bacteria lining the stomach that help out with digestion all the nutrients and vitamins to thrive and keep our GI tract running smoothly. 

Fact: Fibre, while amazing for REGULARITY, should NOT be used for ACUTE CONSTIPATION.

Fibre is a stool bulking agent. It bulks up the poop. If you are already blocked up, you are just pushing more stuff down there, increasing the burden on your poor colon, leading to more bloating, more gassiness and more general discomfort, but slower bowel movements, as you have done nothing to ease the stool’s passage down the waste tunnel.

Fact: Increasing your water intake as well as fibre can be amazing for both your nutritional intake, and for keeping you regular. This is the secret behind making fibre work for you! Increasing your water lubricates your stool. The fibre in the vegetables bulks up your stool. Together, they are unstoppable! (literally unstoppable down your digestive tract, so get ready to visit the toilet for some regular poops)

Fact: Vegetables, when blended (and please note, blended, not juiced) can make your poop more green and a little stinkier. Sorry, next person in line at the public toilet, I didn’t bring my air freshener (shrugs apologetically and rushes out of the bathroom before a picture is snapped for the wanted poster). It’s a good thing. When you first start eating more vegetables, it acts as a detox, grabbing onto any waste that might be floating around your system and flushing it out. So for a while, expect that your poops will be different.

What to expect if you….eat more fruit

Fruit, like ambrosia to the gods, is sweet. Although fruit doesn’t have quite as much fibre as vegetables, the skin of fruits is loaded with amazing nutrients and all fruits have some fibre to induce satiety. 

When you start increasing your fruit intake, you will most likely notice that your bowel habits start to ramp up. You could say that your bowel is gaining EXP points because of how much you engage and activate them during the day. 

One of the awesome benefits of fruit is that because most are high in water content, the water and fibre content combo is a surefire way to combat a blocked up system (read: constipation). 

In particular, kiwi fruits, pears, blackberries and raspberries are amazing for constipation. Kiwi fruits contain the enzyme actinidine which is beneficial for upper GI symptoms. The others listed have a great water to fibre ratio!

Pharmacist nerd alert! Did you know that some fruits naturally contain sorbitol? You may have seen the warning on the back of some packs of confectionery: Warning - excessive consumption of sorbitol can lead to a laxative effect. Prunes, a well documented natural remedy for constipation, contains a high level of sorbitol and also has stool softening properties. 

So to summarise, fruits will definitely have you visiting the loo on a more frequent basis. 

What to expect if….you eat more protein

Protein is known as the building blocks of the body for a reason. Most proteins are rich in amino acids which are used by the body to form muscle. In particular, animal proteins contain essential amino acids that are only available through diet.  

Protein is digested slowly in the body, so it helps you stay full and satisfied after your meal.

Traditionally, animal proteins are lower in fibre, which means that increasing your intake of protein can lead to constipation. This is why, in many dietary guidelines, protein intake is always accompanied by vegetables. 

If you want to hit a double whammy, eating plant based proteins such as lentils, chickpeas, edamame and beans can definitely prevent the protein powerclog, as plant proteins are also high in fibre. 

Eating a healthy level of proteins (usually 100-200g of protein per meal) is associated with increased satiety. Eating proteins increases the levels of a hormone called peptide YY which directly affects hunger levels. 

On the downside, a diet really high in proteins can cause gut discomfort through inflammation. This is especially true if you use protein powders, as they can contain artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols.

Research shows that a high protein diet can actually change the microbial environment of the gut, making your immune response more sensitive! This research is in early stages, but it suggests better protection against food borne diseases such as salmonella! Pretty cool right?!


Any change to your dietary habits will lead to a change in your bowel habits. If you know this in advance, you can account for it. Hopefully I didn’t gross you out too much with this post. 

If you’re a bit morbid like me and really want to read something gross, I’ll leave you with this little tidbit: 

Orlistat, a weight loss medication which works on removing dietary fat from your system, gives you really bad stinky diarrheoa-like poops. It only works if you use it when eating fatty meals*. 

Many moons ago, my boss offered to let us try a capsule each, for hands on experience, something that improved our interactions with patients. My fellow intern took her up on it and reported back, sadly, that those side effects are definitely correctly documented. Boy, was I glad I declined that offer, choosing instead to use anecdotal evidence to explain how it worked to my patients. 

And now that you’re officially grossed out, I shall exit the building, stage left 😀

*Although Orlistat aids in weight loss, the weight bounce back can be up to 10% ON TOP of what you started with. That information, coupled with the side effects, makes it something I only recommend extremely reluctantly. Use at your own risk.


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