When was the last time you took a look at what you left behind in the toilet bowl?
While there are certainly more appealing (and better-smelling) things to look at, checking out what’s coming out the other end can actually tell you a lot about your diet, activity level, and health in general.
It can be especially important to know whether your poop sinks or floats. But since you’re probably (hopefully?) not looking at anyone else’s poop on the regular, it can be hard to know whether yours is “normal.”
Let’s cover the basics of what normal, healthy poop looks like, what to do when it doesn’t look normal, and when to see a doctor.
- indigestible fat
- food residue
- a large percentage of water
Hearing a hearty “plop!” when you’re sitting on the toilet is actually a sign that your poop is dense and, therefore, healthy.
If you’re eating a fiber-full diet and your digestive system is firing on all cylinders, your poop should be heavy enough to land at the bottom of the toilet bowl.
What to do if your poop floats
Even though healthy poop sinks, occasionally your poop will float like a life preserver.
If you’re leaving the occasional floater behind, it’s probably not a cause for concern. Eating a new food or food that gives you a lot of gas can make your poop less dense, resulting in floating stools. After a day or so, this typically goes away on its own.
Floating poop can sometimes be a symptom of a gastrointestinal infection or a stomach bug. These, too, tend to be temporary and will go away on their own.
But if your poop frequently floats and feels greasy, it could mean that you’re experiencing malabsorption.
Another symptom of malabsorption is weight loss. See your doctor if this is a regular symptom for you, especially if it’s accompanied by floating poops.
- bloating after meals
- frequent diarrhea
If you frequently have floating poop in addition to these other symptoms, talk with your doctor.
Healthy stool is brown. This is because bile from your digestive organs tints the color of your poop.
Your poop can vary in color according to what you’ve eaten recently. If your poop looks super dark or even black, it’s probably because you’ve been eating a lot of blueberries or a food that uses dark food dyes, like black licorice.
If your poop isn’t on the range of colors between yellow and dark brown, it can indicate an underlying health concern.
Poop that’s a lighter shade of brown or gray, or clay-colored, can indicate that your bile ducts aren’t functioning at their full capacity. This can be a sign of:
If your poop becomes lighter in color than usual and doesn’t return to its dark brown color, pay attention to other symptoms you be having. Contact your doctor if you aren’t feeling well.
In some cases, red poop can be a warning sign of colorectal polyps or intestinal cancer.
If you’re seeing blood in your stool or frequently have red poop, contact your doctor and let them know, regardless of other symptoms. They’ll be able to tell if you need to have your stool tested to determine what’s causing your red poop.
Poop can take many shapes and still be healthy.
Your feces will typically appear in formed logs with a clay-like consistency. Narrow, snake-shaped poop is also considered normal. Your poop can be large, small, short, or long: All these shapes fall on the spectrum of normal.
There are some things about your poop’s consistency and shape that can point to an underlying health condition. Most things about your poop’s shape and size are related to your diet.
Poop that looks lumpy or comes out in small softball- or caterpillar-like shapes can mean that you’re constipated. Increase your water intake if you notice your poop coming out pebbly or dry, even if you’re not straining when you go.
Poop that looks jagged or fuzzy might mean it’s time to load up your plate with fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
A low amount of fiber in your diet can result in poop that’s extremely soft. If your poop lacks (for lack of a better word) definition, change up the amount of fiber you’re getting at each meal.
Even healthy poop doesn’t smell the best. There’s a reason, after all, why the word “excrement” is synonymous with “gross.”
Unpleasant-smelling poop is the result of bacteria and food decay. Poop has a very distinct smell that you’re probably familiar with, and everyone’s poop smells unique to them. Poop that smells earthy or musty is typical and normal.
Poop that smells greasy, foul, or especially putrid can be a sign from your body that there’s something else going on.
Taking antibiotics changes the microbiota in your gut. This can result in foul-smelling stool. It’s often temporary and will resolve on its own, but a course of probiotic supplements can’t hurt to help things along.
If you menstruate, your poop may have a distinct and powerful odor during your period (which is totally normal).
You may also experience foul-smelling stool in addition to diarrhea if you take more than the recommended dose of a multivitamin or supplement. This, too, will resolve on its own in a day or two.
Seeing a doctor
If your poop is especially smelly and accompanied by other symptoms, you may need to contact your doctor.
If your poop smells worse than usual, pay attention to other symptoms that you may be having. See your doctor if you have especially smelly stools and:
- frequent cramping
- weight loss
- bloody stool
Some people poop a couple times a day. Others only poop every other day. Regularity is important, but there’s a wide range of what’s “normal” when it comes to poop frequency.
You may poop more often or less frequently depending on how much fiber is in your diet, how much meat you eat, how much physical activity you tend to get, and other factors.
If you feel constipated, first try to increase your water intake. Being dehydrated means that you might not have enough water traveling through your intestine to form solid, healthy poop.
If that doesn’t work, increase your fiber intake. Keep in mind that eating a lot of fiber can actually slow your digestion, at least at first.
Constipation home remedies are another option if you’re not pooping regularly. Consider taking a magnesium supplement or a natural laxative to get things moving. Getting some exercise, like going for a run or practicing yoga, can also help.
If you experience constipation on a regular basis, or if your stools are hard and dry, let your doctor know.
Healthy poop will typically sink to the bottom of the toilet, look dark brown, and smell a bit musty but not especially foul.
Poop gives you important clues into what’s going on inside your body. Any stool that’s not within the realm of what’s normal for you is a reason to pay close attention.
Stool that floats, is a different color than usual, and smells especially foul could indicate that you need to have a conversation with your doctor.