Total Elimination: Facts & Hacks for the Poop Life of Your Dreams


So let’s face it: talking about poop is awkward, private, embarrassing, some would even say bad manners. It’s one of those subjects that falls into the taboo category related to bodily functions and fluids like sex and menstruation. But here’s the thing: all of these, and others not mentioned here, are part of a healthy, normal, long life. And it’s not exactly a competition but if it was, poop arguably would top the list because if you don’t go, you won’t live very long. But it’s actually even bigger than that. Because the quality of your stool can tell you something about your health and being regular affects your quality of life on a daily basis. 

So in the last few editions of the Naked News, we’ve been talking about how gut health affects everything from your mental health to your immune system. And how often you go is definitely related to your gut health. So if you want to understand the vital role your gut microbiome plays in total elimination, check out the last two episodes entitled How Gut Health Affects Everything, Everywhere, All the Time. 

In this edition, called Total Elimination: Facts & Hacks for the Poop Life of Your Dreams, we’re focused on how to set yourself up for success when it comes to what I call your poop life. And while some of what you’re going to discover today is common sense, some of it falls into a category I call ‘the unbelievable shit nobody teaches you’ and another I’ve named poop hacks. Look, I believe you deserve to have the very best life and that includes rock star regularity. Ready, set? Let’s find out what it takes to go.


The Origins of Poop-xiety 


Earlier this summer, I went camping with my husband Kyle and his son Wyatt. We had a marvelous time staying three nights at a semi-remote lake in Oregon’s Willamette Forest, sleeping under the stars, hiking in the ancient forests with the dogs, and fishing from our inflatable pontoon boat. Something else that’s great about camping with Kyle is he completely embraces my need to eat in the way I want. And we even planned our meals this way. He and Wyatt had hot dogs and ribs and chips, and I had my own cooler of berries, yogurt, quinoa salad, and half a dozen vegetables. I ate great every day and got a reasonable amount of physical activity and rest. I had lots of down time for reading and ate only one s’more, which is about one more than I usually eat. S'mores taste delicious but generally make me feel gross so I’ve learned to avoid them. 

I did so many things right. Still, for the last 2 days and 2 nights, I struggled to have a decent poop. And over the course of my stay, this really affected my happiness. I was uncomfortable and bloated, and frankly, mystified. How could I eat all that fiber and probiotic foods and still miss my morning BM?

Despite all of my efforts, I was pretty sure I knew what was wrong. You see the campground where we stayed had pit toilets, which if you don’t camp very much, think of them as glorified porta-potties. When the company comes to clean them, they’re pumping from a hole way down in the ground versus a few feet from your bum, so that part is better. But the part where people go there day/night for days and you catch the scent of waste on your short hike to the restrooms makes it a place where you want to get in and get out. I just couldn’t seem to relax and go as I crouched a foot from the commode and held my nose. 

When we got back, I started researching this topic in earnest because it’s not like this was a new problem for me. I have this issue sometimes whether it's a tent, cabin, or hotel. And from talking with my girlfriends I know I’m not alone. So one of the things I learned is something we’re going to cover in today’s episode. Because in addition to a high-fiber diet, hydration, exercise, and a few other things that help you go #2, your body can’t poop unless it’s literally in the ‘rest and digest' state. In other words, your brain can’t signal your body to relax and let go if you’re feeling uptight. So as I did some inner work, and I realized that for me having limited access to a bathroom, a less than desirable toilet, having other people in or waiting for me to exit the bathroom, much less, let’s face it, stinking up a bathroom, were all factors giving me poop-xiety. 

So you know how serendipity works. As I was learning all about the need for your body to be in what’s called a parasympathetic state and to do what gastroenterologists affectionately call evacuation, Kyle and I had another trip to take. This time we would be staying in a very nice hotel in Salt Lake City, so Kyle could attend a professional conference. And so as I thought about the trip, I knew that getting into the coveted parasympathetic state at the hotel would be a challenge. That’s because even though I was raised in a hippy-dippy, make love/not war, pro-poop talk family, Kyle was raised with parents that he’s described as having very midwestern values around all things private and polite. And thus, we had been together for over seven years but mostly pretended like neither of us ever pooped. One of us would slip away, turn on a fan, and reappear relaxed and that was as much overt communication we had on the subject of bowel movements. And that’s how I knew if I was going to really have a shot at a great vacation, which for me includes going #2 every single day, I had to upgrade pooping from a secret to what it is: a normal part of life. Now you’ve heard of a pep talk – well sometimes to have the life you want, you have to look someone you love in the eye and have the ‘poop talk.’


From Taboo Topic to Digestive Bliss 


And so I packed my parcel of chia seeds in my suitcase for SLC, more on this later, and decided to broach the subject on the first night, which was very fortuitous because the layout of the hotel room had situated a very large king bed about two feet from barn-like door that led to the bathroom. That way one person could do what my sons call ‘drop it like it’s hot’ and the other person can just relax in bed. 

We were on our way to a meet and greet, and I was all dressed up and feeling pretty cute in my dress shorts and high heels. I had my arm looped around Kyle’s elbow and we were just strutting down main street in Salt Lake City when I squeezed Kyle’s arm, then blurted. “Real quick. I need you to know that on this trip I really have to prioritize my need to poop.” 

Kyle makes a certain face when he’s shocked and looked at me like ‘please make it stop.’ 

And so I made the whole thing quite brief, but I did explain what I was learning about stress and the ability to you know ‘go,’ and I may have also defined the parasympathetic state before providing my closing argument. “And so, I am telling you because I just need the whole thing to not be a secret. Like sometimes I just need to poop, okay?” 

Kyle was quiet the whole time, which was fine. I had acknowledged early that it was going to be an uncomfortable topic. When there was finally silence, he said, “Good talk,” which I have learned from Kyle usually means ‘I hate this topic.” And because I’ve been to lots of therapy, I responded: “Honey, I need more than that.” And so he gave me a hug and validated that I had been very vulnerable, that he understood, and politely asked if we could call it good? And that was good enough for me. 

And you know what’s crazy? By getting our taboo topic out into the open, I found that my ability to relax on this trip and go when I needed to go all worked out. Every single day with astounding regularity I met and exceeded evacuation standards and enjoyed myself like only a woman with true gut motility can. 

You are probably in a relationship where talking about poop is no big deal. I hope so. In fact, I am now one of you. But what about when you travel and share a bathroom with other people? Some estimates have found that 40% of people struggle to go #2 when they’re away from home. Health experts even have a name for it, and no it’s not poopxiety, although I will probably use this made up word at least one more time—it’s called ‘travel constipation.’ And what about when you’re home and you’re not regular? A lot of us have tried to troubleshoot this issue, and sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but there’s a reason why our grandparents loved their prunes and prune juice. Having regular BMs gets harder as we get older. In the last section, we’re going to get into some poop hacks but first let’s review some poop facts. Because you know what they say, the more you know the more you go. 


Know Your Shit: Common Sense Poop Facts 


So you probably know that how often you go is an indicator of bowel transit time and how long the food you eat stays in your body. I mean that just makes sense. And you probably know when something is off in your poop life because things come out too loose or too hard or not at all. According to medical professionals, a typical, healthy poop is brown, well-formed, sausage-shaped, uniform and thick. It should also feel fairly easy to go. Will Bulsiewicz, a Charleston, South Carolina-based gastroenterologist and the author of The Fiber Fueled Cookbook, says that most people go once or twice a day and it’s pretty common to go in the morning. 

Now your routine may be very different or maybe you’re one of the 60-70 million Americans who struggle with digestive issues or gastrointestinal illness, according to the American Gastrointestinal Association Institute. Last year the AGA Institute, began a campaign called “Trust Your Gut” to normalize talking about what they call ‘bowel symptoms’ with your health care provider early, in order to shorten the time between the onset of a problem and significant disruptions in your daily life or the diagnosis of disease. How do you know if you have a problem? Take a little gut check with these questions from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases:


  1. Do you have fewer than three bowel movements per week?
  2. Are your stools hard or dry and difficult to pass?
  3. Do you feel like there's more stool you'd like to eliminate, but can't?  


These would all be reasons to talk with your doctor. And one of the most important reasons to have this conversation is if you’re having discomfort, according to Kenneth Brown, a gastroenterologist in Plano, Texas, and host of the Gut Check Project podcast.

And while some bowel disruptions are due to changes in diet, routine, or environment, you don’t want to wait too long because some of these problems can lead to more serious issues. Constipation, in particular according to Stanford Medicine Health Care, can create: 

  • Hemorrhoids
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Anal fissure, or a small tear in the anus
  • Fecal impaction; in other words, a hard, dry stool that cannot be passed
  • Rectal prolapse (when the large intestine pushes out of the rectum)


(By the way, if you’ve been dealing with hemorrhoids which affect up to 50% of men and women, I am working to bring you some bonus content that includes an interview with two wonderful doctors based in Oregon who provide nonsurgical treatments that can restore your bottom to feeling like you’re a teenager again. Stay tuned!)

So before we move on to some amazing BM science, allow me to summarize what a healthy poop life looks like: 

  • Going once or twice a day 
  • Going without discomfort 
  • Feeling like you’ve had a complete bowel movement 

Of course, please discuss any concerns you have with your doctor. This list is not exhaustive, and I am a health nerd, not a medical professional. 

Now that we have a baseline, let’s keep going. Because if you want a happy belly and a winning poop routine, there are a few more things you should know. 


How to Be a Wise Ass: Shit They Didn’t Teach You in School 


Back when I took science in high school, we spent less than a few weeks covering digestion. And that was mainly to learn the body parts for a test. A lot has changed in 30 years and one of the big revelations is our understanding of gut health. I’ll keep this part brief, since I’ve done two whole episodes on this topic. But here's the part you need to know for today.

Your gut health is more than the quality of food you put in your body, although that’s one of the big ones. It’s actually about the quality of good bacteria you have in your gut. As we discussed in earlier episodes, plant diversity and probiotic foods are really important when it comes to a healthy gut microbiome. So, one of the first ways you can address your poop life is to focus on your diet. We’ll get into some particulars in the poop hack section, but I want to plug gut health because it’s really the foundation for improving your regularity. 

Another very important aspect that affects your ability to go #2 with regularity and ease is ensuring your body is in that parasympathetic state. We talked about the importance of being in a parasympathetic state when it comes to digestion with holistic health coach Jen Robinson in part II in the series on gut health, where Jen reminds us to slow down, take small bites, and focus on our breathing throughout the day. So what is a parasympathetic state? In short, it’s your nervous system’s ability to rest and relax. In fact, your parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for not just digestion but also sexual arousal, salivation, lacrimation (the production of tears), urination, and today’s special topic: defecation.

Fun fact interruption: the sympathetic nervous system drives your fight or flight response in stressful situations.

So what helps the parasympathetic system? Mild exercise, meditation, yoga, deep breathing from your diaphragm, or even nature walks can help us achieve this state. 

So is anyone else thinking about how much stress you have in your life right now? Like maybe your bathroom habits are being affected by deadlines, juggling your family schedule, high-stakes personal or work projects, family problems, teenage drama, existential crisis, etc? Some of this stuff is just circumstantial and when you’re in the throes of a stressful work project or caring for a loved one dealing with a health crisis, there’s not a lot you can change about that. But you can do more to help your parasympathetic nervous system do its job – even if that’s just learning how to breathe from your diaphragm or getting some fresh air. (Singing, humming, and hugging also show up on the list of helpers.)

Speaking of things they don’t teach you in school, I only really learned what deep breathing means a few years ago. And I am a little embarrassed to admit this because I had been doing ‘belly breaths’ in yoga but I somehow did not get the memo that when someone says to take a deep breath you’re not just supposed to suck in a bunch of air and blow it out. It’s a story for another day but I actually was able to use diaphragmatic breathing to reduce and practically eliminate chest pain and tightness that I was dealing with during a period of acute stress. I mean I had my heart checked out and had plans for more tests but this simple breathing technique turned out to be a game changer. 

According to Harvard Medical School, here’s how you do diaphragmatic breathing:

  • Lie on your back on a flat surface (or in bed) with your knees bent. You can use a pillow under your head and your knees for support.
  • Place one hand on your upper chest and the other on your belly, just below your rib cage.
  • Breathe in slowly through your nose, letting the air in deeply, towards your lower belly. The hand on your chest should remain still, while the one on your belly should rise.
  • Tighten your abdominal muscles and let them fall inward as you exhale through pursed lips. The hand on your belly should move down to its original position. 

You can also do this sitting up with your knees bent and your body relaxed. For best results, try practicing for 5-10 minutes daily. 

I love how something as simple as breathing can be a treatment for a lot of wellness issues, especially with stress management. And you may not think of traveling to exciting or sunny places as anxiety-producing or even camping which puts you in nature’s abundance as stressful, and for the most part they’re not. But when it comes to your bathroom habits and the disruption of your routines, your body can get a little out of whack and it’s much harder to get into that parasympathetic state. 

So this last section is dedicated to poop hacks, but I believe that promoting a parasympathetic state is probably the ultimate poop hack. For me, it’s been the biggest paradigm shift. This last bit is dedicated to playing both offense and defense when it comes to staying regular on the road or at home.  


3 Poop Hacks for Every Body (Plus 2 FAQs)



Eat More Plants 


Most people struggle to eat enough dietary fiber when they travel, much less in their regular diet. Eating out, having food prepared for you by friends and family, or just having less access to your favorite grocery store when you’re away from home can affect how you eat. Something you can focus on whether you’re at home or traveling to help your poop goals is loading up on fiber-rich foods. These include all vegetables and fruits, especially your leafy greens and certain fruits like figs and berries, whole grains like brown rice and quinoa, all types of legumes like black beans, chickpeas, or pinto beans, and nuts and seeds. Almonds, hazelnuts, and mixed tree nuts are tops in fiber, and seeds like chia, pumpkin, or sunflower pack as much as 10-12g of fiber for two tablespoons. Interesting note: prunes contain only 1g of fiber per prune, so if you’re looking to increase your fiber intake you may want to look beyond this food which has been heavily marketed for its digestive benefits. 

There are a ton of great resources related to high-fiber foods. and a quick google search will reveal great lists. And you can also find the Fiber Fueled Cookbook by Dr. Bulsiewicz over in the Naked Library. But when it comes to eating more plants specifically to improve elimination, there are a few foods I’ve personally added into my diet and found remarkable benefits. 

Flaxseeds: Over the years, I’ve used many forms of flaxseed from flax oil to ground flax to whole seeds. But one of the best forms I’ve found is in the form of crackers made from just flax. So far, I’ve not had a lot of success making them myself so the brand I like is called Flackers and you can find them in places like Whole Foods or on Amazon. They may also be in your favorite grocery store. They come in a variety of flavors but what makes them different from other whole grain crackers that contain flax is that they’re just flaxseed, apple cider vinegar, and salt. And they contain 9g of fiber for 10 crackers! Have them with some high quality hummus, and you’re looking at about 11g of fiber for a snack. 

Chia seeds: Disclaimer: I’m a little obsessed with chia seeds. I first learned about chia seed as a travel tool for regularity from a nutritionist who swore by packing these on all her trips. All you have to do is take 1-2 TBSP and let them sit in a large glass of water for a few minutes, then shake or stir, and drink it all down. Not the most appetizing way to enjoy chia seeds but the idea is to deliver 10g of fiber to your digestive system fast and let it do the work. I really like following Dr. Bulsiewecz, also called @theguthealthMD on instagram, and he recently did a great video about a viral trend called the ‘internal shower’ that apparently everyone is talking about. Okay, maybe not everyone because this term was new to me. But basically the 'internal shower' is the whole chia seed and water drink. In this video, Dr. B affirms that drinking your chia seeds is a great way to increase your dietary fiber, and that it’s been shown to improve bowel movements. 

But what’s really gotten me all crazy for cha-cha-chia is making my own chia pudding trifle. I eat this religiously every day for a snack or dessert, and it honestly could not be easier to make. You just soak chia seeds overnight in milk or non-dairy milk and add a little natural sweetener. I use pure maple syrup. It turns into a creamy, slightly sweet pudding that I then layer with plain yogurt sweetened with maple or honey and berries or some other high-fiber fruit. It’s way better than just drinking your chia but not as easy to do when you’re traveling—unless you’re a weirdo like me and bring your own cooler to your father-in-law’s house with a fresh batch of chia pudding for your nighttime ritual. And if you make enough, you can share. Curtis, my father-in-law, gave it a big thumbs up. 

Green kiwi: I only recently started hearing about the beneficial effects of eating green kiwi. Kiwi is not only high in fiber with 2 grams in each fruit but it also contains an enzyme called actinidin, which facilitates the breakdown of protein. If you’ve been focusing on eating more protein you definitely want to know about kiwi. Dr B recommends eating 2-3 green kiwi per day. I created my own little experiment a couple of weeks ago that incorporates 2 kiwi a day. I am loving the benefits and think they’ve been contributing to several weeks of digestive bliss. Dr B also recommends kiwi for flatulence and bloating. And by the way, according to Dr B, gas and bloating can be a sign that you’re not fully evacuating when you go so kiwi can help with both regularity and treating any symptoms if you're not going enough. 



You’ve Got to Move It, Move It 


It’s hard enough to get more movement when you’re at home or working throughout the week. I mean I’ve been sitting down for the last 3 hours writing this, knowing that I need to take a break soon and go for a walk. It’s easy to get caught up. 

But when we travel, it can be even harder to maintain a workout routine, especially if you’re someone who runs with a friend (me!) or likes group classes (me!). And this all kicks off with the travel itself which can have you sitting for hours at a time. I know hotels have gyms and your parents house probably has a sidewalk walk or some trails but a lot of people struggle with motivation when their travel isn’t built around activities that integrate hiking, walking, or other planned movement. It’s easy to get into vacation mode and plan to catch your workouts on the flipside. 

And by the way, there’s nothing wrong with chilling out and taking it easy on vacation. However, when you don’t move enough, and when you eat more rich food or drink more sugary drinks or alcohol, this affects your bowel movements, as exercise has been scientifically proven to help with constipation. Bethany Doerfler, RDN, a gastrointestinal research specialist with the Northwestern Medicine Digestive Health Center in Chicago, says we don’t know exactly how exercise improves bowel movements but there’s clear evidence it does. One theory is that movement works on both a mechanical and chemical level, meaning that the body experiences physical pressure, even twisting of the intestines, in addition to increased blood flow to the intestines during exercise. Also, digestive enzymes and hormones are known to be released during physical activity. 

How vigorous should your activity be? While just 30 minutes of light cardio a day has been shown to support gut motility, exercises that twist or jostle the body provide additional benefits. If you’re traveling, light jogging is a great way to get your heart rate up and help move food through your body. It also jostles your organs, which literally moves things along. As long as your goal is better bowel movements vs a new PR on race day, a little running is something to try when you’re troubleshooting constipation. 

Core exercises have also been shown to help with regularity. Your core muscles play an important role in gastrointestinal motility. Core contractions in exercises like crunches and plank increase pressure and help your food move through your digestive system. 

Yoga has also been shown to provide benefits because it supports both a rest and digest state and includes postures that put pressure on your organs. Some recommended yoga postures include cobra, child’s pose, and supine twist. 



More Water, Less Wine 


Hydration has so many important health benefits and wouldn’t you know that regularity is one of them. When it comes to travel, or let’s face a rough week at work, we may be leaning on other beverages to get us by. Whether that’s sugary coffee drinks, soda, or alcohol, we often drink less water when we’re leaning too hard on these beverages. 

Alcohol in particular can have negative effects on gastrointestinal motility. In addition to hurting your overall water intake, it causes gastritis–which disrupts the production of mucus in the intestines and often manifests as diarrhea. It also causes inflammation because the body struggles to process all of the sugar in alcohol. Any type of alcohol can cause bloating but beer is a known culprit. 

So if you drink alcohol at home or on vacation, the advice is more than drink in moderation but consider less sugary options and make sure you’re drinking plenty of water. How much? This may vary from person to person and factors like activity level, temperature, even body size play a role in finding the right number. According to the National Academy of Medicine, it's suggested that women should drink about 2.7 liters (or 91 ounces) of fluids every day, while men should aim for around 3.7 liters (or 125 ounces). This includes not just beverages, but also water-rich foods like fruits, veggies, and soups. Since the average ratio of fluids to foods is roughly 80:20, that means women should aim for about 9 cups a day, while men should aim for around 12 and a half cups. You can also find other calculations that recommend drinking a half ounce to one ounce of water per pound. I won’t do the math here, but for me, that’s well beyond 8 cups of water. 

Fascinating fact alert: Studies have shown that limited water consumption ages your body faster, increases your risk of developing chronic disease, and may even shorten your lifespan by as much as 15 years. Specifically, one study found that less hydration corresponded with higher levels of serum sodium in mice and observed that higher levels of serum sodium in humans came with a 64% higher risk for developing chronic diseases such as heart failure, stroke, atrial fibrillation, peripheral artery disease, chronic lung disease, diabetes and dementia. For health nerds who struggle to drink enough water (me!), this news got my attention. It also shines a spotlight on the priority for clean, accessible water for people all over the world. 


What about fiber supplements? 


At some point in your life, you may have taken psyllium husk, Metamucil, or some other fiber supplement. Most health experts agree that it’s better to get your fiber from food than supplements but alas sometimes you need a fiber boost, especially if you’re away from home. The ‘internal shower,’ the chia seed and water concoction we discussed earlier is more of a whole foods approach to a supplement, but if you’re looking for something more portable here are some ideas. Be advised that every person responds differently to fiber supplements and you may have to try a few to find what’s right for you. Best practice is to drink an extra large glass of water with your supplement and start slowly to avoid gas and bloating. As always, talk to your doctor about taking supplements for constipation so that you’re not overlooking another important health concern. 


How do you spell fiber? It’s complicated and personal 


Arabinoxylan, inulin, methylcellulose, and polycarbophil are just a few fun names for dietary fiber. Stanford researchers looked into the effects of arabinoxylan and inulin. Arabinoxylan is found in psyllium husk and Metamucil and inulin is a common ingredient found in ‘diet’ food. Researchers found while arabinoxylan can reduce bad cholesterol, definitely a bonus, but too much inulin can increase inflammation.

Other dietary fiber supplements include methylcellulose - better known as Citrucel - that helps soften and bulk up stool. Polycarbophil is another popular choice that can treat constipation and irregular bowel movements without the discomfort of gas or bloating. Brand names include FiberCon, Fiber Lax, Equalactin, and Mitrolan. 


Do you need probiotic supplements? Maybe.


And what about probiotic supplements? The advice to get your good bugs from foods instead of supplements remains the gold standard. Probiotic foods include yogurt, raw and unpasteurized cheeses (like aged cheddar, parmesan, and some Swiss cheeses), sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi, kombucha, and miso. I go into more probiotic and prebiotic foods in the episodes on gut health. 

Still health experts recommend probiotics as a treatment or preventative for constipation. There’s a ton of probiotic supplements on the market so you’ll want to do some research here. Some basic guidelines include choosing a probiotic with at least 1 billion colony-forming units that contain Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, Bacillus or Saccharomyces boulardii. You also want to pay attention to how your probiotic should be stored, since some require refrigeration which won’t work well for traveling unless you opt for the health nerd cooler situation I mentioned earlier. Definitely check with your doctor or naturopath who may have a recommended probiotic for you. 


Your Best Poop Life Awaits 


I know I’ve hit you with a ton of information. And if you want a breakdown, make sure to check the resources linked here. Information overload will certainly raise your cortisol levels, and since I want you to have the poop life of your dreams please take a few minutes to breathe and listen to some upbeat music (you'll hear my pick in the podcast version of this edition) before jumping back into your day. Maybe nod your head and wiggle around a bit. Because while there’s no scientific research on the specific effects of music and dancing on regularity, I have a hunch that the feel good chemicals that get released and the body jostles that ensue from a dance party make it another one of those helpers. So, relax, take some belly breaths, maybe do a little Roger Rabbit or the snake, and tell your body thank you for how hard it works on your behalf. And rejoice – because poop is life.