Everyone has a shitty day every now and again, but for Anish Sheth, co-author of What’s Your Poo Telling You?, it’s been a rewardingly shitty life. “Growing up in a family of physicians, poo was a common topic around the dinner table,” explains Sheth. “It was health-related, but with a sort of wink-wink.”
Which is part of why, in writing their indispensably shitty opus, Sheth and his co-author Josh Richman tried to capture the nervous, comical energy around the taboo of poop. “As society has evolved, we see poop as dirty and as waste,” says Sheth. “But it’s important to acknowledge that it can be the first sign of something going wrong.”
So what has Sheth learned in his 10 years of studying fecal matter?
The answer: A shitload.
Stare down that poop.
“We always say, look before you flush,” explains Sheth. “You don’t want to lose out on an opportunity to improve your diet. Sure, your poop is a waste product, but you can learn a lot about what’s in the bowl based on the smell, color and texture. You may not want to look, but you should take a glance.”
We all seek poophoria.
“I’m talking about the perfect bowel movement, the one that’s effortlessly evacuated, soft, tucks itself nicely in the bottom of the toilet bowl and that only takes one wipe,” says Sheth. “It’s the type of poop where you get up and you want to high five the first person you see. It’s amazing that something we’ve relegated to the outhouse still has the ability to make us feel better and improve our energy.”
So how do you get this elusive poop? “If you’re getting around 25 grams to 35 grams of dietary fiber and drinking enough water, going to the bathroom is a pleasurable experience,” says Sheth.
But if you’re not? “Probiotics are worth mentioning,” says Sheth. “They can go a long way in helping manage constipation and diarrhea. They help smooth out the rough edges.”
There’s no shortage of poo puns out there.
“The Log Jam is one of my favorites,” chuckles Sheth. “It’s when you have to go but you can’t — constipation to the max. Despite contorting your body and using a squatty potty, there’s no elimination. Your belly can start to hurt, and the worst-case scenario is it could be a medical issue that may require assistance of an emergency room.”
His second favorite phrase: The pebble poo. “That’s when you’re able to get a little bit out, but it’s mockingly resting on the toilet bowl floor.”
Bloody poo isn’t always a cause for concern.
“The main thing you want to look for is blood,” explains Sheth. “It can be as benign as a hemorrhoid and as malevolent as colon cancer.” As to what color to look for when trying to spot blood, “Anytime you see a change to red or really dark jet black, that’s something you want to get medical attention for,” says Sheth. “Most other color variations are one-offs usually due to some indigestible substance like spinach, artificial dyes and colorings.”
If your poop really, really stinks, you might want to get that checked out.
“Usually, if you have a one-off foul-smelling stool, you can trace it to something you’ve eaten,” he says, adding that foods high in sulfur, like eggs, can really make a person’s stool smell. “But really foul-smelling stool can also be a sign of a digestive issue,” Sheth explains. “Someone who is downing dairy products and who is lactose intolerant is going to have really smelly stool. Basically, anything that the body cannot digest is likely to really smell.”
Why is that the case? Sheth says it’s because digestion happens in the small intestine, then moves into the large intestine where all the bacteria lives. “The large intestine will go to town on processing that food in a process of fermentation and bacterial digestion,” says Sheth. End result: The bacteria produce a lot of stinky gas.
And that’s essentially where it all goes to shit.