Your number-one question about going number two.
Because if you always go once a day, and your roommate regularly visits the loo for a number two four times in 24 hours…well, one of you must have a problem, right?
Relax, say experts. A wide range of pooping frequencies is considered totally normal. “Some adults may have a bowel movement three times a day, while others may have one just three times a week,” says Jennifer Inra, M.D., a gastroenterologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.
Exactly how often you catch up on your bathroom reading (c’mon, we all do it!) is influenced by factors like your genetics, your diet—the less fiber it includes (the average woman should aim for 25 to 30 grams a day), the less often you’ll probably go—and how often you break a sweat. Regular exercise can make you, well, more regular, because it increases muscle contractions in your colon, says Inra. (Kick-start your new healthy routine with Women's Health's 12-Week Total-Body Transformation!)
What’s more, stressing out that you’re pooping too much or too little could actually make things worse. That’s because your brain and your gut are tightly linked by a network of nerves and neurotransmitters. When you’re anxious, the body directs blood to vital organs like the heart and lungs, and away from your digestive system—which can leave your gut in turmoil, according to Satish Rao, M.D., Ph.D., chief of gastroenterology and hepatology and director of the Digestive Health Center, Augusta University. That can lead to either constipation or more frequent BMs.
In fact, the only time you should worry about how often you visit the porcelain throne is if your habits suddenly change, in either direction. “For example, if you have a bowel movement every other day and you suddenly starting having three a day, you may want to talk to your doctor,” says Inra. Ditto if you’re having the opposite problem and are abruptly constipated.
In many cases, your doc will ID a non-serious cause, like a change in diet or the meds you’re taking, if you’ve been traveling, or that you’ve been exercising more or less than usual—all factors that can alter your frequency. If none of those apply, she can suggest dietary changes like adding more low-fiber foods to firm up your stool if you’re having diarrhea, or upping your fluid and fiber intake if you’re constipated, says Inra.
Other reasons to see an M.D., even if you poops stick to their regular schedule: You see blood in the bowl or on the TP, your stools become narrow and ribbon-like, or you have pain or cramping when you try to have a BM. “These symptoms may be due to many causes including irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease or even colorectal cancer,” says Inra.