Anyone who has ever hit the bathroom at Target or Barnes & Noble to emerge a new person has probably wondered (beyond “What is it about this place?”) whether pooping actually affects weight loss.
It’s a fair question. A nice, productive poop (I think you know what I’m talking about without me having to describe) can make you feel lighter and leaner and more comfortable in your jeans. Being “stuck” (a.k.a. constipated) makes you feel…the opposite. But is that lighter feeling after pooping real?
Turns out, it can be—but only a bit, says Mitzi Dulan, RD, author of The Pinterest Diet. “It’s actually fairly simple,” she says. “Depending on your size and how regular you are, your poop can vary from one to four pounds. It’s likely to be on the higher end if you haven’t pooped for a few days.”
Wait…how much does poop weigh?
If you’re thinking, “Four pounds, seriously?!” I get it…that’s not exactly a small amount if you’re struggling to lose weight. But you have to remember that your poo is made up of some pretty heavy stuff: Specifically, it’s about 75 percent water, per UMass Memorial Healthcare, with the rest being composed of bacteria, mucous, dead blood cells, and duh, food remains.
That said, you have to think big picture here. Even four pounds isn’t a significant amount of weight at the end of the day, since the number on the scale will consistently swing up and down as your bowel movements do. In other words, when you’re backed up, your weight will increase a bit, and after you relieve yourself, it’ll drop.
Either way, pooping won’t affect your weight in any huge way—even if it does feel like you just dropped 10 pounds. That amazing feeling is more about de-bloating than actual loss of body mass. Sorry!
Oh, tell me more about weight loss versus de-bloating.
Bloating is that awful, uncomfortable, full feeling that strikes when your digestive system has trapped air or gas inside it, and it can be downright painful, not to mention make you look puffy AF. Even though your stomach might appear bigger when you’re bloated, bloating doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve gained actual weight (in terms of body mass).
“Pooping can reduce bloating and help you fit more comfortably in your clothes so you feel smaller overall,” says Dulan. “It’s not like after you poop you should be saying, ‘This is my new weight!’”
If you’re trying to track weight loss, Dulan suggests weighing yourself at similar times in the morning, sans clothes, to avoid letting your poops (or lack thereof) trick the scale. “If you have to go to the bathroom, go ahead because it will lower the scale a little bit,” she says. “But if you don’t need to poop, don’t sit on the toilet trying to go so you weigh less. It won’t be a substantial difference.”
Ah, so what affects my ability to poop?
While the direct connection between pooping and weight loss is minimal (again, sorry!), there is one aspect of the link that you can use to your benefit: “Eating a diet that’s higher in fiber causes you to not only be more regular, but it can also help you lose weight,” says Brigitte Zeitlin, MPH, RD, a nutritionist at B Nutritious.
How so? Stocking up on enough fiber throughout your day helps push food through your system to avoid constipation before it starts. “It actually stimulates your GI tract to promote movement,” says Zeitlin. Beyond that, a high-fiber diet may help ward off certain cancers, especially that of the colon, and help regulate blood sugar and reduce cholesterol, studies show.
And when it comes to your weight, fiber fills you up like few nutrients can. “Fiber is found in three things: fruits, vegetables, and whole grains,” says Zeitlin. “If you’re incorporating fiber at every meal and snack, you’re making sure you’re eating one of these fabulous foods that promote weight loss and a healthy lifestyle. In addition, you’re probably removing other things that aren’t as great [from your diet].”
That said, don’t overdo it on the F word: Zeitlin recommends women aim for 25 to 30 grams of fiber per day, because getting much more than that can not only constipate you but cause other GI distress symptoms, too.
According to Duke University, regularly consuming more than 70 grams of fiber may lead to bloating, gas, diarrhea, cramps, and a decrease in appetite. Eating too much fiber can also limit nutrient absorption and even cause intestinal blockages (that’s pretty serious stuff).
To get a healthy amount of fiber every day, try having a cup of a high-fiber food as part of your breakfast, like a cup of berries with Greek yogurt (it’s high in probiotics, which “promote healthy GI bacteria to help move things along,” says Zeitlin). You should also aim to eat two fistfuls of veggies at both lunch and dinner to keep your digestive system—and your weight—as regular as possible.
Oh, and don’t forget about all the other stuff you do all day that affects how often you poop (fiber is just one piece of the puzzle!). As WH previously reported, you might find yourself pooping less frequently if you:
- don’t drink enough water
- forget to manage your stress levels
- change your schedule or travel frequently (hi, vacation constipation)
- experience hormonal changes (thanks to PMS, pregnancy, or menopause)
- take certain OTC or prescription medications
- change up your diet or caloric intake
- don’t engage in regular physical activity
Of course, the reverse of all these factors is true, too; some medications can make you poop more often, as can your overall activity/hydration/caffeine levels. It’s all one big balancing act.
So how do I find my “normal”?
If you’re hoping for an exact number of bowel movements that’s considered “healthy” or “normal,” so sorry (gosh, I keep apologizing here). There is no one number, because the range of normal varies from person to person. Anywhere from three times a day to once every three days is generally considered healthy, so as long as you fall somewhere along that spectrum (and aren’t experiencing anything painful or out of the ordinary), you’re good.
Now, if you are experiencing something painful or out of the ordinary, you should contact your doctor. Depending on the issue, he or she may refer you to a gastroenterologist. According to Penn Medicine, having the following symptoms for any extended period of time (i.e. more than a few days) warrants a phone call or visit:
- consistently off-colored poop (like pale, red, or black stool) or color changes not related to new dietary habits
- sudden changes to the frequency of your bowel movements
- bloody stool
- severe abdominal pain while pooping
- poop that floats (which can be a sign of infection)
- poop that smells unusual or especially odorous
The bottom line? It’s important to know that a slowdown in your regular bathroom habits may make you feel like you’ve gained a bunch of weight, but that’s really not the case. A combination of bloating and discomfort—along with a couple extra pounds of poop—can make the situation seem more dire than it actually is.
When you do finally go, you’ll feel lighter than air…but you’ll still only weigh a leeeettle less than before. So if weight loss is your goal, you’ll need to think outside the bathroom—good thing WH is here for that!