When I was in college, rumor had it that the sister of a close friend couldn’t take 8 a.m. classes because she pooped so regularly that she nearly shit herself in her early-morning world lit survey and had to drop the course. This person—a marathon runner who ate nothing but whole ancient grains and homemade smoothies—seemed like the kind of person to have her poops on a timer. My friends and I, on the other hand, realized in the light of this story that we’d been playing a kind of shit roulette basically our entire lives: just holding it in all day and hoping the urge would come again at a jackpot time when we were near a desirable toilet. For over a decade, I’ve thought about the girl with the perfect poops every time I can’t go or go too much. My dog can just squat and let one rip any time she is near grass. These two examples beg the question: Is it possible to train myself to poop on command like the marathon runner or Ms. Truvy Bouvier Kennedy-Onassis?
According to Dr. Tarek Hassanein, head of the Southern California Liver & GI Center in San Clemente, California, pooping on a dog or marathon runner schedule is not just possible, it’s advisable. “We actually change the time of our bowel movements over the course of our lives,” he tells me. Ideally, we would all wake up at six or seven a.m., have a balanced breakfast that included a little fiber along with a warm beverage, and 15 minutes later all of our poops would just fall out into the privacy of our own toilets.
So what happened? Our parents, of course. I remember spending most of my formative years with a bracing stomach ache, trying not to fart during completely silent Oregon Trail time in computer lab. That is because my parents did not properly prioritize my shitting.
Turns out, there’s a lot to be said for the typical sitcom dad taking his paper into the can for a half-hour every morning. He’s not just avoiding his annoying kids, he is devoting a doctor-approved amount of time to his bowel health. But if he really loved those kids, he’d have had them on the throne with a Highlights magazine as well.
Dr. Hassanein says that all too often, we wake kids up, try to force some food down their gullets and shuffle them into the car and off to school, where they are often too embarrassed to go to the toilet on breaks and teachers won’t let them during class time when they might have a bit of privacy. Kids who have to hold it all day get used to ignoring the urge to defecate, resulting in a bunch of adults who have no idea how to poop correctly. To get ourselves back to the halcyon days of simple morning home shitting, Dr. Hassanein says we have to devote time to mindful bowel movements.
“It’s a habit,” he says. “Every morning, after eating and drinking go to the bathroom and don’t rush. The brain will tell the colon it’s okay to move.”
At first, it might feel a little weird to basically do shit yoga for 15 minutes a day, but falling into a routine is key. Dr. Hassanein recommends eating a serving of fiber with all meals and taking a fiber pill before bed with a full glass of water to initially get things going in the morning just after breakfast. So have some toast and an orange with a cup of coffee or tea. Afterward, go into the bathroom, sit down, and wait.
Once something happens, don’t race to get off the toilet. You’re waiting for something called a “mass contraction,” which fully empties the bowels. Anyone who has ever been left with a stomachache after running into a Starbucks and quickly dropping a couple of rabbit pellets fully understands the importance of completely emptying the bowels, which is what Dr. Hassanein says sitting a little bit longer in the mornings will accomplish. The goal in teaching the body that just after breakfast is the body’s designated bowel motility quarter-hour is to automatically trigger something called gastrocolic reflex, which gives us the urge to poop after a meal. Going to the toilet and staying there long enough to fully empty the bowel, which Dr. Hassanein calls a “mass contraction,” need only happen once a day for most people if the bowel fully empties.
But the day’s big poop need not happen in the morning. For those who work nights. Dr. Hassanein says the time of day isn’t actually all that important. The main thing is having a meal and a drink, then sitting and focusing on emptying the colon at the same time every day until it becomes reflexive, like the mythical college girl too regular for 8 a.m. classes.
Since I work from home and my poop schedule doesn’t really matter, I have, sadly, not yet trained myself to poop like that girl or my dog. However, Ms. Truvy’s shitting has undoubtedly improved following my conversation with Dr. Hassanein. I’ve started feeding her 15 minutes before we walk, and instead of doing three little annoying poops, always blocks away from the neighborhood trash cans, she now generally has her mass contraction almost immediately, allowing us to toss the poop and continue our walk unencumbered by her constant shitting. What I’m saying is I’m a better parent than my parents were, and that’s a reward even greater than shitting according to a timetable.