I named my Suppers story “Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice” instead of “On Feces,” which is what it’s really about. But if I called it that, I think most people wouldn’t read it. There are not many things more important than good digestion, and I stand up at meetings for normalizing conversations about bowel function. Due perhaps to shyness, it is possible that some people don't even know what it would mean to have really good bowel movements. How often, how it would feel, look, and smell.
Bowel movements -- which people are so reluctant to talk about -- happen to be a key marker indicating if you have eaten appropriately in recent days. Many people struggle with chronic constipation, and it is rare to find any kind of constructive, thorough discussion of the issues. People might be shocked to find out what a normal bowel movement is like because they've never had one. I think our medical culture is way too lackadaisical about this; why, it’s possible for a person's colon to be blocked for two or three weeks without seeking medical intervention because we are so tolerant of constipation.
I arrived at my concern over bowels via asthma and the macrobiotic lifestyle that turned it around. Macrobiotics lore states that constipation is a near-root-cause of many upper-body health issues. I have also discovered constipation to cause migraines for me. And recent medical research ties slow bowel transit time to breast cancer--though doctors do not agree on exactly why there is a correlation. Although doctors may not agree on what the ideal transit time of food through the digestive tract should be, there seems to be a belief in the medical community that, in general, vegetarians are getting less breast cancer than meat eaters, and that it's probably due to faster transit times in the gut.
When I read on the internet that some doctors think it’s normal for food to take three days to pass through, I just can’t believe my eyes. For me, a healthy transit time is a single day, with a good bowel movement occurring once each morning. If I go longer than one day (possibly two) without a good bowel movement, I start to feel effects such as bloating and abdominal distention. If it’s longer than two days, I will almost always get a migraine headache which dissipates only after things start moving again. I have to eat pretty carefully to maintain a once-a-day movement. But failing to do so has been its own motivation because it’s so clear to me that the consequence of getting constipated is asthma and/or migraine.
I have laid it all out for you. To put it into a Suppers “How You Feel is Data!” chart, the simple equation goes like this:
IF: You experience asthma, migraine, chapped lips, hemorrhoids, inability to lose weight
AND: You are not experiencing regular, easy, bowel movements every day
THEN: It’s time to do an experiment with foods that prompt more rapid evacuation to see if slow transit time is driving your asthma, migraine, etc.
What A Healthy Stool is Like:
- Not very smelly
- Golden brown
- Single and long, maybe up to 18 inches
There is so much about our modern way of eating and living that contrives to constipate us. You probably knew that already. What I’m hoping you will come to understand is that constipation is not a separate issue -- it leads to all these other problems like chapped lips and migraine headaches, which you wouldn’t even associate in your mind until you start doing your homework.
If you’re slow, food will rot in there and smell bad. If you take too much salt, you may get “sinkers”. If it comes out in hard pieces, maybe you’re eating too much dry food. If you have hard stools and hemorrhoids, you might lack intestinal flora. A big reason people are having more constipation these days is the loss of fermented foods from our eating. Most traditional diets have fermented foods which have been replaced in modern times by food preserved with vinegar, salt or chemical additives. This means that people's guts are not getting populated with the organisms that once they would have gotten from their food supply. Furthermore, the things people are eating (including food that may have traces of antibiotics in them) may be killing off what gut flora they do have.
If you’re constipated and you can’t lose weight or you’re menaced by asthma, or your lips are always getting chapped, the answer may be in your gut. One of the reasons I want to facilitate Suppers is to share my joy about the macrobiotic lifestyle. It provides extensive and explicit instructions on how to deal with short-term and long-term problems with poor bowel movements, including a prioritized system of remedies to try first in case of near-blockage. And these instructions absolutely work if you eat in a macrobiotic way that is appropriate for your particular health (this will vary from person to person). Macrobiotics also addresses the format of each meal in terms of food mixes. People with strong digestion may not need this so much, but a weakened person will benefit very much from following the meal times, sizes and formats as recommended by macrobiotics.
Don’t suffer in silence! Take a look at what a proper BM should look like.
Please forgive me for luring you in with the sugar and spice title. The food manufacturers get away with that kind of thing all the time. If they had to tell the truth they’d come up with taglines like, “You’ll be passing bullets too,” or “Cap’n Piles -– You’ll be sitting or yours,” or maybe “Slam-Dunk Sugar Marbles -– Sure-fire sinkers.”