Tips for Having a Comfortable Bowel Movement

For many of us, digestion is a total mystery. Our bodies just seem to do what they do, often with no discernible rhyme or reason. Therefore, it might surprise you to learn that you actually have more control over the quality of your bowel movements than you might have ever thought. Follow these steps, and your trips to the bathroom may be far more satisfying. ​

Proper Hydration

Man drinking from a large bottle of water

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The process of having comfortable bowel movements doesn't begin when you step into the bathroom. You want to be thinking about getting your stool in optimal condition for an easy passage. This means that what you put in your body today has a lot to do with what comes out of it tomorrow. Therefore, your first step toward that awesome bowel movement is to make sure you are drinking plenty of water. 

It is recommended that men drink approximately 13 cups (3 liters) of water each day and that women drink 9 cups (2.2 liters).

Every cell in our body needs water in order to function. Our bodies get the water that it needs through liquids that we drink and the foods that we eat. Most of the water that we consume is absorbed into the body from our stomachs.

What does water have to do with bowel movements? If we don't consume enough water, our bodies turn to the large intestine to get the water it needs for all of its cells. It pulls water out of the forming stool, which can lead to harder, more difficult-to-pass stools.

Dietary Interventions

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In order to have a comfortable, satisfying trip to the bathroom, you want to be sure that you are eating the right foods. This includes lots of vegetables, some fruit, lean protein, and healthy fats. These foods are not just good for your overall health, but also play a huge role in keeping your digestive system running normally.

Dietary Fiber

Normal bowel movements have a lot to do with fiber. Fiber is the part of plant food that we can't digest. Thus it makes up the framework for the stools that we pass during bowel movements.

Vegetables, fruit, and whole grains contain soluble and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber dissolves in water, turning kind of gel-like and thus giving stool a soft foundation. Insoluble fiber doesn't dissolve in water, thus providing bulk to the stool and keeping it moist. Both types of fiber are essential for a well-formed, normal stool.

Gut Bacteria

Beyond fiber, eating healthy foods is also essential for ensuring a healthy balance of your gut bacteria—and the health of your gut bacteria has a lot to do with the comfort of your bowel movements. Your gut bacteria play a role in the speed of the movements of your large intestines. An unhealthy balance in your gut bacteria can affect bowel motility. Rapid motility can lead to diarrhea; slow motility can lead to constipation

The choice of foods, therefore, is vital. Junk food and greasy, fatty foods are going to upset your gut bacteria and cause stronger gut contractions that could lead to diarrhea urgency.

If struggling with bowel movements, if often helps to work with a certified dietician who can suggest dietary interventions to improve gastrointestinal symptoms. Studies have shown that probiotic foods or a low-FODMAP diet can, respectively, boost or reduce gut bacterium to help resolve bowel abnormalities.

Bowel Stimulation

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The best time for a bowel movement is the time your body wants to have a bowel movement. That said, there are some things you can do to make the whole process seem less random:

Pay Attention to Patterns

Over the next several days, pay attention to when your body is most likely to send you the signal that it is "time to go." Bodies tend to have their own bio-rhythms. Tapping into your own internal clock is going to help the process go much more smoothly. For many people, this is the morning, but this is by no means a hard and fast rule.

As inconvenient as it may be, when your body is ready to go, you should try to go. If you tend to be a "morning person", make sure that you wake up in time to allow yourself time for your bathroom visit. Optimal bowel movements happen when you are responsive to inner cues.

Don't Avoid Public Restrooms

Don't let embarrassment get in the way of your health. Public restrooms are there for a reason—because elimination is a part of everyone's life. Yes, there are smells and noises, but no one is going to judge you as a person because you had a bowel movement. Waiting until you get home to evacuate can lead to hemorrhoids and possibly, chronic problems with constipation.

Stimulate Bowel Movements

If you know that it is "that time of the day", there are a few things that you can do to get your bowels moving:

  • Eat a large meal, preferably with some healthy fat. Large meals and dietary fat can help to stimulate your body's gastrocolic reflex—a reflex in which eating triggers movement within your digestive system.
  • Drink some hot liquid. Although there is no definitive answer as to why this is the case, drinking a hot cup of coffee, tea, or just hot water with lemon, may also get that gastrocolic reflex going.
  • Exercise. The very act of walking or doing situp forces compresses and extends the intestines in a way that promotes bowel motility.

Tips for Going to the Bathroom

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You would think that we wouldn't need instructions for something that everyone does pretty much every day, but there are a few tips for improving a bowel movement.

Don't Strain

Don't feel that you need to work at your bowel movements. Sit back, relax, take some deep breaths. Your body knows what it needs to do. Don't feel that you need to push and strain to get the stool out. All that generally accomplishes is that you push some anal tissue out and risk the development of hemorrhoids.

Prolonged straining causes hemorrhoids because hard stools and increased intraabdominal pressure promote the bulging of rectal veins. Explosive diarrhea can do the same.

Know When You Are Done

Many people feel that they need to keep going until they are empty. This strategy can backfire (excuse the pun!). What needs to come out is the part that has been stored, ready to go, in your rectum, the last part of your large intestine. The "holy grail" of bowel movements is a soft but firm banana-shaped stool.

If you have successfully passed such a stool and your body is starting to quiet in terms of urges, you can consider yourself done. To encourage further stool to come out means that you are releasing softer, watery stool—stool that is supposed to hang around inside of you longer so as to be better firmed up for tomorrow's bowel movement.

Think About Squatting

Some people believe that using a squatting position helps to ease the process of defecating. Certainly, we evolved as a species without the luxury of toilet bowls. You can try propping your feet up with some large books. Alternatively, there are products available that turn your regular toilet into a squatting toilet.

Bathroom Hygiene

Man washing his hands

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Don't neglect basic hygiene once you have finished up with your bowel movement:

Be gentle with your butt. In order to avoid irritation and infection, be sure to clean the area surrounding your anus thoroughly. Wipe gently from front to back, switching to new paper as necessary, until it comes up clean. Don't rub harshly. Flushable wipes are a comfortable option if you are prone to irritation.

Wash your hands thoroughly. Use plenty of soap and water, and keep washing until you finish singing the "Happy Birthday" song to yourself twice. 

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Bae SH. Diets for constipation. Pediatr Gastroenterol Hepatol Nutr. 2014;17(4):203-8. doi:10.5223/pghn.2014.17.4.203

  3. Menees S, Chey W. The gut microbiome and irritable bowel syndrome. F1000Res. 2018;7:F1000 Faculty Rev-1029. doi:10.12688/f1000research.14592.1

  4. Lohsiriwat V. Hemorrhoids: from basic pathophysiology to clinical management. World J Gastroenterol. 2012;18(17):2009-17. doi:10.3748/wjg.v18.i17.2009

By Barbara Bolen, PhD
Barbara Bolen, PhD, is a licensed clinical psychologist and health coach. She has written multiple books focused on living with irritable bowel syndrome.