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What’s a Healthy Bowel Movement? (7 Tips for Better BMs)

Talking about bodily functions doesn't generally make for polite conversation. Judging by the stunning array of constipation medications at the drugstore, maybe we do need to talk about healthy bowel movements. (I was looking for ipecac syrup, which they no longer carry, to keep in our emergency medical kit.)

toilet with squatty potty

What's a healthy bowel movement?

Believe it or not, some scientists in England (Bristol, to be precise), came up with a  chart to describe the range of typical bowel movements. This is called the Bristol Stool Chart (or as we like to call it, the Poop Chart).

The following is a summary based on information from Please speak with a health care provider for specific medical advice.

Type 1:  Separate hard lumps, like nuts

These stools are not soft and squishy, because bacteria are missing and there is nothing to retain water. The lumps are hard and abrasive, the typical diameter ranges from 1 to 2 cm (0.4–0.8”), and they’re painful to pass, because the lumps are hard and scratchy.

This is a common side effect of antibiotic treatments. It may also occur for people attempting fiber-free, meat and fat heavy (low-carb) diets. Flatulence isn’t likely, because fermentation of fiber isn’t taking place.

Type 2:  Sausage-like but lumpy

This type represents Type 1 “nuggets” clumped together by fiber and some bacteria. It's typical for organic constipation.

The diameter is 3 to 4 cm (1.2–1.6”). This type is the most destructive by far because its size is near or exceeds the maximum opening of the anal canal’s aperture (3.5 cm).

It’s bound to cause extreme straining during elimination, and most likely to cause anal canal laceration, hemorrhoidal prolapse, or diverticulosis. To attain this form, the stools must be in the colon for at least several weeks instead of the normal 72 hours. 

Adding more fiber is dangerous for Type 2, because the expanded fiber has no place to go. It may cause a hernia, obstruction, or perforation of the small and large intestine alike.

Type 3:  Like a sausage but with cracks in the surface

This form has all of the characteristics of Type 2 stools, but the transit time is faster, between one and two weeks. Typical for latent constipation. The diameter is 2 to 3.5 cm (0.8–1.4”). Irritable bowel syndrome is likely.

Flatulence is minor, because of dysbacteriosis. The fact that it hasn’t became as enlarged as Type 2 suggests that the defecations are regular. Straining is required. Type 3 has the same adverse effects typical for Type 2, especially hemorrhoids.

Type 4:  Like a sausage or snake, smooth and soft

This form is normal for someone defecating once daily. The diameter is 1 to 2 cm (0.4–0.8”). The larger diameter suggests a longer transit time or a large amount of dietary fiber in the diet.

Type 5: Soft blobs with clear-cut edges

The authors of consider this form ideal. It is typical for a person who has stools twice or three times daily, after major meals. The diameter is 1 to 1.5 cm (0.4–0.6”).

*Note – many other sites list 4 and 5 as preferred shapes.

Type 6:  Fluffy pieces with ragged edges, a mushy stool

These kind of stools may suggest a slightly hyperactive colon (fast motility), excess dietary potassium, or sudden dehydration or spike in blood pressure related to stress (both cause the rapid release of water and potassium from blood plasma into the intestinal cavity).

It can also indicate a hypersensitive personality prone to stress, too many spices, drinking water with a high mineral content, or the use of osmotic (mineral salts) laxatives. Iron supplements may also cause diarrhea.

Type 7:  Watery, no solid pieces

This, of course, is diarrhea. It’s typical for people (especially young children and infirm or convalescing adults) affected by fecal impaction—a condition that follows or accompanies type 1 stools.

During paradoxical diarrhea the liquid contents of the small intestine (up to 1.5–2 liters/quarts daily) have no place to go but down, because the large intestine is stuffed with impacted stools throughout its entire length. Some water gets absorbed, the rest accumulates in the rectum.

This is called “paradoxical diarrhea” because the person has diarrhea and constipation at the same time.

Will more fiber help me poop better?

We  are bombarded with advertisements for FIBER! FIBER! FIBER! Is a large amount of fiber the real solution we're looking for?

Based on personal experience, I'd have to say, “no”. I've read some articles that say that if you eat a lot of fiber, it can actually make bowel problems worse, depending on your situation (such as #2 poop problems from the chart).

We need to look at the colon as not only a part of your digestive system, but part of the body as a whole. Did you know that an under active thyroid can contribute to constipation? And that the gastrocolic reflex (the urge to poop) typically weakens as we age?

I (unfortunately) found this information out first hand when my thyroid became sluggish. The good news is that by changing my diet, I am now happily in the 4-5 range. Here are some of the changes I've made during the last year or so that have helped me.

Strange Colored Stool

Healthy bowel movements come in range of colors, most of which are some variation of brown. If a stool is more green or yellow, it may contain more bile.

Foods may not be the same color coming out that they are going in, especially with artificial food colors. One notable example of this was the black bun Whopper from Burger King, which made people pass neon green stools.

My boys used to pass bright green stools when their grandmother fed them artificially colored fruit leather when they were little. (Now we make our own fruit leather.)

7 Tips for Healthy Bowel Movements

Better health and better bowel movements go hand in hand. Gut biomes vary from person to person, so you may need to try different strategies to see what works best for you.

For instance, the carnivore diet works well for some people, while others eat plant based. We're working to raise most of our food, so we eat a mix.

If you have food intolerances or sensitivities, that will impact your digestive tract and bowel habits. You should be having a bowel movement at least three times a week. Daily or several times per day means your system is moving food through more evenly.

1) Avoid highly processed foods

When the boys were younger, we did a little homeschool science experiment where we took samples of different foods and subjected them to “digestive forces”. We soaked them in vinegar, “smushed” them in a plastic bag, and finally forced them through on old nylon stocking.

The foods we examined were a piece of meat, a piece of apple, some celery, some oatmeal, and saltine crackers. When we got to the saltine crackers, they basically coated the inside of the stocking like glue.

The same thing happens in your guts. Highly processed foods lack soluble and insoluble fiber. They are also typically quite dry, so they can be easily compressed in your guts, forming hard, dense bowel movements.

2)  Eat plenty of vegetables and moderate amounts of fruit

I've been eating less fruit lately since I am cutting back on carbs, but I do make sure to get plenty of plant material each day. Plants provide a good ratio of fiber to water that is generally easy on the digestive system. 

Many plants are high in soluble fiber, which swells and bulks up the stool for easy transit, and insoluble fiber, which acts somewhat like a “broom” to “sweep” the colon clear.

3)  Eat plenty of high quality saturated fats

Fats are our bodies natural lubricants. They provide a feeling of satiation so you are less likely to overeat. Nutiva coconut oil, organic butter and ghee are my personal favorites.

3)  Stay hydrated

I'm not fanatical about how much water I drink. I think the eight glasses a day recommendation seems a little over the top, unless you're in a situation where you're sweating heavily. Realistically, would our ancestors have consumed that much fresh water daily? I think it's unlikely.

That said, I think most of us have a higher toxin load from our environments, so we want to keep things moving through our systems.

4)  Eat and drink plenty of probiotic foods and beverages

As we age, our bodies naturally produce less digestive enzymes.  Our digestive systems slow down (and sometimes even stop – not good).

Live culture foods and drinks like sauerkraut, kimchi, fermented salsas and chutneys, kombucha, kefir, and kvass all help “jump start” your digestive system and often contribute to the healing of many digestive ailments.

If you want to learn more about these foods and how to make them at home, visit the Live Culture Foods Section of the recipe page.

Check out Enzyme Nutrition and/or Enzymes & Enzyme Therapy for even more information.

7) Try Adding Magnesium

Many people suffer from constipation due to magnesium deficiency. According to WebMD, “Dietary sources of magnesium include legumes, whole grains, vegetables (especially broccoli, squash, and green leafy vegetables), seeds, and nuts (especially almonds). Other sources include dairy products, meats, chocolate, and coffee. Water with a high mineral content, or “hard” water, is also a source of magnesium.”

Natural Calm Magnesium Beverage mix is an easy way to take extra magnesium. A glass in the evening may also help you get a more restful night's sleep and reduce nighttime leg cramps.

7) Try squatting, and stay physically active

Squatting is the natural position for making a bowel movement, because it helps your guts to line up correctly to pass stool more easily. This can be accomplished with lower toilets, or through the use of a simple step like the Squatty Potty®, pictured below.

We love our Squatty Potties and have one next to each toilet. They are easy to use, easy to clean, and tuck out of the way next to the toilet when not in use.

What's a Healthy Bowel Movement? Using the Bristol Stool Chart to identify a healthy bowel movement. Five tips for better bowel movements, bowel health.

Staying physically active also helps with healthy bowel movements. When you move, it helps to keep your digestive system moving. It's no coincidence that many people have a bowel movement first thing in the morning. Your body does “clean up” at night, and then you get up, and move the waste out.

Keeping active during the day also helps, like taking a 30 minute walk after lunch. You don't need to be setting world records, just keep moving.

So the next time you visit the bathroom, take a peek at what's going on before you flush. If you're not in the 4-5 range, you may want to consider making some changes in your diet.

You may also enjoy other posts in the Natural Health series.

Laurie Neverman

This article is written by Laurie Neverman. Laurie is a lifelong learner with a passion for natural remedies and holistic healing. She’s successfully improved her eyesight, cleared her psoriasis, and gotten off of prescription medication.

Originally written in 2011, last updated in 2023.

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  1. I have pretty much this same endless cycle for years now. I poop clear watery mucus stuff for a few days or so. I need to urinate often when I have that also. Then sometimes constipated poo. Or a mix of constipated and diarrhea and normal during one poo time. Then not being able to go for a while. Then it will be constipated and then normal. Then for a couple months now it has started where I will need to go badly after not being able to go for a while and it is very long poops like type 4. This lasts a few days with a bunch each time for one or two times a day. It was maybe two feet at times and once that plus a bunch more. When I get like this I need to go a lot right after I eat also. It is scaring me. What might be causing all this? I have been taking acidophilus recently. Could that be making me poop so much? I can’t find information about it causing it so bad.

    1. I am not a doctor and cannot offer specific medical advice, but there are things you can look into yourself to see if you can improve matters.

      1 – Food allergies and sensitivities – food allergies don’t always mean going into anaphylactic shock. Sometimes allergies and sensitivities show up as having issues with gas, bowel movements, body aches, and an assortment of other symptoms. Pay attention to what you eat (writing stuff down helps) and bowel movement patterns, as see if you notice changes within a few days of eating certain foods.

      I don’t normally eat processed foods, but I know as I get older, if I stuff myself with nothing but bread products and cheese, for instance, it slows my system way down.

      2 – Gut microbiome – Odds are, if you’re like most people, you’ve been on antibiotics at one point or another. The recent craze for over sanitizing is also taking a toll on good microbes.

      The average human has roughly 10 bacteria cells for every one “human” cell. It’s the bacteria and other microbes in our guts that do most of the breaking down of food, not stomach acid or churning actions.

      There’s nothing wrong with taking acidophilus. It’s better than nothing, but it doesn’t persist very far into the intestinal tract. There are other probiotics that have a wider mix of species that can tolerate and thrive in the conditions of the small intestine.

      Another option (and possibly the better one), is live culture foods. Donna Schwenk over at Cultured Food Life recommends milk kefir, fermented vegetables, and kombucha daily in small amounts to populate the guy with a diverse array of microorganisms. As strange as it sounds, eating small amounts of clean, healthy, living garden soil is another good source of microbes. (No need to scrub those freshly harvested carrots until they shine.)

      3 – EMF sensitivity and other environmental toxins – We live in a soup of EMFs (electromagnetic fields) from cell phones, wifi, and our endless array of gadgets. This bothers some people more than others, and there’s evidence that it may contribute to leaky gut syndrome and general ill health.

      Are you exposed to other stressors or chemicals in your life, like swing shifts at work, extreme stress, loud noises, chemicals, etc? Pay attention to your exposure levels, and notice if they have an impact on how you feel and how your gut feels.

      It sounds like your microbiome is widely out of whack, but what’s causing that is what you need to figure out. I’m glad you’re looking into this, as regular bowel movements play an important part in our health. I’m sure it must be uncomfortable for you, too.

    1. My condolences to your anal sphincter.

      More seriously – it’s largely (pun intended) a matter of what’s “normal” for you. For most people, that would be uncomfortably huge. I’d check hydration levels, ease and frequency of bowel movements (is there impaction and delayed defecation?), diet (too much fiber or not enough, possible food allergies) and other side effects (pain with pooping, bloody stools, hemorrhoids). Are you on medication that has constipation or other bowel movement changes as a known side effect. (Many common meds do.)

      If you are pooping regularly without pain, blood or other signs of stress, it’s probably not a matter of concern. If you have other symptoms or concerns, please work with a trained healthcare provider to address the specifics of your situation. I have no magical internet connected poop diagnostic tools, only general advice.

  2. Hello,

    I have only recently noticed a change in my bm. I use to be a normal 4 however over the last week or so Ive been at more of a 6. Its usually somewhat formed sinks but then has several fluffy floaters and passes very easily. There’s no foul odor, doesnt seem fatty, and is every morning like clock work.

    I’ve made several changes in my diet due to high cholesterol. I eat smaller meals 3xs a day with snacks in between. Am avoiding high fat foods, less red meat etc. I’ve also been under a lot of stress the past two weeks which I noted could be part of the cause.
    However ive also increased my water intake considerably and pulled my usual coffee.

    Between the stress and the increased water intake could my body not be absorbing the water fast enough and causing these types of bowel movements?
    I saw g.i. 2 days ago and he didn’t seem to concerned because I was also on my menstrual cycle.

    1. Diet change is likely a factor. If your G.I. doc didn’t seem concerned, you’re probably okay, but you may want to consider some adjustments.

      I am NOT a doctor, so everything here is based on my own experience and research. There’s a few things that come to mind when reviewing your situation.

      1 – When you say you added water and cut coffee, how much water did you add? I know it’s currently in vogue to drink 8 glasses of water per day, but there’s no clear scientific evidence to back that up. (There are, however, a lot of bottle water sellers making a ton of money pushing the idea.) If you eat fruit and veggies (which is sounds like you may be doing since you’re cutting back on meat and fat), they provide a good amount of water, especially when fresh. Too much water can also be hard on your kidneys, slow down your digestion, throw off your electrolyte balance and slow down your metabolism.

      2 – Cholesterol is not the enemy. It performs many protective and critical functions in the body, and is essential for health. 50% of people who die suddenly from heart attacks do not have high cholesterol. If your doctor is concerned about your cholesterol levels, or you need to lower them for your insurance or other reasons, check out the post “15 Home Remedies to Reduce Cholesterol“. Page 2 of that post outlines the function of cholesterol in the body.

      3 – Fat and protein are not the enemy, although if you have a history of kidney stones, less red meat may be helpful. Protein triggers the feeling of fullness in the body faster than fat or carbohydrates, which can help you to eat less.

      4 – You didn’t mention probiotics or prebiotics. These are general helpful to include in the diet, especially as we age. Some prebiotics will also help bulk up stools, which may be helpful with your current condition. The post “My Anti-Candida, Anti-Psoriasis Diet – 9 Steps Towards Healing” may be worth a look. It identifies common problem foods, and suggests probiotic and prebiotic foods, along with some other strategies I’ve adopted to keep my guts in good working order.

      5 – At the risk of TMI, high stress levels sometimes make me poop like a goose (your #6 BMs). I get nervous, my guts get nervous, and everything clears out. It might be worthwhile to try meditation. (EFT) tapping or other stress reduction techniques. I have basic EFT instruction in the post, “Alternative Psoriasis Treatments – BodyTalk and EFT“.

  3. Thanks Laurie for your helpful advice.
    However, I avoid taking laxatives as I hate any side effects and loose bowel movements. Give me a firm movement any-day to a loose one.
    Should I start to develop piles or a fissure with an overly large-diameter hard movement I will think again.

  4. I confess I eat well with a balanced diet but only have the urge to empty my rectum once or twice a week. The type is Type 2, mostly lumpy and hard, the diameter can be up to 6.5 cm (about 2.5 inches) and the length short at about 5 inches. Can be bit of a struggle to pass sometimes, but fortunately no anal fissures or piles.
    The only downside is that flushing can be a problem until the stool has softened – often a day later.
    Does anyone else produce large hard stools and how do you cope ?

    1. Well Peter, judging by the fine array of laxatives available in your average pharmacy, I’d say that your are not alone. Stool softeners (such as this one) may help may your poop more squishy and easy to pass. The thing is, if you’re pooping something roughly the size of a soda can, it seems likely your digestion is a little sluggish – maybe more than a little. While the stool softeners may offer short term relief, long term, you may want to try different diet and supplement options, and see how it affects your bowel movements.

      For instance, I’ve settled into a routine with a high quality probiotic, in combination with life culture foods, to boost the good bacteria in my gut. Also, I find my bowel movements are much more likely to stay in the type 5 range when I eat more vegetables and a modest amount of meat and fruit, but limit grains (even gluten free) and dairy products. Binge on bread and cheese for a couple of days, and bathroom visits are much less pleasant. The paleo/primal style diets are gaining ground not just for weight loss or allergies, but because many people find that they function better getting back to the basics.

      It’s also possible that you may have an allergy or sensitivity that you are not aware of that is slowing down your digestion. You could try an elimination diet, switching to a very simple diet for a week or so, and then slowly reintroducing foods one at a time to see if you notice any difference.

  5. Hi I have on the Bristol scale between 3 to 4. Large and wide. I am regular and will have a bowel movement of this size every 2 days and then smaller ones daily. Sometimes a strain and most times very easy . Is this healthy or should I have it checked. I do also have a bariatric bypass. Thank you

    1. If you’re concerned about your bowel movements, it would be best to talk to your health care provider, especially given your bariatric bypass. I’m a researcher, not a healthcare provider, so please keep that in mind.

      Generally speaking, it would seem that your system is a little sluggish. You may want to consider adjusting your diet and see how it affects how you feel and how you poop. I know if I eat too much grain or dairy products, it slows my system down more now that I have reached my mid-40s. More veggies helps keep everything moving right along. Good quality probiotics and/or live cultured food are also a good addition to any diet. Digestive enzymes may also be a help, especially with your reduced stomach area for digestion.

  6. In the text you say: “the maximum opening of the anal canal’s aperture (3.5 cm).” Is this true? I mean, I have poos that can be at least 4.5 cm and they come out without pain…

      1. Ok, thank you for your reply. I use psyllium fiber to make my stools firmer, and then sometimes they can become about 4.5 cm in diameter. Because of the fiber they are not too hard and come out pretty easy with a little pushing. Psyllium is realy the best fiber in the world!!!

  7. Sorry Guys, got the wrong measurements above, average bowel movements daily is 6 inches in length by one and a half inches diameter, does this sound average?

    1. Again, still not a doctor, but using the chart as a reference, that’s still pushing maximum sphincter capacity – unless you happen to be an exceptionally large individual. Glad that it really wasn’t 6 inches in diameter.

      Study the descriptions of the bowel movements under the chart, and see which one most closely resembles your poop. Generally speaking, 2 or more bowel movements per day are recommended. If you are straining or pooping less than once a day, your system is not doing what it needs to do/getting the food it needs to function properly.