Don’t Aim For A Perfect Bowel Motion
IBS is characterized by abnormal bowel movements, whether that’s constipation, diarrhea, or a mixture of the two. Because of this, the goal for managing IBS from a clinical perspective is to return bowel movements to normal, or as close to normal as possible.
Yet many people with IBS don’t understand exactly what this goal means. Because of that, they expect that any efforts to manage IBS should return them to ‘perfect’ bowel motions. But this misunderstanding can cause many people with IBS to be disappointed, even when they experience a large improvement in symptoms.
What is a normal bowel movement?
According to the Bristol Stool Scale, a normal bowel movement is well formed, shaped like a sausage, without cracks on the surface, and is easy to pass. This means that it’s not dry and hard, as seen with constipation. But neither is it overly wet and loose, or urgent to pass, as occurs with diarrhea.
While it’s easy enough to define this ideal bowel movement, achieving it on a daily basis isn’t so easy. With good management, it’s possible for someone with IBS to achieve a perfect bowel movement on some days. But the chance of them achieving it every day is pretty slim. That’s because bowel movements can be affected by many things.
Bowel movements change from day to day
While IBS can cause bowel movements to change, so can the things that you eat or do each day. And it’s not just about the specific foods that you eat, but your overall eating pattern.
For instance, the total amount of fiber you eat will affect stool quality, as will the amount of soluble and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber is really important for keeping stools soft and easy to pass. While insoluble fiber provides bulk to the stool so that there is something to pass. All foods have differing amounts of total, soluble and insoluble fiber. So unless you eat the exact same foods every single day, then your amounts and types of fiber will change each day. And that will affect your stools.
Another thing that affects stool quality is fluids. If you don’t have enough fluids, soluble fiber can’t soften the stool because it needs to absorb liquid to do it. So if you don’t drink enough fluid, or if you lose lots of fluids through sweat, dehydration can affect your bowel movements.
So even people who don’t have IBS won’t have perfect bowel movements every day. Their bowel movements will change too because the things that they eat and do each day also change.
So what should you be aiming for?
Rather than aiming for perfect bowel movements, instead you should aim for ‘normalizing’ them. What this means is that you want to have less abnormal bowel movements than you currently do.
But even more important is understanding that the ultimate goal of IBS management is to restore quality of life. So in this case, it’s about reaching a point where your bowel movements aren’t causing you distress.
So if you have several loose bowel movements in a day, but it’s not majorly affecting your life, don’t worry about it. Or if you’re a bit constipated but it’s not causing pain, don’t worry about it. Even if your bowel movements aren’t perfect, so long as they’re improved and not affecting you much, you’re doing well with your IBS management.
Have you checked out our free IBS food journal?