According to gastroenterologist Samantha Nazareth, MD, your bowel movements (BMs) make it known when they’re ready to come out. “Basically, when the poop arrives in the rectum, the last part of the colon before the final exit, the walls start to stretch with increasing volume. Think of filling a balloon with water and how it starts to blow up,” she says. “The nerves then send a signal to your brain to let you know it’s time to go.” (She notes that this usually happens when your poops are a volume of 300 millimeters or more, in case you were wondering.)
Of course, you may receive the message from your GI tract and say, “not right now you don’t”—and some people are “better” than others at doing so. “I see this frequently in children. They don’t feel comfortable going at school and therefore, they learn these abnormal toilet habits over time. In adults, this is usually associated with constipation,” says Dr. Nazareth. Meanwhile, people who consume a fiber-rich diet will likely have bulkier stools that are more challenging to hold in, she adds.
While you may feel like you have superpowers when your self-control allows you to skip the Porta Potty line or the much-dreaded camping poops, Dr. Nazareth has a message for you: With great power comes great responsibility. While it’s okay to hold it in once in a while, making a habit of delaying your trips to the bathroom could wind up harming you in the long run. “If you make it a habit to hold your poop, the poop becomes harder as there’s more opportunity for your colon to absorb more water from the poop, making it drier and drier,” she says. “Passing hard poop puts you at risk for hemorrhoids and fissures, or small, painful tears in the anus.”
But wait! There are more reasons to make going number two your number-one priority. “‘Holding it’ also allows the poop to further ferment, which can cause gas and bloating. If you repeatedly ‘hold it’ you start to get desensitized to the feeling of needing to go at the normal threshold. The medical term is called rectal hypersensitivity,” says Dr. Nazareth. One study found that letting your poop hang out in your colon could cause inflammation or even bowel conditions.
So for gut-ness sake, go to the bathroom when you need to. Okay?