It seems like everybody wants to talk about Whole30 — the 30-day cleanse in which participants eliminate grains, added sugars, legumes, soy, dairy, and alcohol from their diets. The diet has a lot of proselytizers, and many take to social media to share photos of colorful, compliant meals with hashtags like #whole30mom, or tout their #whole30results with before and after photos. They’re happy to chat with other participants about purported benefits like weight loss and the elusive, euphoric “tiger blood” state of body and mind that cleansers might be lucky enough to enter roughly around day 15.
But there’s one aspect of Whole30 that doesn’t fit as neatly into a cute hashtag or catch phrase: poop.
If you dig around the fringes of the web forums long enough, though, it’s clear that people do have poop on the mind. Specifically, what happens to their poop when they embark on a drastic 30-day detox.
Improving overall gut health is one of the goals of Whole30. Among other benefits, the program aims to help participants resolve digestive issues like gas, bloating, inflammation, constipation, and diarrhea. That focus on the gut is important, says Taz Bhatia, MD, integrative health expert and author of Super Woman Rx. Bhatia specializes in weight loss and nutrition, and much like Whole30, her approach to both includes practical lifestyle changes designed to maintain a happy gut.
“Gut health is critical to overall health and well-being,” Bhatia tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “An explosion of recent research has demonstrated that an unhealthy gut contributes to a wide range of conditions and diseases including hormone imbalances, diabetes, autoimmune disease, obesity, rheumatoid arthritis, depression, anxiety, and chronic fatigue syndrome.”
Mixing up what goes into our guts can lead to a big change in what eventually comes out of those guts. Many Whole30 dieters see some type of shift in their bowel movements during the 30 days.
“I poop all the damn time,” wrote one Whole30 blogger. “It feels like everything is all stuck inside my gut,” lamented another participant looking for advice on reclaiming their “snake-like solid easy stools” on a paleo diet forum. Others posed inquiries under simple titles like “Dark Green Poo” and “So..um..floating stools?” Many seemed to be grateful that they weren’t the only ones with issues. “I have also noticed less satisfying poops!” one dieter replied to another’s gastric distress query. “Which is disappointing, as I used to come strutting out of the bathroom with ‘poo-phoria.’”
The lack of a universal poo-phoria on Whole30 confuses some participants. If their diets all look relatively similar — a mix of fruits, veggies, meat proteins, and potatoes — why don’t all their poops look the same? And why doesn’t a healthy diet all of a sudden lead to the perfect poop? The short answer is that diet is just one small piece of the gut puzzle, says Bhatia. Factors including geographic location, stress levels, and the microbiomes that we were exposed to as children can all contribute to a person’s gut health. Our gut histories aren’t uniform; our poops won’t be, either.
“I think everyone forgets that we are all biochemically unique and have specific needs,” Bhatia tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Each of us has a mix of genetics, hormones, microbiomes, and even lifestyle and stressors that determine how we will respond to food, supplements, and even medications. Eastern systems of medicine recognized this thousands of years ago, but we are just catching up.”
That means that while Whole30 participants can turn to social media to relate to their fellow cleansers about certain aspects of the program, they shouldn’t be too alarmed if no two number twos are quite the same. Anyone experiencing issues like severe cramping or bloody stools should consult a medical professional, of course, but detoxers with less extreme results can use the opportunity to pay more attention to what they’re putting in their body and determine what makes their own gut happy and healthy.
“Jump-starts or resets can absolutely help people find a balance and gain new perspective on their diet that may lead to permanent lifestyle changes,” Erin Hirte, a Portland-based registered dietitian nutritionist tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “I think people learn a lot about themselves doing a challenge or reset.”
So how will people know what is making those guts — and poops — happy? A popular chart is the Bristol Stool Scale, which breaks poops down into seven categories. Type 4, a smooth, soft, and snake-like deposit, is considered the holy grail.
Hirte said she turns to a more descriptive guide from Diane Sanfilippo, a nutrition consultant who blogs under the name Balanced Bites. Her chart presents the various “eliminations” as contestants in a poop pageant. Ms. Toxic competes as the contender whose dark, stinky, and sinking demeanor alerts poopers that they’ve been consuming too many processed, refined, or toxic products. Ms. Swim Team’s light or greenish tone might signal a pooper’s need to cut back on natural fat or get their gallbladder checked. Ms. Ideal’s medium brown color, solid consistency, and easy passage once a day earns her the poop pageant title. The guide can be a helpful one as people start to reintroduce certain food groups back into their diets following Whole30 and notice which ones lead to Ms. Ideal.
It’s that kind of increased awareness about gut health that can make a 30-day cleanse well worth the trouble, Bhatia says. “It gives the gut an opportunity to rest, eliminate hard-to-digest foods, and can serve as a reset,” she notes. “We know [cleanses] work to change habits and improve detoxification, and they have been around since the beginning of time.”
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