Potty Talk: Questions About Poop During Dinner

I know what you’re thinking: “Potty talk at the dinner table? You don’t do that!” Au contraire! My extended family has been talking about these “unmentionable” bodily functions for years at the dinner table. I’m not talking about toddler potty talk. These are full-grown adults giving TMI on a regular basis. My children have no part of the conversation and are thoroughly annoyed each time it comes up. My son has even secretly set a timer to see how long we converse before mentioning bowel habits in some form or other. I believe the record is 45 minutes.

This has been going on long before my husband and I met. When we married and my family suddenly had access to a doctor’s opinion during these conversations, we really upped our game. No questions are off limits. It is not for the squeamish! This doesn’t happen on his side of the family – just mine. Bless him, he is always patient and quite informative when the potty talk starts. I think what makes our bowels such an alluring topic of conversation is the fact that, as the children’s book reminds us, “everybody poops.” Everyone in the world – movie stars, political figures, royalty – they all have to take time out of their lives to sit on the toilet. It is the great equalizer.

Here’s an example of some of the concerns we’ve covered:
How often should I go? What’s normal? Apparently the range is wide – anywhere from three times a day to three times a week is typical, but there is no absolute answer. In his experience, many people are obsessed with the frequency of their bowels. He tells them that if they eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, drink plenty of water, get plenty of fiber (see the blog entry on FIBER!) and exercise regularly, they probably will have zero bowel issues.

My husband says “little hiccups” in your schedule are perfectly normal. He cautions against being obsessed with regularity and over-treating issues. Some people start taking Milk of Magnesia because of one skipped bowel movement, which results in diarrhea, which leads them to Imodium, which leads to constipation, and they’re stuck on a vicious merry-go-round of extreme discomfort! Obviously, if you miss too many “opportunities,” you should see your doctor. (This is the point where each person at the table starts sharing his own personal schedule and belief in natural remedies as well as regaling tales of panicked searches for a public restroom. It is also the point where my children and any of their cousins roll eyes in disbelief.)

What should it look like? Soft and semi-formed means you’re doing all of the right things! (This is the point where everyone comments on what specific foods mess up their constitution and the children leave the table with disgusted looks on their faces.)

How stinky is too stinky? Well, it is poop. What you eat does affect the smell. But if something seems out of the ordinary and you’re concerned, go see your doctor.  (This is the point where spouses start making jokes about having to wear gas masks or use entire bottles of air freshener.)

When should I be concerned about my poop? Any change that persists should be addressed with your doctor. If you experience changes in frequency or consistency and especially if you see blood in your stool, go see you doctor. It’s likely nothing to panic about, but better safe than sorry. (This is the point where everyone shares stories about their experiences with colonoscopies, particularly graphic descriptions of the “prep” stage.)

Is it OK to relax in there? Read the paper? Answer emails? Watch TV? I mean, really it’s the only peace I get… Well, it’s obviously your choice, but there is absolute truth that too much time on the toilet leads to hemorrhoids, which can be extremely painful.

Since our family dinners typically last several hours, conversation shifts between normal topics and bowels, until the kids come back looking for dessert. If potty talk is still going on, they complain. We remind them, “EVERYBODY POOPS.”

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