We can all agree that pooping is good for you. (There are few such universal, unequivocal truths in the health world.)
But the urge can sometimes come at the most inopportune moments. Perhaps you’re in the middle of an important client meeting, on a hot date, or in an airplane and have a fear of letting it out in the sky (totally reasonable fear, by the way). So you do what any rational adult would do:
You hold it in until you can go a little bit later. It can’t be that bad, can it? To be honest, we can’t believe we’re talking about this either, but somebody’s got to ask the question, and we’ve got answers.
Simply put, poop is a combination of waste material and bacteria, as a result of your body’s digestive process. After you eat, it takes your body a little less than 53 hours for it to do its thing and push that BLT sandwich from your mouth through your digestive tract and out the other end (fun fact: the food spends roughly 40 of those hours just in your large intestine, a.k.a. your colon). When the digested food finally reaches the end, the rectal walls are stretched, and that sends a complex signal to the brain that it’s “go-time.”
Everyone’s schedule and frequency are going to differ—some go a few times a day or once every couple of days. The important thing is that you’re on a more or less regular schedule. So, when you’ve got to go, it’s best that you “listen to your body.” But if you’ve got to hold it in for whatever reason, the feces returns to your colon, where more water is absorbed and stored until the next time you do need to go.
And that’s where you can get into some deep sh*t.
“Holding in your poo on the rare occasion is fine, but [shouldn’t be] done all the time,” says Alison Chen, N.D., and author of What Your Poo Says About You. Keeping in your bowel movement can lead to unnecessary constipation, Chen says, because the longer you hold the stool in your colon, the more water is absorbed and the harder it becomes. Those factors could potentially cause colon damage due to the effort and strain of expelling it later on.
“Holding your poop can result in distended bowels and problems with normal stooling in the near future,” says Spencer Nadolsky, D.O., a family physician, who added that the bowels can reshape over time. And another not-cool consequence: When you hold, the muscles of your rectum stretch and send the signal to stop responding to the urge to go, which can sometimes result in slower emptying of the colon when it’s time.
Both medical experts agree it’s not harmful to hold in your poop from time to time, but you definitely shouldn’t make a habit of it.
Okay, so that’s one mystery solved, but what about farts? (Laugh all you want, inquiring minds need to know!) “Holding farts in isn’t as bad, because it is air that needs to be released,” Chen says, “but it is still pressure that is building up inside.” Not to mention that it’s downright uncomfortable.
It’s best to poop and fart as you need to.
There are few understandable reasons to legitimately fight the urge (like maybe if you were the President giving a public speech) to defecate, but in all other cases, you should avoid holding bowel movements when possible. Fact of the matter is: Everyone poops and should poop when they feel the urge to—even in the middle of a romantic dinner. Just show your date this article to make it extra convincing.