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Toilet Technique Tips

By Dr Michael McCoy

It's a tough job but somebody has to do it. Go potty with our in-depth examination of toilet traumas and how to rectify them.

Some years back my doctor revealed to me that the ideal bowel movement should follow the "three nines" principle: it should be done at 9 am (so you don't get caught in the traffic), it should take nine seconds to complete (fairly ambitious) and it should be nine inches long.

Don't get agitated if you score less than a perfect three nines, because more recent findings in stool science have revealed that such a goal is as inappropriate as it is unachievable. However, there are many other things that can go astray down there, from constipation or the runs, to bowel cancer.

Let's start with the act itself. You may have thought that no instructions were required, but it seems there's a right and a wrong way to go about it.

Lavatory lessons

Jane Richards, a women's health physiotherapist, specialises in continence and other plumbing-related disorders. Richards lists four common faults in toilet technique: sitting incorrectly, inappropriate muscle mechanics, delaying the urge and not spending enough time once we get there.

The traditional squat is apparently the ideal it decreases the kink in our pipes and offers less resistance to flow. If you must use the porcelain throne, leaning forward with back straight, elbows on knees and feet resting on a low stool is a good option.

Regarding muscle mechanics, Richards recommends we "brace and bulge" rather than strain. To do this you need to assume the position: feet up, lean forward, back straight, elbows on knees. Then you brace the front and sides of your abdomen before letting your tummy bulge out in front, bearing down to help the stools pass.

On to diet. "The ideal stool consistency is similar to that of a cow pat soft and formed, but easily deformable," Richards says. "Not too liquid, but not too dry and pellety either." Lovely stuff.

Poo prescription

Colorectal surgeon Mr James Keck suggests that the trick is to drink plenty of fluids (but steer clear of coffee, alcohol and other diuretics) – unless you have been advised previously to limit your fluid intake – and eat lots of soluble fibre (eg. oat bran, beans, carrots and psyllium husks). This will increase the bulk and softness of the stool.

Keck also recommends regular exercise and reducing stress for truly beautiful bowels. In the majority of cases, he warns against the long-term use of laxatives since they can lead to dependence.

The appearance of your stools can also provide you with information about your intestinal health.

"It shouldn't float," Richards says. "This can suggest fat malabsorption. But it shouldn't plummet to the bottom either, which will happen if there's not enough fibre in your diet."

Watch for colours also. High iron intake can turn poo black, but black ones can also be indicative of bleeding higher up in the intestines and should be checked out immediately. Similarly, white mucusy-looking stools are a symptom of irritable bowel syndrome and also require medical follow up.


Bliss DZ, Jung HJ, Savik K, Lowry A, LeMoine M, Jensen L, Werner C, Schaffer K (2001) Supplementation with dietary fiber improves fecal incontinence. Nursing Research 50: 203–213.

Marlett JA, Kajs Tm, Fischer MH (2000) An unfermented gel component of psyllium seed husk promotes laxation as a lubricant in humans. American Journal of Clincial Nutrition 72: 784–789.

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