It's no secret that a detox cleanse can be hard on your system. Depending on the cleanse you use, you might go from a fairly normal diet to nothing more than juice, and that can wreak havoc on your entire body, your digestive system included.
The question is, are you going to be posted up in the bathroom doing your thing more than average, or is that an exaggerated side effect only some people ever see?
What Even Is "Regular"?
The first thing to recognize is that, while Everyone Poops, different people have different natural cycles. Some people have a naturally slower than average digestive system and might hit the porcelain throne only once or twice a week. Others go like clockwork, making a deposit every day, even around the same time every day.
This can be affected by a lot of different factors. Your diet is a big one, of course, but your hormones, your daily habits, your physical activity levels, and even your genetics can play a role.
Plus, medical treatment can often dramatically influence this particular part of biology. It's so common that, amongst many medical communities, pooping is celebrated. Constipation is extremely common as a side effect of painkillers, and surgery will halt the digestive system in its tracks for up to several days.
So, "going to the bathroom more" is going to be a very personal distinction. If you're already going once or twice a day due to your diet and your lifestyle, you probably won't see much difference. If you're used to chronic constipation, and you only visit the water closet every few days, you're likely going to end up making that pilgrimage a little more often.
How the Digestive System Works
Let's talk a little about the digestive system and how it works. For you scientists out there, this will be a simplification, but if we get anything too wrong, please let us know in the comments.
It all starts with your mouth. When you eat food, you chew it (or at least, you should chew it, even if some of you probably don't chew as much as you should), and it begins the process of breaking down. Chewing breaks large bits into smaller bits and maximizes surface area. It also mixes the food with saliva, which begins the process of breaking down the food into its component parts.
You swallow the food, and your throat pulses muscles to send it into your stomach (contrary to popular belief, while gravity assists with this, it's not strictly necessary). In your stomach, acid further breaks down food and turns it into a slurry that can be ferried off in different directions.
Some of the nutrients in what you eat are carried away immediately. Other bits, primarily liquids, end up sent through your kidneys, where it is filtered. Toxins are removed and funneled into your bladder for disposal through urine.
The more solid bits of food are sent through your intestines. Your intestines are a long, slow road where the food passing through it is constantly subjected to further digestion. Water is pulled from it, nutrients are pulled from it, and bacteria help break down bits that otherwise wouldn't be digested. You're a fast ecosystem of symbiotic microorganisms, in case you didn't know, which is why probiotics are so valuable.
Eventually, food will reach the end of your digestive system, with as much nutritional value extracted from it as possible. Everything left behind is either stuff that was too slow to break down and thus couldn't be used or stuff that would be bad for the body to try to use, so it doesn't.
A whole lot of different factors can influence this process from start to finish.
- Water! The more water you drink, the more hydrated your whole system becomes. Your body will extract and use as much water as it can, but there's a limit to how much it can use. Water is also absorbed by the fiber you eat, making it softer and easier to push further through your intestines, which is why one of the biggest solutions to chronic low-level constipation is upping your water intake.
- Fiber. Fiber is essential for your body as a source of carbohydrates that aren't terrible for you, the way carbs like sugar are. It also forms the core of what gets pushed through your system and regulates your digestive tract. More fiber means more regularity, in general, as long as water is also kept in balance.
- Salt/Sodium. Salt is an electrolyte and is critical for your body to function, but too much of it can impact digestion, raise blood pressure, and cause all manner of health issues.
- Physical activity. As it turns out, part of your digestion is aided by how much you move around. More activity means a healthier digestive process. So, while a cleanse may be able to help you out with some issues, nothing is going to do as well for you as a healthy diet and exercise plan.
Obviously, there's a lot more to it than all of this, but that's good enough for an overview for our purposes today.
So how does a cleanse impact this? Well, a cleanse is usually low- or no-food, putting your body into a fasting state where your nutrients come from the cleanse itself. It uses a lot of water and very little or no fiber to help flush out the digestive system from start to finish. At the same time, the dramatic calorie restrictions force your body to burn stored fat for energy and discard the byproducts rather than use the energy you're eating to fuel itself. Less in, more out.
It Depends on the Cleanse
Different kinds of cleanses will have different impacts on your digestive process. Most of them will make you go to the bathroom more often, but some of them will be much more often. For example, this person on a short juice cleanse reported having to visit the restroom much more often than before.
The biggest reason for reaching the restroom state more often is that a cleanse is usually dramatically lower on all of the food elements that slow down digestion. Everything runs through you faster than it did before, and there's less fiber and more liquid pressing on your sphincters and demanding freedom. If you try to hold it in, you'll end up with unpleasant gurgling and potentially even abdominal cramping.
So, yes, you'll go to the bathroom more often, with "less productive" sessions, because the usual mechanisms that hold it in for you aren't working properly with what you give them.
The Diuretic Effects of Caffeine
Another influence on this situation is caffeine. Caffeine has some natural diuretic and laxative effects, which means it can help funnel things along through your system. This is why so many people make jokes about their morning coffee "going right through them"; it kind of is. Several studies have verified this.
Caffeine isn't part of every cleanse. However, if you're doing an all-liquid cleanse that still involves coffee, or if you're doing a tea-based cleanse, it will play a significant role in your cleanse experience, your energy levels, and yes, your digestion. One of the effects caffeine has is stimulating contractions in your intestines, which helps push things through. Since your digestive system goes semi-dormant while you sleep, this morning coffee effect can stimulate a morning bowel movement.
What Else Might Happen to Bowel Movements?
A cleanse is fairly likely to increase the frequency of your bowel movements, but that's not all it can do. There are other potential side effects you may (or may not) notice in the bathroom as well.
It can help counteract constipation.
As you might expect, more frequent bowel movements means an end to chronic constipation, at least for a little while. While, again, this can depend on the cleanse you're pursuing, most cleanses involve a bunch of water and fiber you weren't getting before. Juice cleanses are the biggest ones for this, though smoothie cleanses and various crash diets can also have the same result.
More fiber means more bulk to absorb water and push through your system. More water means more movement. Combined, this means those hard lumps that refuse to budge will soften up and push through. Depending on how chronic and how constipated your digestion is, you'll see some fairly tangible effects.
It might change colors, possibly dramatically.
Stool inspection isn't always a habit of ours as a society, but it might be something you want to look into since it can tell you a lot about your overall health. A cleanse can draw this into a stark perspective.
- Green. Green colors come from two sources; chlorophyll in plant matter or artificial dyes. Darker green is usually better, and lighter green might be indicative of something nasty in your cleanse.
- Yellow. Yellow can indicate an excess of bile, another artificial dye problem, or in some rare instances, a problem with gluten. Those who have celiac disease often find their stool tinted yellow after they've consumed the substance.
- Red. Red is usually just a sign that you've eaten something red, like beets, berries, or foods with red food coloring. Just make sure it isn't blood, or you might have a small tear somewhere or a hemorrhoid.
- Black. Black stool is usually the most concerning unless you have a good explanation for it. Black stool can come from black dyes in things like licorice and from Pepto Bismol. If you don't have another explanation, consider seeing a doctor, though; black stool can indicate internal bleeding, which is very dangerous.
Other colors can happen as well but are usually the result of dyes or medications; not the cleanse itself. If something comes out the other end blue, well, either you know what happened, or you've got some very weird biology going on.
Sputtering like a hose.
People don't necessarily like to talk about it, but a cleanse isn't going to make you regular. In fact, they aren't supposed to. Regularity is for your new diet after the cleanse. The cleanse purges your system and gets everything out of it.
Unfortunately, this can result in several issues, most notably gas and diarrhea. Gas will happen because most cleanses are high in ingredients that break down into a gas of some sort and because the cleanse itself may purge out the good bacteria and leave behind bad bacteria that break sugars into gasses. Diarrhea happens because of a lack of fiber and solid foods, and a higher concentration of liquid just runs right through you without a chance to firm up. Both are, of course, temporary, but they aren't going to be pleasant or consistent.
Everything is Temporary
Cleanses are, by design, temporary. They're not meant to be nutritionally complete or even healthy for you. Rather, they're meant to serve as a break point between an older diet and a newer, healthier diet. You do a cleanse, and when you're done with it, start back up with a lower-carb diet, or a diet without sugar, or a more medically-engineered diet to fix the issues you have.
What this means is that pretty much every digestive issue you have is also going to be temporary. Any increase in frequency, change in texture, or difference in color is only going to last as long as the cleanse itself. Since most cleanses are only meant to last for a few days, you'll have a few days of turmoil and frequent work breaks, and then you'll be back to normal.
Unless, of course, you can finally use this as an opportunity to make real, long-lasting dietary changes. In that case, your bowel changes may be more permanent, though it will settle into a new normal before long.
If you're looking to start with a cleanse, why not check out one of our skinny options, like our Skinny Lemonade Kit? We have plenty of choices for you as a starting point on your journey to a new you.