I came across the headline, 'Pooping your way to weight loss'. I could not resist, as I must investigate on any potential myth. It is my 'duty'.
Weight Loss Through Pooping
Low fecal weight (i.e. poop) and slow bowel transit times are a health risk, being positively associated with cancer risk.1 This concern is why dietary fiber is so important (see below), to increase the fecal weight – leading to less 'poop' being leftover in the bowels.
This large study of 20 populations in 12 countries quantifying this risk have estimated that men had a median stool weight of 104 g/day, and 99 g/day for women. That's about .23 lbs/day of poop for men, and .22 lbs/day for women. However, in Westernized populations, like the U.S., fecal weight was as low as .17 lbs/day.1
The suggestion for fecal weight to reduce risk of colon cancer, with an intake of 18 g/day of dietary fiber, is around 150 g/day or .33 lbs/day.1
So, if one were to eat a healthy amount of dietary fiber, he or she would only lose around .30 lbs from pooping in a day. Of course, this weight would return with subsequent eating and filling of the bowels.
Epsom Salt as a Laxative
The aforementioned article also mentions Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate), and its use as a laxative to relieve constipation (i.e. soften stool). However, there is a short section asking the question if it can help us lose weight, and brings up a fruit-based and Epsom salt diet. Of course, Epsom salt has been a common ingredient in various cleanses over the years that claim to promote weight loss.
It might work for the very minimal weight loss, but laxative use can lead to laxative abuse. Laxative abuse is a hazardous habit for weight control, especially with its more common use alongside eating disorders.2,3 So, we must be careful what we share or read about laxative use for weight loss, and should always visit with our doctor and/or registered dietitian regarding laxative use.
In the end, the potential risk of abuse is not worth the small amount of temporary weight loss through bowel movements.
Dietary Fiber, A Better Recommendation
As I have discussed before, dietary fiber is an extremely important part of a healthy diet (vegetables, fruit, whole grains, legumes), especially due to its many benefits, including disease and cancer prevention.
Getting the recommended 20-35 grams of fiber per day aids in digestion, might help control blood sugar and cholesterol, promotes bowel health, helps prevent constipation, and can promote fullness (satiety). Of course, the last two benefits, preventing constipation and promoting fullness, might subsequently lead to a little weight loss (from more bowel movements and eating less).
I call this one 'clarify', because yes, we can lose weight through pooping, but data suggests it will probably be less than .30 lbs per day, which is quickly replaced through subsequent meals. Thus, it is not an effective weight loss strategy. With that said, many people with poor diets should be pooping more, through the help of a healthy diet including dietary fiber, to maintain health and reduce risk of colon cancer.
Note. All puns in this article were both intended and unintended.
- Cummings, J. H., Bingham, S. A., Heaton, K. W., & Eastwood, M. A. (1992). Fecal weight, colon cancer risk, and dietary intake of nonstarch polysaccharides (dietary fiber). Gastroenterology, 103, 1783-1783.
- Roerig, J. L., Steffen, K. J., Mitchell, J. E., & Zunker, C. (2010). Laxative abuse. Drugs, 70(12), 1487-1503.
- Vanin, J. R., & Saylor, K. E. (1989). Laxative abuse: a hazardous habit for weight control. Journal of American College Health, 37(5), 227-230.