Hey everyone! How are you poo-in’? Sorry, I couldn’t resist a poop pun. Not that you asked, but ever since I ate a wonky Subway while road tripping about two weeks ago things have been um…loose for me. Thus, I thought a post about diarrhea, and specifically what to eat (and to avoid) when you have diarrhea, could be helpful or useful to everyone because the reality is, we all have the runs from time to time.
I’ve been implementing several of these tactics into my routine since the Subway incident. If you want to know just how ruthless this bout of diarrhea has been for me, let’s just say, I had a full adult “blowout” at the grocery store the other day. Yup. It was messy. Like, dripping down my legs messy. And the craziest part was, I didn’t even realize it was happening until I felt the cold trickle down my leg and abandoned my cart full of bananas to inspect the situation in the lady’s room.
Well now. I don’t know what else to say except that you probably didn’t want to know that, but now that you do, let’s just move past this awkwardness and read about what diarrhea is, and what you can eat and do and avoid when you have diarrhea.
*Disclaimer: As always, this is general information intended for healthy adults to gather general information about what to eat (and to avoid) when you have diarrhea. Your needs may vary based on medical status, lifestyle, or life-stage. Please never replace generalized health information you’ve read online with individualized clinical care.
First of all, what is diarrhea?
Well, I’m glad you asked. Diarrhea is defined by loose, watery stools three or more times a day. Diarrhea can be further categorized as acute, persistent, or chronic.
Acute diarrhea typically lasts a day or two and goes away on its own. Persistent diarrhea lasts anywhere between 2-4 weeks. And chronic diarrhea typically lasts over 4 weeks, but may come and go.
Other symptoms often related to diarrhea include cramping, an urgent need to go to the bathroom, abdominal pain, and nausea. You may experience all, none, or some of these symptoms.
What Causes Diarrhea?
Many things may cause diarrhea, including food allergies and intolerances, foodbourne illness, viral infections, bacterial infections, bowel disorders including IBS, IBD, Crohn’s disease and colitis, and parasites.
Anxiety may also lead diarrhea by making IBS symptoms worse.
Why is Diarrhea Dangerous?
All poop jokes aside, diarrhea can be dangerous, and is the second leading cause of death in children under 5 in developing countries.
Even in developed countries, diarrhea often leads to dehydration and electrolyte imbalance, both of which can be serious and dangerous. Electrolytes are essential minerals that regulate blood pressure, muscle contractions, and many other bodily functions, and electrolyte imbalance puts the body at risk of heart coma, seizures, heart palpitations, and even death.
Furthermore, diarrhea may cause nutrient malabsorption. Because food is moving through the intestines at such a rapid pace, the body may not be able to absorb enough nutrients from the food consumed, putting individuals at risk of becoming malnourished.
What To Do When You Have Diarrhea:
If you have diarrhea, there are many things you can do to make yourself feel better, or at the very least, avoid dehydration, and/or making your diarrhea worse. Read on for a quick list of things to do when you have diarrhea!
1. Stay Hydrated and Replace Electrolytes
It’s easy to become dehydrated when you have diarrhea. Be sure you are replacing all the fluids lost in stool by drinking frequently in small amounts.
Electrolytes, which include potassium, sodium, calcium, chloride, magnesium, and phosphate, are also essential to regulate blood pressure, muscle contractions, among other important bodily functions.
It’s important to replenish these electrolytes if you are dehydrated. Sports drinks like Gatorade or Powerade have electrolytes added to them and may be useful when you have diarrhea. However, I’d suggest watering them down a bit, as too much sugar at once may make diarrhea worse for some people.
Pedialyte is another option, and contains more electrolytes and less-sugar than most commercial brand sports drinks. Coconut water also contains a high amount of potassium, and may help with rehydration
If you don’t have a sports drink or coconut water, simply try adding a spoonful of sugar and a pinch of salt to a glass of water to help replenish some electrolytes you may be losing.
2. Eat bland, low-fiber, low-FODMAP Foods
When you have diarrhea, sticking to certain, less-triggering foods is advisable to avoid exacerbating GI upset.
Typically, diarrhea-friendly foods are bland, lower-fiber, low-FODMAP foods like bananas, rice, applesauce, crackers, toast, broths, plain pasta, rice, tofu, cream of wheat, eggs, jello, and oatmeal.
Consuming potassium-rich foods, like bananas and potatoes, both of which happen to be bland, can also help give your body a dose of electrolytes while providing some neutral, starchy energy. Adding salt to your foods, or eating salty crackers or other neutral snacks can also help you sneak in some sodium.
If you are craving fruits and vegetables, try removing the skins, which contain most of the fiber. Cooking vegetables also makes them easier to digest, and is advisable if you are experiencing diarrhea.
3. Eat small frequent meals rather than large meals
Eating smaller meals more frequently is preferable to consuming large meals when you have diarrhea. The smaller amounts of food are easier for your body to digest at a single time. Consuming several small meals instead of couple large meals may help you avoid making your diarrhea worse.
4. Avoid Oily, High-FODMAP, High-Fiber Foods, Lactose, Large Meals, Lots of Caffeine & Alcohol:
There are many things you should avoid when you have diarrhea. While everyone has different triggers, it’s generally advised to avoid certain types of foods and beverages.
Foods you may want to stay away from when you have diarrhea include spicy food, greasy or oily food, high-fiber foods, and foods high in FODMAPS (fermentable oli- di- mono-saccharides and polyols).
FODMAP-rich foods contain of natural sugars that are hard for you to digest, and often induce osmosis to your GI tract, encouraging bloating, gas, and diarrhea. To read more about FODMAPs and FODMAP-rich food, see this article.
Artificially-sweetened gums, sodas, candies, and sports drinks are often overlooked when exploring causes of GI upset, but are often times difficult to digest, FODMAP-rich, and are worthy of avoiding if you have diarrhea.
Lactose (a natural sugar found in milk products) may make diarrhea worse in lactose-intolerant individuals. Many adults are lactose-intolerant, and thus, if you have diarrhea and a wonky relationship with dairy products, they may be worth skipping until your symptoms improve.
Caffeine may also increase intestinal motility (aka make your bowels move more quickly, ushering diarrhea along), so avoiding high-caffeine-containing beverages is advisable.
Alcohol is worth avoiding when you have diarrhea, as it impacts the nervous system to increase bowel motility and transit time (aka causing you to have more frequent trips to the bathroom) and can cause the intestines to secrete fluids and electrolytes, which may make dehydration and electrolyte imbalance worse.
If Your Diarrhea Persists…
Most cases of diarrhea self-resolve. If your diarrhea persists for longer than 4-5 days and/or is accompanied by a fever, bloody stool, or severe dehydration, see your health care provider to diagnose what is causing your diarrhea and to help you come up with a treatment plan.
How to Avoid Diarrhea:
Some diarrhea is unavoidable, particularly if it is caused by allergies, or inflammatory bowel diseases. However, some diarrhea is avoidable. Practicing good hygiene including hand-washing, and storing foods at appropriate temperatures, are simple yet effective means by which to prevent food borne illness and diarrhea.
Diarrhea blows. But there are things you can do and things you can do, eat (and to avoid) when you have diarrhea to help ease the pain and reduce your risk of making your diarrhea worse and/or becoming dehydrated.
Well, I hope this post helped you figure out what to eat (and to avoid) when you have diarrhea. Thanks for reading and as always, leave questions, comments, or topic suggestions here, or hit me up on Instagram, Twitter, or YouTube!
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