In this age of social media and oversharing, digestive health has never been trendier. And thanks to this anything-goes attitude, the Squatty Potty—a stool used to encourage proper pooping posture while sitting on the toilet—has emerged as the “buzziest item in the wellness world.”
But does this cleverly marketed product actually work? And do you really need one to, er, get going, so to speak? That’s up for debate: While the concept makes sense, some doctors say, there are no clinical studies to support many of its claims.
So we asked Norfolk, Virginia-based physician Pat Raymond, MD, a fellow of the American College of Gastroenterology, about the real benefits of the Squatty Potty—and about other products, foods, and habits that can help you poop. Here’s what she really recommends to keep you regular.
A gentle laxative
When patients come to her with run-of-the-mill constipation, Dr. Raymond recommends a gentle osmotic laxative. These over-the-counter products, like Miralax, milk of magnesia, and magnesium citrate, pull water into the colon from other parts of the body. This creates a softer stool that’s easier to pass.
Stay away from “stimulant” laxative drugs like Dulcolax and Senna, she says. “They irritate the inside wall of the colon, and after a while the colon stops being responsive.” And don’t take any laxatives long-term without consulting your physician; they’re meant to be a temporary solution only.
More fiber—but not right away
You’ve probably heard that people who are constipated need more fiber in their diet. And that’s true, but the solution isn’t as simple as loading yourself down with the nutrient at the first sign of trouble.
“If you’re constipated, you’ve got about four feet of solid stool in your colon,” says Dr. Raymond. “Stuffing fiber in the top end is not going to help.” Fiber helps regulate bowel movements by absorbing extra water and helping to form bulky stool, she explains. But if that stool isn’t moving in the first place, consuming fiber can backfire and make constipation worse.
So it’s best to increase fiber intake after you’ve addressed your initial constipation with a laxative, says Dr. Raymond. Then, she says, start taking a daily fiber supplement, like Metamucil or Citracil.
Getting more fiber in your everyday diet by eating more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, can help as well. “If you’re eating things that are low in fiber and high in fat, then perhaps you need to be eating better,” she says.
RELATED: 15 Foods That Help You Poop
Getting more exercise
Aerobic exercise causes an increase in heart rate and breathing, which can stimulate muscle contractions throughout the body and speed up a slow colon. (That’s why sedentary behavior is a common cause of constipation.)
You don’t need an intense, sweaty workout to feel the benefits, either. “We think that something as simple as walking may help with stool transit,” says Dr. Raymond. “So taking a nice brisk walk after you’ve eaten may help you have an easier, quicker bowel movement.”
Drinking plenty of fluids
Constipation occurs when stools are too hard and dry to pass easily—which is often caused by dehydration. “We tell people to make sure they’re drinking plenty of fluids,” says Dr. Raymond, although she notes that there’s no evidence of exactly how much water that should be.
A good way to tell if you’re drinking enough water, experts say, is to check the color of your pee: If it’s a light, lemonade-like hue, you’re good; if not, you should be sipping more.
Try coffee, as well. While caffeinated beverages shouldn’t be the only thing you drink throughout the day, adding a cup or two to your daily routine may help jumpstart your colon. Scientists say that for about 30% of people, java has a unique stimulant effect on the bowels. They’re not sure why, but its acidity and caffeine content may both play a role.
RELATED: 13 Surprising Causes of Constipation
A toilet stool
And yes, putting your legs up to assume a squatting position can help some people poop easier, says Dr. Raymond—especially those with defecation disorders (which are different from simple constipation, and can involve problems with the pelvic floor muscles). “This creates a tighter angle between the thigh bone and the pelvis,” she says, “which gives you more oomph for pushing that bowel movement out.”
She points out that while the Squatty Potty is the most well known product, there are plenty of other brands and generic versions out there, as well. “We do prefer you get a stool that wraps around the base of the toilet,” she adds. “That way you don’t trip, the way you could with a regular step stool or a pile of books.”