“Let’s talk about poop!” (Said *almost* no one ever… unless they happen to be into bathroom humor… and/or unless it’s a doctor, a holistic nutritionist, or a registered dietitian.) 😀 Which is why, as a gut health dietitian, I felt compelled to create and share a downloadable Bristol Stool Chart PDF via this article for you!
Even though EVERYBODY poops, and we live in an unprecedented time of “poop emojis”, I’ve come to realize that most people nowadays still have no idea what “healthy” vs. “unhealthy” poop is supposed to look like, or what your poop indicates about the status of your digestion and overall health.
Alas, I hope this Bristol Stool Chart PDF and article on how to interpret the Bristol Stool Chart will provide you with more clarity around what your poop is trying to tell you (and what you can do about it)!
Disclaimer: This post is meant to be educational and informative – it’s not medical/nutritional advice! Make sure to consult with your doctor and a registered dietitian/holistic nutritionist if you’re navigating digestive issues, so you can receive custom guidance and support.
Affiliate disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I may make a commission on qualifying purchases at no extra cost to you.
Table of Contents
What is the Bristol Stool Chart?
The Bristol Stool Chart (aka the “Bristol Stool Form Scale”) is a clinical reference tool developed by doctors back in the 1990’s, as a way for them to get a more clear and complete picture of their patients’ digestive health.
This “poop chart” is now also widely used and referred to often by registered dietitians and holistic nutritionists galore, since a picture or visual (in this case) truly can be worth a thousand words. 😉
If you’d like to learn more about what your poop indicates about your health, and what you can do about it, refer to the following chart (below) and the corresponding descriptions.
(If you’re navigating digestive issues, you may also benefit from tracking your Bristol stool “type” in a food-symptom journal such as this IBS Food Diary*, which was designed and published by yours truly!)
The Bristol Stool types and their meanings
Types 1 & 2 meaning and explanation: CONSTIPATED
If your stools are most often resembling a “1” or a “2” on the Bristol Stool Chart, and/or you’re going less than 3-4x per week, you’ve likely got constipation.
This means you aren’t efficiently eliminating waste from your body, which can be correlated with other seemingly unrelated symptoms – like acne or hormonal imbalance.
Constipation is most often caused by any of the following:
- Not eating enough fiber
- Not drinking enough fluids
- A sedentary lifestyle (not moving enough)
- High stress
- Nervous system dysregulation (secondary to a concussion/ other nervous system injury, degenerative nervous system disorder, etc.)
- Dysbiosis (a deficiency of “good” probiotic bacteria, and/or an overgrowth of “bad” unhealthy microbes in the gut)
- Methane-dominant small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)
Types 3 & 4 meaning and explanation: HEALTHY / “NORMAL”
If your poop is resembling a “3” or a “4” on the Bristol Stool Chart, that’s a good sign! This is what you want to be working towards, if you aren’t here yet.
Ideally you want to be going ~6 to 12 inches per day of sausage-shaped poop which is about the diameter of a banana. (I know that may seem like a LOT – but it’s ideal!)
NOTE: It’s also entirely possible to have an unhealthy gut and experience symptoms such as gas, bloating, or heartburn while simultaneously having bowel movements that mostly resemble Bristol Stool type 3’s and 4’s.
- If that’s the case, you may want to consider working with a functional nutrition / functional medicine practitioner to run a comprehensive stool analysis test to see what’s going on in your microbiome.
- You may also want to run a SIBO breath test if you’re experiencing lots of gas/bloating after meals.
Types 5, 6, & 7 meaning and explanation: DIARRHEA
If your stools are loose, watery, and/or too frequent, this is considered to be diarrhea.
This pattern indicates that you likely aren’t fully breaking down and absorbing the nutrients from your food. This could also indicate things like:
- Too-fast transit time
In many cases, diarrhea is a symptom of food sensitivities and/or insufficient bile/digestive enzymes and/or dysbiosis and/or hydrogen-dominant SIBO.
Diarrhea is also a very common symptoms of food intolerances such as:
In other less ideal cases, diarrhea may be a sign of something more serious – such as an underlying bacterial infection, yeast overgrowth, and/or inflammatory bowel disease / “IBD”.
Examples of IBD include but are not limited to:
- Celiac disease
- Crohn’s disease
- Ulcerative colitis
You should consult with a gastrointestinal (GI) doctor to run the appropriate tests to rule out IBD before diving into restrictive diets and symptom management.
If your diarrhea is chronic/severe, you’ll also want to make sure to address and resolve any dehydration and/or electrolyte imbalances and/or nutritional deficiencies from malabsorption.
Some helpful nutritional interventions for dehydration and electrolyte imbalance may include:
- Leaning on electrolyte drinks and/or mineral-rich nutritive tea infusions
- Running a comprehensive metabolic panel (to assess hydration, electrolyte status and kidney function)
- Running a micronutrient panel to assess B vitamins, antioxidants, and fat-soluble vitamin levels in the body
Once IBD has been ruled out, exploring the possibility of underlying food sensitivities, food intolerances, enzyme deficiencies, and microbial imbalances with a functional dietitian nutritionist can be a great next step for you on your journey, if you’re someone who likes to get to the ROOT of the issue.
Download your Bristol Stool Chart PDF
Now that you’ve learned so much about the Bristol Stool Chart, it’s time to download a copy of my Bristol Stool Chart PDF here (if you haven’t already) so you can use it as a guide on your gut health journey!
- What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and How Do You Know If You Have It?
- What’s the Best IBS Diet?
- Why & How to Keep an IBS Food Diary
- What Causes Constipation? (9 Root Causes to Consider)
- The Best Smoothie for Constipation Relief (Recipe)
- 13 Best Teas for Constipation (+ Constipation Tea Recipe)
- What you Need to Know About Iron Supplements and Probiotics
- Does Almond Milk Cause Constipation?
- 7 Reasons Oatmeal and Oat Milk Can Cause Diarrhea
- What is a Sucrose Intolerance and How Do You Know If You Have It?
- Food Allergy vs Intolerance vs Sensitivity
Summary & next steps
While talking about poop may be uncomfortable, it’s important to be as accurate as possible the next time your doctor or dietitian/nutritionist asks, “how’s your digestion?”
For days when it feels too awkward to describe your poop at the level of detail required for our clinical assessments, feel free to lean on the Bristol Stool Chart PDF as a visual representation.
As a brief review…
- Bristol Stool Type 1 (pebbles/balls) and Type 2 (hard and lumpy) are generally a sign that you’re constipated.
- Types 3 and 4 (long, sausage-shaped, around the diameter of a banana) are generally considered healthy and optimal, from a functional nutrition standpoint.
- Types 5, 6, and 7 are indicative that you have diarrhea, which could be caused by an adverse food reaction (such as lactose intolerance) or something more serious (like inflammatory bowel disease), or anything in between.
While there are ways to manage and treat symptoms if your bowel movements aren’t falling within the “optimal” range most of the time, it’s also important to identify the “why” behind the “what”.
Keeping a food-symptom journal and working alongside a holistic, functional medicine team (doctor, holistic dietitian, and possibly also a clinical herbalist) to run tests is the best way to improve and resolve your gut issues once and for all.
If you’re navigating gut issues and would like to learn more from me via my weekly email newsletter, I invite you to grab a copy of my free gut health nutrition guide:
Cheers to healthier poop!
-Jenna @ Whole-istic Living