Diarrhea can be caused by anything from digestive problems to food poisoning to too much caffeine. But when you’re stuck on the porcelain throne, you’re not so much concerned about what caused your condition. Instead, you want to know how to fix it. Fast.
We caught up with Deborah Malkoff-Cohen, a registered dietitian and nutritionist in New York City and self-proclaimed “poop expert,” to help you do just that.
Here are six tips on how to get off the pot and back to feeling like yourself again.
1. Reduce Stress Levels
If your belly starts rumbling before a job interview, a public speaking event or a long flight, it could be a symptom of stress. In these cases, meditation, visualization and other relaxation techniques could help settle your stomach.
“The calmer you are, the calmer the stomach will be,” Malkoff-Cohen says. But she warns that this won’t help with all cases of diarrhea. “If you get E. coli, singing Kumbaya won’t help.”
2. Eat a Bland Diet
Sticking to the BRAT diet (which stands for bananas, rice, applesauce and toast) is Malkoff-Cohen’s top tip for anyone experiencing stomach issues, especially diarrhea. These foods contain fiber, pectin and other ingredients that have a binding property, which can help firm up your stools.
“Those foods will help clog you up, if you will,” Malkoff-Cohen says. “Think about it: You use applesauce as a binding ingredient when baking.”
3. Avoid Fats and Dairy
Eating high-fat foods makes your digestive system work harder and can lead to loose stools, which is the last thing you want when you have the runs, Malkoff-Cohen says. It’s also wise to avoid dairy when you’re dealing with diarrhea, she says. Milk products contain lactose, a natural sugar that can be harder to digest when your stomach’s fighting a bug.
“When your digestive system is already on the fritz, why add anything into the mix to complicate things?”
4. Embrace Probiotics
Diarrhea is sometimes a symptom of an imbalance in your gut flora. Probiotic supplements can help strengthen the good bacteria in your gastrointestinal system and shorten a diarrhea spell, she says.
5. Be Careful What You Drink
You want to stay hydrated when you have diarrhea, but some drinks can make your symptoms worse, Malkoff-Cohen advises.
Coffee, tea, soda and alcohol are all diuretics. Drinking these can cause you to lose fluids. You also want to watch out for drinks that are sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup, including many sodas, juices and energy drinks. Large quantities of fructose can cause gas, bloating and, you guessed it, more diarrhea. Finally, any food or drink sweetened with sorbitol and other artificial sweeteners can have a laxative effect on the digestive system.
“Say no to all sugarless items,” Malkoff-Cohen says.
6. Try Over-the-Counter Remedies
Over-the-counter medicines like Pepto-Bismol and Imodium A-D can help bring fast relief when you have diarrhea, Malkoff-Cohen says. Both drugs slow peristalsis, the involuntary muscle movements responsible for digestion. Pepto-Bismol also reduces inflammation and kills bacteria that may cause diarrhea, she says, while Imodium A-D reduces the frequency and volume of your stools.
Pro tip: “Beware, the next poop you have after ingesting Pepto-Bismol may be very dark or even black,” she says. That’s because Pepto-Bismol contains bismuth. When the bismuth mixes with small amounts of sulfur (which can be found in saliva and the gastrointestinal tract), a black chemical compound called bismuth sulfide is formed.
“Do not freak,” Malkoff-Cohen assures. “It is both temporary and harmless.”