Let’s face it, talking about our toilet habits doesn’t come easy to most of us. Social boundaries and a clear sense of what is and what is not an appropriate topic for discussions exist. I can’t imagine Lord Sugar announcing in a board room meeting that he has just taken the dump of a lifetime, but then again I’ve never experienced one of his meetings. On expeditions however your bowel habits have the potential to make or break your trip of a lifetime and there’s even a chart to show you the various stages (type 4 is considered normal)….
Bowel movements are a fantastic way of judging your own and others health on an expedition. Everyone knows what their normalish state is, how regularly you go, how firm it is etc…
Right from the start of an expedition I roll out the poo jokes and encourage people to share their toilet adventures. Not only is this a great icebreaker and breaks down barriers but it allows me as the leader to keep an eye on and monitor health of the members of my team.
Stresses of travel.
When you travel, your body has to overcome a change of routine, a change of diet, increased and sustained exercise, changes in your sleep patterns, changes in your stress levels, the Russian roulette of eating local food or ingesting unclean water, the list goes on and on. The gut is extremely sensitive to change and even the smallest alterations can have a knock on effect that affects how food is processed.
Whenever I lead expeditions I always say to clients to expect their bowel movements to be altered for around 3 days as your body adapts to a new environment and normalises again. For an extended period of travel to countries or areas which may not have the same standard of food hygiene as the West I expect my body to fluctuate but always return to normal.
What does your poop tell you about your health?
What you produce or don’t produce tells you a huge amount about how you are handling your new environment.
Constipation can show your change of diet is not providing you with enough fibre or liquids and can be a good indicator of dehydration.
Blood in the stool, this is actually a more common occurrence on expedition or long trek than you may imagine and although it can indicate a life threatening situation it can often be put down to haemorrhoids. If you do have blood in your stool however, go talk to your leader or expedition medic immediately so they can monitor you.
Allergies, if you have an underlying allergy such as gluten or dairy and you are concerned that things haven’t normalised, have a think about what you have been eating. Quite often when travelling you will find that the local peoples cooking for you don’t know what a Coeliac is and may have added some ingredient that you are having a reaction to.
Floaters, this can be an indication that your body is not absorbing fat effectively and can show a potential infection or allergy.
Diarrhoea, although it is quite common when travelling to certain places to experience bouts of loose stool from time to time, your body should return to normal after around 24 hours. If it does not then this could be a sign of some more serious infection going on such as Giardia which can be picked up from dirty water, swimming, drinking or brushing your teeth with infected water.
It is amazing just how stressful a change in bowel habits can be for people and if you have any concerns or worries at all while on your expedition or trek, go and have a chat with your leader, guide or medic. We have seen and heard it all, there is not much that will shock or embarrass us and most probably we’ve been in the same situation ourselves a fair few times and have some tips to help you through. If you’re embarrassed to talk to your leader, talk to a friend or ask a friend along for moral support.
Why is it important to share?
I led an expedition into the jungles of Thailand and Laos a few years ago and 10 days into a 14 day trip one of my clients came up to me to tell me that her friend hadn’t been to the toilet for the past 8 days and could I have a talk with her. Having sat down with this woman and had a chat it turned out that she had been put off by the squat toilets in the first few days and had been holding it in. Once we had left the squat toilets behind and were now digging our own pits she had become so blocked up that it just wasn’t coming out. In my medical pack I always carry laxatives and I started her on these and upped her fruit and water intake in the hope to flush things out. We were still 2 days out from an escape route and she assured me she was in no discomfort. 2 days later and still nothing I chose to evacuate the group a day early to get this girl to medical help in Chiang Mai to get things checked out where she was given stronger laxatives. An overnight train journey to Bangkok involved me sitting up with her all night while she was in severe discomfort and pain. It got to the stage where I was wondering if she had something twisted inside. As soon as we arrived at Bangkok it was straight into a hospital where the Drs had to manually remove the blockage. I have never smelt anything so bad. Had this woman spoken to me earlier on or expressed her concerns at having to use squat toilets we would not have got to this point.