Why Sitting On A Toilet Is Bad
If like me, you come from a culture where the traditional porcelain flush toilet is the norm for when nature calls, squat toilets probably revile you. I remember my first experience of squat toilets, in Greece and Turkey. I thought that the practice of balancing precariously over a hole in the ground while attempting to poo was primitive. But I was wrong.
Sitting is bad for us. You have probably heard this many times over the last few years. Standing desks are appearing everywhere and sitting is considered the new cancer. There's a lot of truth in the seemingly wild claims. Sitting on chairs is destroying our bodies and sitting on a toilet harms us in other ways too. It’s just not a natural position to be in.
The flush toilet, used in every developed country in the world, was invented back in the 16h century and was popularised in Victorian times. Thomas Crapper, whose name always generates a laugh, didn’t actually invent the flush toilet but helped popularise it. We have the Victorians to thank for making the flush toilet a worldwide phenomenon. The Victorians, who commanded influence over the entire world, despised anything considered primitive. They looked for ways of removing effort, manual labour, and even bodily functions from everyday life. The flush toilet is an invention that is clearly designed for a pampered people. Squatting while pooing was seen as a waste of their energy and a lack of decorum. The Victorians introduced many things to the world. Some useful, some wonderful, and some downright disastrous. The western toilet is one of them.
We spend a long time on the toilet. Several months of your life can be spent sitting on a toilet and straining. If you spent that long doing something incorrectly, problems will arise. And yes, most of us are doing it wrong.
Sitting and Hemorrhoids
If you’ve ever suffered from piles you'll know how they can affect your whole life. Get them once and you won’t forget them. Statistics on haemorrhoids in the US show that 50% of adults will have symptoms at some time in their life. But did you know that piles are rare in Asian and African countries, where people squat to use the toilet? But this is changing. As cultures become more westernised and ‘progressive’ they begin to adopt modern ways of doing things. Sitting on toilets to poo is seen as a more civilised way of doing things. It goes to show that progress isn’t always good.
So why are conventional toilets a bad thing and what are we doing wrong?
It comes down to body mechanics. Just as sitting puts your frame into an unnatural position, western toilets force our intestines into a less than optimal state.
I first read about the problems of sitting on a toilet many years ago and when hemorrhoids surfaced I started using a squat stool to make pooing ‘easier’. The result was a dramatic improvement in bowel movements, reduced inflammation, and less discomfort. One really simple change in body angle and my condition might have been prevented in the first place.
Ever sat on the toilet and strained, waiting for something to happen? This is often because the muscles around your rectum can’t relax. These muscles were not designed to function when the body is in a sitting position. Your body has evolved over millions of years to work in certain ways. For most of this time, we humans squatted to empty our bowels. In the last blink of an eye in evolutionary terms, we have introduced a strange contraption into our lives, the toilet. Yes, it’s nice and clean and shiny and we look more dignified using one. But who sees us anyway? Behind closed doors, nobody can see you squat. Thanks to the prudish upper class million of people in the west have constipation issues, haemorrhoids, and a whole host of other digestive problems.
Adding to this problem is another modern invention. The amount of time we spend seated on the toilet is increasing due to one particular modern habit: mobile phone usage.
Whereas in the past your dad was probably the only one who spent longer than 10 minutes on the toilet (dads in the old says read entire books sitting on the toilet), the modern human brings his or her cell phone into the bathroom. After checking for updates on Instagram, sending a few emails, and chatting on WhatsApp for a while, a lot of time passes. This is time spent in a less than optimal postural position. And if this person has been straining while trying to poop, the problem is compounded.
Why Squatting Is Good For You
Squatting allows the body to be in a natural state. Human beings were designed to lie down, stand, walk, run, and squat. Nowhere in evolutionary terms were provisions made in the human body for adapting to one of modern life’s most damaging (to the body) inventions, the chair. To squat properly you need good ankle and hip mobility. People from Western cultures, so used to sitting, have lost the ability to squat due to lack of mobility in key areas. Although it might look strange and even primitive, squatting is a completely natural human position.
What happens to your bowels when you squat?
You probably didn’t know this but there’s a curve or a bend between the anus and the rectum.
I guess nobody has ever brought that little fact up at the dinner table. At my dinner table, we talk about this kind of thing all the time. It’s all natural, we’re all humans, and we all poop. Talking about it helps people understand and overcome their problems.
When you squat the bend is straightened out. When there’s a straight drop chute for the poop to go down as compared to a bendy one, the poop moves faster and with less effort. The shortest distance (and the fastest way) between two points is a straight line. This bend actually helps prevent ‘accidents’ by storing faeces before we are ready to defecate. Nature designed us this way, and nature intends us to squat. If we don’t we’re essentially going against nature. And when you do that, problems occur.
How to avoid problems caused by sitting too long on the toilet.
- Wait until you have to go before going! Sounds obvious, right? But some people are creatures of habit. Perhaps they always do their business first thing in the morning before or after breakfast. They assume the position and if nothing happens they try to force it. This is a big mistake. If you don’t need to use the toilet, then wait.
- Leave the mobile phone out of the toilet. Don’t bring your tablet, phablet, kindle or any other reading device with you when it’s time for a bowel movement. It sounds a bit zen to say this but try to be “in the moment”. You are sitting (or squatting) on the toilet for one reason: to poop. Focus on that, without straining, and allow the body to do what it does naturally. Generating excitement, anger, concern, or any other strong positive or negative emotion should be avoided when pooping. If anything you could play some soft music to help relax. No hip-hop or ACDC please! Try to relax and remove any stress-related emotions from your mind before going to the toilet. Stress is one of the biggest causes of gut and bowel-related illnesses. Stress is not only one of the most damaging inputs your body can experience, it affects the bowels more than any other part of the body.
- If you’re always stressed while sitting on the toilet your body will begin to remember this state when you next enter the bathroom. Stress causes the body to tense up, blood vessels to shrink, and bile reflux to occur. Every single one of these symptoms contributes negatively to your ability to poop properly
- Drink some coffee. This can help get the gut moving but can also lead to more stress (see point 3) so it’s best to use in moderation.
- Eat foods that make you poop. Be careful with this one. Don’t overdo it and if your diet doesn’t already include some of these foods it’s wise to introduce one at a time and in moderation. Foods that will help make your bowels move are:
- Beans. Yes, most of us know this one. If you aren’t aware of the potent flatulence-inducing powers of the humble bean then this video sums it up. OK, so it’s not a scientific video and this is a serious topic. But I wanted to highlight the pitfalls of overdoing the beans. If you never eat beans I’d recommend soaking overnight any uncooked beans before preparation. Beans cooked with a little seaweed (kombu) helps reduce the gassy properties of beans. Soaking also helps reduce phytates (which block nutrient absorption). Try eating a digestive aid such as papaya at the same time. This will help reduce the gas release and save you some embarrassment.
- Wholegrains. I’m not going to get into the whole grains/paleo/celiac minefield here but just to say that if you are already eating grains (bread, pasta, etc) then try switching to the whole wheat variety. Whole wheat contains a lot more fibre.
- Berries. Almost everyone loves these sweet little treats so this is an easy addition to your diet. Try them on their own or with a dollop of yoghurt. Eating after dinner may lead to some fermentation inside the stomach with resulting gas. Warning: If you suffer from diverticulitis do not eat berries with small seeds i.e.. strawberries and kiwifruit or any small seeds. Diverticular disease is often a consequence of constipation- straining causes outpouchings in the bowel. Things like small seeds get stuck in the pouches and cause intense inflammation (people usually get hospitalised during an attack).
The best way to poop when constipated is in the squat position. The western toilet seat will be more of a hindrance than a help in this situation. Use a toilet step stool like the Squatty Potty to move the body, and more importantly, the anorectal angle into more optimal positions for elimination. This is the proper way to poop.
Another great solution to ‘simple constipation' is to do two simple things: drink water and get moving. Physical exercise of any form with help the body eliminate waste.