Friday, September 3, 2010

Potty Talk Part Deux

It’s Labor Day weekend. I figure most of you are away or en route to various places and perhaps will miss this post. I’m counting on that because for the final of 3 travel-related commentaries, I am returning to a subject I touched on in April. I think it’s time for some more Potty Talk . Travel involves change, a break from normal routines and this often results in changes in bathroom routines as well. If that’s not the case for you, if you’re bowel movements are the same whether you’re in Manhattan or Madras, pat yourself on the back (side) you don’t need to read any more. For the rest of us, we tend to fall into one of 2 travel camps, I’m going to call them “Hard Rock” and “Loosey Goosey.”

It’s probably more than you ever wanted to know about me (as if from Facebook, Twitter and this blog there’s anything hidden) but I am in the Hard Rock camp. In college I was on Semester at Sea. I returned to the ship after an excursion, only to find my roommate curled up in bed. I asked her what was wrong and she moaned “Delhi Belly” and then sprinted to the bathroom. Not me, I had traversed India by train, had eaten curry from places with questionable sanitation, even ate fruit I didn’t peel myself and nothing, nada if you know what I mean. And in Mexico, the first trip with my then boyfriend (now husband), Marc had to go into a pharmacy and with no Spanish explain my condition. It seems clenching all your muscles and pointing to your stomach is universal.

The thing about bowel movements is that although, to some extent, we all have them. Unless we’re truly sick or sidelined, once they occur we move on with our day. I gave a talk to some soon-to-be marathoners Wednesday night and someone brought up the fear of not having proper time to relieve herself  before the race. Once this topic was mentioned everyone added their potty stories and strangely seemed to enjoy the conversation. We don’t do this often. Despite the fact that in my work day I do talk bathroom and bowels, I don’t spend too much time dwelling on my own doody. I certainly didn’t when I was packing for France. Yet this was like almost every other trip and though our hotel bathroom had a great view of the Eiffel tower, I didn’t go in it all that much.

Upon returning home, I was on a mission. For someone who does exercise when away and eats similarly, I had to know what was “behind” these changes. This is what I came up with:

• Nervousness associated with flying or changing destinations can lead to diarrhea or constipation.

• Changes in normal diet and routine are disrupted (food available at airports and on planes can cause diarrhea or constipation).

• Early flights or early wake ups lead to GI disruption.

• Increasing or decreasing coffee consumption can affect bowels.

• Digestion slows in-flight due to change in altitude and air pressure.

• Changes in blood pressure in-flight; restricts blood flow (why we see our hands and feet swell).

• Altitude causes dehydration in flight; consuming alcohol pre or during flight and high sodium airport and airline foods worsens this; can lead to diarrhea or constipation.

I then consulted Foodtrainers’ resident medical expert, Dr O. I  apologized for bothering an ER doc with my potty talk and she said this. “One of the main reasons people get backed up during long travel is because of immobility and dehydration. I tell all the patients who come to the ER with constipation (yes, people come to the ER with that complaint) to exercise and drink lots of water. At higher altitudes you have less oxygen in your blood so the intestines actually get less oxygen which slows them down.”

When I look at this list and Dr O’s comments I am a little confused. Though these are all valid points, I am not someone who eats airport or airline food if at all possible. I exercise before and during trips, I ran 10 miles the morning we left for France (marathon training not compulsive). I also drink water during travel. Yet, in reviewing these points some are inevitable. There are dietary changes, even with healthy eating, and that’s part of the fun of travel. Circadian rhythms are thrown off; your body seems to get confused even if you think you adjust quickly. I had never considered the lingering effects of high altitude and less blood flow to the intestines…hmn. I think I have some answers. Rather than winging it and living in denial of my habits, next time my secret weapons will go in the suitcase. Not to worry security people, my weapons are fibrous.
So don’t be shy, are you in either camp? Or does it vary for you? Any fun potty stories? Do you think, perhaps, the more routinized you are on a daily basis the more sensitive your body is to change?


  1. Hi Lauren,
    I cannot believe I'm telling my story but here goes. I know you just got back from Paris and that is where this takes place. Like you, I'm super active and remain active on vacations. I also consider myself a clean eater and I'm very regular in the potty. When I travel to Paris, we stay in apartments and the first stop is always the market for yogurt, fruit and fiber cereal. Without fail, I can "go" a little each day and try to get my body on schedule and then "pow" I get hit at a random time with an URGENT need to go. Only this last time it was my birthday, at night, while wearing a Chanel suit and 5 inch, platform, over the knee leather boots. All I could cry was, "I'm going to sh@t in my Chanel!!!". As I ran through the cobblestone streets of the 7th arrondissement, I just cried and clenched. I finally made it, the boots and my suit intact. But, it's a birthday I'll never forget.
    I usually just figure that this third day problem is due to the biddy regulating it's self and the richer foods that I usually don't eat.

  2. I just spit out my coffee, what a great story to relate. I'm glad the Chanel was spared. Others should share there "GI" travel adventures.

  3. Oh Shoparazzi I have been there...for 2 weeks. This is Dr. O and I must advice everyone who goes to a 3rd world country to get your doctor to prescribe you an antibiotic for travellers diarrhea (most common e.coli) and either imodium or lomotil.

    I returned from Bali with "Bali Belly"...started vomiting, then from the other end.....thankfully the worst of it occurred one day before I returned home. Also, all my friends are ER doctors and I work in an ER and have immediate access to emergent care. I needed IV cipro, flagyl, IV fluids and I actually needed potassium supplements.

    Note, I was staying in a very nice villa and going to great restaurants, but I am obsessed with ice and all fruits especially exotic and tropical fruit and think that is where I picked up the e.coli. My friends live in Asia and my Infectious disease doctor/friend told me that they are probably have more of a resistant to it and thus did not spend 1/2 the trip in the fetal position.

    It was the perfect diet....I lost 8 lbs which after 8 months of "foodtraining" and marathon training I could not afford. My 7 year old nephew called me a gray skeleton. Still pretty weak, but I think I am on the mend after almost 3 weeks of pure hell