From Food to Poop: How Your Digestive System Works

My mom’s recently complained to me about how my brother’s been spending an entire hour every morning just sitting on the toilet. How she figured that out, I don’t want to know. But I did ask my brother about it, because I’m nosy like that. His retort?

“If I don’t sit on the toilet for an hour, nothing’s going to come out.”

Fair enough. I proceeded to suggest to him various remedies which I’ve heard of, like drinking prune juice and eating lots of papayas. All old wives’ tales, but if you’re desperate enough, you’ll even grasp at straws.

When I got home, I pondered upon it further. Could your digestive process have something to do with constipation and other digestive issues? And could understanding how it works help with your poop problems?

How Your Digestive System Works

There’s actually a lot going on in your body from the moment you slurp up that plate of mee rojak to the blissful period poop finally leaves your system.


It starts with your mouth

This is where your teeth break down food into smaller particles, while your chemicals in your saliva (enzymes) start the break down process so your body can absorb the nutrients


Chewed food then flows down the super highway to your esophagus.



This is the middle man between your mouth and your stomach. When your partially digested mee rojak reaches the esophagus, a series of contractions (called peristalsis) occurs to push your food downwards towards your stomach.



You’re probably familiar with this little (or big) guy. The stomach secretes acids and enzymes which chemically digests and sterilises your food. The muscles on your stomach contracts to further break down the food, mixing it with secretions to liquefy your mee rojak. This process takes about 2 to 4 hours, then the thick liquid says goodbye to your stomach and flows down your small intestine.

Small Intestine


This is an important spot your body uses to absorb nutrients. Your small intestine is made up of three parts: duodenum, jejunum, and ileum, and when spread out, can be about 6 meters in length.

The duodenum continues breaking down food, while jejunum and ileum are in charge of absorbing nutrients from your food into the blood stream.

Pancreas, Liver, and Gallbladder

Source: ADAM
Source: ADAM

Your pancreas helps the digestive process by secreting enzymes into the small intestine which breaks down protein, fat and carbs.

Your liver’s job is to secrete bile (a green liquid) to clean the blood coming from your small intestine that is filled with newly absorbed nutrients.

The gallbladder, snugly located under the liver helps to store bile from the liver. When you’re digesting food, your gallbladder squirts bile into your duodenum to help with the process.



When the nutrients have been absorbed , the leftovers of your mee rojak are passed on to your large intestine, also known as the colon. The colon’s job is to soak up water and electrolytes like sodium and potassium from the leftover food. Once that’s done, what’s left is what we call our poop, which is then stored in the lower part of your colon until it gets kicked out into your rectum once or twice a day.

Rectum and Anus


The rectum is where your poop is stored until you do your business. Its work mate is the anus which is at the end of your digestive process. The anal sphincter muscles help move your stool out of your body, which signifies the end of your digestion.

What Causes Constipation?

As you have read from above, the digestive process is a long and complicated one, requiring each of your organs to do their jobs well.

If you find yourself straining while you’re on the porcelain throne, if your poop is hard to get out and you seldom seem to be able to completely evacuate it, you could be suffering from constipation.

Several factors play a role in constipation, from lack of water and fibre in your diet (which causes your large intestine to soak up too much water from your food, creating harder stool), to a restrictive toilet posture which doesn’t allow your muscles to relax to move stool out while you’re on the toilet.

How to Prevent Constipation

1. Eat lots of fruits and veggies, as well as wholegrain bread and cereal. Fibre helps food pass through your digestive system more easily (the Malaysian recommended nutrient intake is 25g/day for women, and 38g/day for men).

2. Drink lots of water to help smoothen the passage in your colon.

3. Exercise regularly.

4. Always go when you need to. Never ignore the urge.

5. Squat instead of sit. Research has shown that squatting trumps sitting when it comes to doing your toilet business as sitting requires “excessive expulsive effort compared to the squatting posture.”

Learn more about squatting vs sitting on the toilet:


What are your favourite remedies for constipation? Share with us in the comments section below or on our Facebook page!


NYU Langone Medical Center
WebMD [2]

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