Why You Feel the Urge to Poop When You’re Shopping, According to a Doctor

If this has happened to you, don’t worry—you’re not alone.
Get that toilet paper ready.
Get that toilet paper ready. / Javier Zayas Photography/Moment via Getty Images

We’ve all been there. You’re running some errands, pop into a big store to pick something up, and immediately receive a signal from your gut saying, “Whoa there, captain! You might want to find a bathroom—there’s a poop coming!”

You didn’t feel the urge to go No. 2 when you drove to the store or parked. But now you’re in the store and it’s a pressing matter. Nobody wants to turn a shopping trip into a dropping trip. What’s going on here?

According to one Florida-based gastroenterologist, not only are millions of people entering stores and immediately seeking out the restrooms—they’re doing it for a fairly positive reason.

Dr. Joseph Salhab, a.k.a. The Stomach Doc, asked his 2 million followers on social media if strolling into Home Depot and immediately needing to hit the restroom was something that had happened to them—and he was overwhelmed by the response. Thousands upon thousands of people shared their tales of trips to Target precipitating urgent bowel movements or popping into Marshalls and instantly heading for the bathrooms. It turns out it’s a not uncommon phenomenon.

Salhab told TODAY that the phenomenon isn’t well-studied, but a lot of it could come from feelings of familiarity, peace, and comfort stemming from entering these stores that almost feel like homes away from home.

Alternatively, Salhab posited that it might come from shopping being a pretty intense experience. The combination of excitement and stress could lead to an adrenaline surge, which in turn leads the body to a “Hey-oooo, we’ve got to go” response. 

“This highlights the complex ways in which our emotional states can impact the way our body functions,” Salhab said. The brain, after all, ultimately manages everything we do, and however much it might feel like the digestive and other systems simply run themselves, the brain always has the power to override certain things. This is what leads to, for instance, the phenomenon known as latchkey incontinence. “People often have to wait until they arrive home to relieve themselves,” Dr. Toni Golen, Editor in Chief of Harvard Women’s Health Watch, explained in 2022. “The brain might get used to this pattern and start associating arrival home with the need to urinate, triggering the urge whether your bladder is full or not.”

The first mention of feeling the urge to go while shopping might date back to the mid-1980s, when Mariko Aoki wrote to the Japanese magazine Hon no Zasshi (Book Magazine) and described how entering a book store made her feel like she had to poop. When other readers of the magazine confirmed that this was not an experience isolated to her, discussion on the topic grew, and it’s now known as the Mariko Aoki phenomenon.

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