When you’re trying to lose weight, you might feel like your stomach actually shrinks during weeks when your healthy-eating habits are on pointand seems to physically expand to allow for more eats during times when you’ve indulged in an extra cheat meal (or three). But can your stomach actually stretch to allow more foodor shrink when you’re cutting back?
Kind of, but the process is a little more complicated than that, says Kyle Staller, M.D., a gastroenterologist at Massachusetts General Hospital. The stomach is an organ thats made to stretch, he says.
When you eat food, it doesnt just plop into a big bag, he explainsit goes into something called the fundus, the upper part of your stomach, first. The fundus stretches out as much as it can to accommodate the food you put in, but everyones fundus has different thresholds. Some people can fit in a lot in (think: competitive eaters) while others dont have as much space to work with. This explains why you may legitimately be able to always have room for dessert but not another entreeyou’re actually working with less volume.
If you have a big meal, your stomach doesnt magically get bigger and stay that wayit shrinks back down to its previous size in about four hours or less as your food is pushed along to the small intestine, Staller says. But if youre regularly eating more than usual and at a faster pace than your stomach can signal to your brain that youre full, its possible for you to train your fundus to accommodate more food.
On the flip side, if you dont eat as much as usual for a while (like when youre trying to lose weight), you stomach wont necessarily shrink, but it wont be able to fit in as much food as before right away, Staller says. That explains why you tend to feel fuller faster when you eat a big meal after dieting. Its like your musclesyoull be able to do less and less each time when you dont use it, Staller explains.
So, next time you want to make room when you spot a tasty-looking flan on the dessert menu, know this: Your fundus is probably up for itand provided you pick up your clean-eating habits in the a.m., it’ll shrink back to normal in no time.
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