To better understand how standing up versus sitting down affects digestion, we consulted Peyton Berookim, MD, MA, FACG, AGAF, a double board-certified gastroenterologist at the Gastroenterology Institute of Southern California.
How does eating while standing impact digestion?
According to Dr. Berookim, several relatively minor changes in digestion, as well as eating patterns, tend to occur when you chow down on your feet. "First, from a physiological standpoint, standing while eating can cause blood to 'pool' in your legs due simply to gravity," he says. "This can cause some decreased blood flow to your gut, where it is needed for digestion. As a result, your digestion won't be quite as smooth and you may experience some gas and indigestion.” (Dr. Berookim adds that similar effects apply to moving your body directly after eating, which can promote faster digestion and lead to inadequate nutrient absorption.) This effect, he says, is nothing to lose sleep over.
Eating standing up may also involve noshing more rapidly, which come with some additional side effects. As Dr. Berookim shares, the faster you eat, the more likely you are to swallow air, which can result in some extra gas in your stomach. “Eating quickly and chewing less thoroughly can also result in abdominal cramping or discomfort, as your stomach will require more time to break down and digest food,” he says. If you struggle with these digestive issues and can’t find relief through dietary modifications alone, Dr. Berookim recommends taking a seat instead of standing while eating and seeing if your symptoms abate.
The benefits of sitting while eating
When you sit while dining and take the time to enjoy your meal, you can anticipate several benefits for digestion and otherwise.
Naturally, since eating rapidly and not chewing your food enough often result in discomfort, modifying these habits can improve digestive function. Yet Dr. Berookim also says that taking your time to sit down and enjoy your meal isn't just good for your body—it's also good for your mind.
As a 2019 review in the Journal of Integrative Medicine explains, mind-body practices like intuitive eating can “maintain PSNS [parasympathetic nervous system] dominance, helping to cultivate autonomic nervous system (ANS) homeostasis vital for optimal digestive function.” In other words, since stress is proven to disturb gastrointestinal function, keeping your body calm and relaxed—as well as dining at an easy pace and under conditions that promote full enjoyment of the food in front of you—supports various mechanisms to encourage proper digestion. "Plus, sitting while eating tends to involve longer meal times and a greater sense of calm,” Dr. Berookim adds. Whether you’re dining solo or breaking bread with friends, family, or colleagues, sitting while eating can allow you to enjoy your overall dining experience more than standing upright may.
Learn more about intuitive eating from a dietitian in this video:
Is it always preferable to sit and eat?
Though standing while eating may cause or exacerbate certain digestive symptoms, it turns out that doing so has the potential to alleviate others.
For one, Dr. Berookim reminds us that heartburn and acid reflux are among the most common GI complaints. “Reflux is caused by increased pressure in the stomach that makes its way up the esophagus, giving one symptoms of burning in their throat, a sour taste in their mouth, and eructation—aka belching,” he explains. To minimize this pressure and its accompanying symptoms, Dr. Berookim advises patients avoid laying down for a few hours. "So in this scenario, standing while eating may actually help patients with symptoms of heartburn or reflux by reducing this pressure, too.”
However, all things considered, Dr. Berookim says that standing or sitting while eating is ultimately a matter of personal preference. Simply take care to notice if one scenario tends to produce undesired digestive symptoms—and if so, adjust your dining habits accordingly. “Either way can be alright. The most important thing is to be mindful while eating and be in tune with what your body needs,” Dr. Berookim concludes.
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