By: Sasha de Beausset
You are sitting at the table right after your after-practice meal, satisfied, but in awe of how much you just put in your stomach.
Then you pause- did you overdo it? Is your stomach actually big enough to hold huge bowl of quinoa and black bean salad you just put in your body? When is enough?
The human body is wonderful, and it can easily adapt to unusual situations you put yourself in, in most cases. This is true for food as well – if you eat less than normal, your body will do its best to be more efficient with energy use, or start using its reserves. If you eat more than normal, your body will compensate pumping more insulin into your blood to regulate blood sugar.
That’s all great, but how much can the stomach actually handle, both in normal and extreme circumstances? We are going to answer that question for you.
How Does the Stomach Work?
The stomach is a muscular bag between the esophagus and the intestines that is pear-shaped and highly elastic. Food enters the mouth, where it is chewed and mixed with saliva, and it is pushed down the esophagus with a muscular movement called peristalsis. It enters the stomach, and a muscle called the cardiac sphincter prevents the food and stomach acid from returning to the esophagus. Gastric juices excreted into the stomach by about 35,000 gastric glands are mixed together with the food thanks to the muscles in the stomach.
The food, at this point, is found in a semi-liquid state called chyme. The chyme is emptied out into the small intestine, and a muscle called the pyloric sphincter keeps the food from coming back up.
How Big is the Stomach?
Since the stomach is a sac, the best way to measure it is by volume, or how much it can hold. When the adult stomach is empty, it only has enough space for about 0.8L. People commonly compare it to the size of a fist. Remember, however, that is a very elastic muscle. When full, it can hold between 2 to 4 liters of food! That is up to 50 times more than its empty volume.
Does Stomach Size Vary Depending on Size, How Much You Eat, and Weight?
There are two common myths related to this question. One is: when you eat less, your stomach shrinks. The other is: people who are overweight have bigger stomachs.
Neither of these are true. The adult stomach size has little to do with the person’s weight or overall size. In fact, people who are naturally thin may have more a bigger stomach than people who have trouble losing weight.
Your stomach takes about two hours for your stomach to empty when you are healthy. It is true that if you are used to eating less, your appetite satiates quicker. But all in all, your stomach is a highly adaptive organ that can handle a lot more than you might think.
Remember to eat prudently and choose foods for their quality over their quantity to maintain a healthy weight.