Eating Standing Up Versus Sitting Down

by Dr. Edison de Mello

While the concept of buffet eating while standing at parties can be fun and allow for more interaction, similarly to how drinking water while standing is not good for your kidneys, eating while standing is dangerous for the digestive system and the body. 

Most of us eat while standing upright from time to time, especially when we're crunched for time, famished after a busy day at work, and eager to get to our delicious leftovers from the night before.

It does impact your digestion!

But standing while eating significantly impacts digestion, in that eating while standing empties the stomach much faster, prompting the food to move to the intestine before it is broken into smaller particles.

This can increase the pressure on the intestine leading to digestion issues because the rapid movement of food from the stomach to the intestine relies on gravitational force. Plus, when we eat standing, the food does not completely fill the stomach leading us to often eat more because we can't tell whether we are full. This is why it is suggested to do slowly, peacefully - and mindfully eat. 



How does eating while standing impact digestion?

Several relatively minor changes in digestion and other eating patterns are likely to occur when snarfing down your food while on your feet. From a physiological standpoint, standing while eating causes blood to 'pool' in your legs due to gravity, leading to decreased blood flow to your gut, which is essential for digestion. Eating standing up may also involve chewing down more, which further increases indigestion and gas.

The faster you eat, the more likely you will swallow air, which not only creates extra gas in your stomach but can also result in abdominal cramping or discomfort, as your stomach requires more time to break down and digest large pieces of food. 

Also, the more upright your body position is, the quicker your digestion. Faster digestion can be problematic because it allows less time for nutrients to come into contact with the gut wall, making it more difficult for your body to absorb them. And when, for example, carbs are poorly digested, they tend to ferment in the gut, causing bloating.

People who gobble their meals or walk around during or immediately after eating may digest their meals up to 30% faster, increasing the likelihood of poor digestion.


The benefits of sitting while eating

There are several benefits for digestion when you sit while eating. It is common knowledge that not chewing your food often enough leads to digestive issues; modifying these habits is the first step to improving digestive function.

Furthermore, taking time to sit down and enjoy your meal isn't just good for your body - it's also good for your mind!

The Journal of Integrative Medicine published a review in 2019 that explained how mind-body practices, like intuitive eating, can "maintain PSNS [parasympathetic nervous system – responsible for relaxation] dominance. In other words, since stress is proven to disturb gastrointestinal function, keeping your body calm and relaxed and eating at a leisurely pace and in peace activates various mechanisms that support better digestion.



Though standing while eating may cause or worsens specific digestive symptoms, it also has the potential to alleviate others. Heartburn and acid reflux, for example, two of the most common GI complaints, are caused by increased pressure in the stomach that makes its way up the esophagus, leading to a burning in the throat and a sour taste in the mouth and belching.

Patients should avoid laying down for a few hours to minimize this pressure and its accompanying symptoms. And so, in this scenario, standing while eating may actually help patients with symptoms of heartburn by reducing this pressure.


Take-home message

Sit properly, and find a peaceful place both externally and internally to eat slowly. Eating on the go may lead to overeating later in the day because, according to research, our feelings of satiation are mental and physical. Our minds will likely tell us that we must eat more when standing and eating.

Even though standing while eating seems to have the most impact on our digestion, any form of distraction, including eating at our desks, can lead to indigestion and other symptoms, including weight gain. Scientific studies have demonstrated that when we don't fully concentrate on our meals, we fall into the trap of mindless eating.



About the Author:

Edison de Mello MD, Ph.D. -  Founder and Chief Medical Officer of the Akasha Center for integrative Medicine is a board-certified integrative physician with over 25 years of experience in the field of Integrative Medicine.

His recent book, BLOATED? Outlines Dr. de Mello's approach to medical care. With his signature approach, "I meet my patients before I meet their diseases," Dr. de Mello has helped thousands of patients across the globe. 

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