Your Posture Might Be Affecting Your Digestion
18 September 2018
Ever finished a sensibly-sized meal and wondered why you feel as though you have eaten an entire hippo? If you’re a regular sufferer of bloating or discomfort after eating you have probably already blamed all the usual culprits—poor gluten and dairy get a lot of undeserved blame for problems which actually originate in your own posture.
Yes, we said posture. You’re probably wondering what on earth posture has to do with digestion—surely they’re totally different and unrelated parts of the body, right? Wrong. Your posture determines how easily blood can flow around your body, and since digestion requires a lot of blood flow it follows that any disruption to this can interrupt digestion and make it slow down. You’re familiar with the post-Christmas-dinner nap; this is a perfect example of the body prioritising blood flow away from other parts of the body in order to focus on a big digestion job, making you feel tired.
If you think about it, it really makes perfect sense that posture would affect digestion. If you are slouching or sitting hunched over you are literally squashing and compressing your stomach and your gut, restricting the amount of space available for food to move through.
Your diaphragm—the muscle which stretches around your abdomen in a band at the bottom of your lungs, right across your stomach—plays an important role in helping food to move through your oesophagus and your gut. Your oesophagus runs through the muscular part of the diaphragm, and when it contracts it allows food to pass through whilst preventing stomach acid from rising into the mouth. If you put unnatural tension on your diaphragm through a slouched posture, it prevents it from working naturally and is likely to result in acid reflux and/or bloating, as it struggles to contract and relax effectively. An over-contracted diaphragm will result in the ‘tight’ feeling across your stomach, like a belt done up too tight, and will restrict the amount of space available in your stomach; this is responsible for that familiar bloated sensation.
Speaking of belts: if you are prone to bloating and discomfort after meals, take a look at what you are wearing. This seems like an odd piece of advice, but unnaturally constricting the stomach with tight high-waistbands and/or belts worn at the waist is also a nightmare for your digestive system. If slouching alone constricts the stomach and gut, just think what the addition of a thin, tight, immovable piece of leather tied around that area will do. It looks fashionable, but could be a source of your problems. There’s a good reason for the stereotypical image of unbuttoning your jeans after a big meal. We scoff at the memory of corsets for their effects on internal organs, yet have managed to recreate our own modern version—organ restriction, but make it fashion.
Improve your posture, improve your digestion
- If you suffer from bloating, discomfort, constipation, IBS, acid reflux or excess gas after eating, next time you sit down to a meal be extra mindful of how you are treating your posture, and in turn your poor diaphragm.
- If you are sitting to eat, straighten out your posture as much as you can so that you are squashing or compressing your abdomen as little as possible. If it is possible to have your legs at a more open angle, rather than at a complete right-angle to your spine, this is even better as it opens up more space for the gut.
- Try standing to eat, or soon after. This might go against everything your parents ever told you (sorry mum), but studies including this one have shown that body posture has a significant influence on digestion and the transit of gas through the digestive system—in particular, it found that standing upright had a positive effect. Sitting upright to eat and then going for a short, gentle walk after the meal is also a good way to aid digestion.
- Be mindful of what you are wearing, and how much it restricts your stomach area.
- Try gentle yoga stretches shortly after eating to mobilise and lengthen your gut.
- Try natural supplements such as ginger capsules or peppermint oil to aid digestion.
- Drink plenty of water and eat plenty of fibre to keep your digestive system moving! Fibre can be found in cereals, the flesh of fruit and veg (juice won’t do it), and nuts and seeds.