Digestion Trouble? The Surprising Posture Tip You Need to Know
Sitting with good posture at the dinner table can help improve everything from acid reflux to IBS.
Remember when your grandmother would reprimand you for eating with your elbows on the table? Well, we can’t say whether or not it actually was rude, but it turns out she actually was looking out for your best interest. “When you sit slumped forward like that, you’re actually slowing your digestion process,” says Pete Egoscue, co-founder of Elev8d Fitness. In fact, your posture has a huge effect on how well you can digest foods, and contributes to the following issues: chronic constipation, bloating and digestive discomfort, acid reflux, and poor nutrient absorption.
“You can take all the psyllium seeds or Metamucil you want, eat all the fiber-filled fruits and vegetables, and nothing is going to move,” Egoscue says. In fact, he adds: “In 40 years of treating clients, over 90 percent of those who have come to me with chronic constipation, it’s because their hips are posterior and their butt is tucked under.”
“Good posture, especially after eating, has been found to help with digestion issues like carbohydrate intolerance, IBS, bloating, and gastrointestinal esophageal reflux disorder, or GERD,” confirms William R. DePaolo, Ph.D., Director of the Center for Microbiome Sciences & Therapeutics at the University of Washington.
First, a quick bio lesson.
The organs in your abdomen are so tightly packed into the space that it’s like a perfect game of biological Tetris. That means there’s not a lot of free space for compression.
In the trail of digestion, your stomach sits at the top and is responsible for breaking down your food with its hydrochloric acid. Then, the food passes through the small intestines, ideally pretty quickly, then slowly through the large intestines where most of the absorption of nutrients takes place.
Two things keep the food moving: cilium, which are little hairlike vibrating structures that line your GI tract and help sweep things along, and peristalsis of the colon, the undulating muscles movement that pushes food through the length of your digestive tract. Ideally, external forces like the back and abdominal muscles contracting and the diaphragm dropping down into the abdominal cavity, press against the GI tract and encourage the undulation here.
Okay, so what does posture have to do with digestion?
Think about how perfectly your body is in alignment when you are lying on your back. “Recent studies have shown that carbohydrate malabsorption and lactose malabsorption (the impairment of absorption that leads to intolerances) are reduced if one lies down after eating. This slows digestion and lessens malabsorption,” DePaolo explains.
Any small amount of misalignment messes with the relation of one organ to another and with the digestive processes, namely that peristalsis of the colon. “For example, if you stop driving movement from your hips, your pelvis goes into a posterior tilt,” Egoscue explains. When that happens, the cascade of changes in your spinal curves jam your transverse colon up into the thoracic cavity and impenge the nerve that triggers your diaphragm, preventing it from helping that colon contract. Same goes for if your alignment is off an your pelvis goes into an anterior tilt, he adds.
The result: Everything stops. Let’s take another common after dinner issue: acid reflux, which is caused by the stomach’s hydrochloric acid being regurgitated into the esophagus. “The stomach is angled so the acid lies at the bottom and so the organ is not directly underneath the esophagus. But if you roll your hips under, it’ll not only change the position of your stomach, but it also shortens the distance between the hydrochloric acid pool and your esophagus,” Egoscue explains.
How to improve your posture for better digestion
“All day alignment is the most important thing to improve to see digestion benefits,” Egoscue says. “If you’re doing the Elev8d programs, this puts your body back into its designed posture and you don’t have to think about it.”
What’s more, proper posture strengthens your abdominal muscles by requiring them to work harder, and this can help improve bloating and digestional discomfort since it helps with the GI tract compression, DePaolo adds.
If you’re early in the stages of the program, DePaolo offers a few tips to improve digestion surrounding a meal: “Before you sit down, do a few stretches to release stress and tension. While eating, posture is super important, so don’t hunch over your food and keep your shoulders from tensing up,” he says. After dinner, sit or go for a walk with proper alignment.