Stomach Storage Capacity and Hunger

by Annie on July 15, 2008 · 11 comments

in Eating Healthy,Weight Loss & Body Image

The stomach is about the size of our fist. Like a water balloon, the stomach expands when we overeat. It can hold up to 33 oz of food when expanded. The problem is that when we constantly overeat, the stomach believes that the expanded state is the new normal. Obese individuals actually have more storage capacity (a little over a litter liter) in their stomach than normal weight individuals.

I have a co-worker who loves buffets. He is a rather skinny guy, but has health issues because of his eating habits. He loves getting his money’s worth. The last time we took him out to his birthday lunch at a buffet, he was working on his 6th plate when I finally got up and head back to work. When I saw him two hours later, it looked like he had a small pillow stuffed inside his shirt. He was having a hard time moving and he looked like he was in some kind of food fog. Obese individuals might have a larger stomach capacity than normal weight individuals, but binge eaters have the most stomach capacity – topping at a whopping 2 liters! This guy does it every single time from potlucks to BBQs. I do not see how he thinks it is worth it to treat his body like that.

When people tell us that it feels like their stomach shrink after weight loss, it is because the stomach is no longer stretched out like a filled water balloon. Within a few weeks of eating smaller and frequently meals, we will need less food without feeling deprived. Researchers at Columbia University found that when people ate larger meals, their stomach grew larger and it took progressively more food to satisfy their hunger signals. When people were given smaller meals, stomach capacity decreased by 1/3 and they progressively ate less.

For instant portion control, a good size handful will fill our stomach adequately without overfilling it. Chewing decreases the volume of food, so a handful becomes a fistful by the time we sallow. Placing our hand next to our plate will give us a visual aide without having to measure or calculate our portions. Try this tip at your next meal and let me know if it helps.

Until next time and thanks for stopping by.

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Sagan July 16, 2008 at 9:53 am

Thats why I like to graze constantly throughout the day- my stomach doesn’t shrink or expand drastically and then I get less bloat, too. I’ve never really thought about the chewing thing though. Thanks for this insightful post!

Sagans last blog post..Make Your Foods Super!


asithi July 17, 2008 at 7:08 am

Sagan, you are lucky to have master the grazing technique. I go back and forth between having three meals and grazing throughout the week. The reason is that my husband likes to only have three meals a day. It is hard when you have two different types of eating style within the same household. I find that during the work week, I tend to be more of a grazer. And I tend to more of a three meals gal on the weekends when I am hanging out with my guy. Good thing neither one of us have to be on a special diet. My uncle is a diabetic and food has become a sore subject in his household because of what he cannot eat compare to the rest of his family members. Knock on wood, I hope that never happens. Thanks for commenting Sagan.


Tom Parker July 17, 2008 at 3:55 pm

I’m the same as you Asithi. Smaller meals more frequently during the work week and the weekend usually becomes a bit of a shambles when it comes to regular eating. I think it’s because work is a lot more structured than the weekends. At work I get up at a certain time, have a schedule and bring the food I am going to eat. My weekends are generally unplanned and since I have food in the house I never think about what I am going to eat or prepare my meals in advance.


Personal Trainer July 18, 2008 at 11:19 am

Good information about the stomach. I would have liked to hear a little more detail about the metabolic function associated with overeating and stomach size.

Personal Trainers last blog post..Top 5 Stay Fit @ Home Products


asithi July 21, 2008 at 3:35 pm

Personal Trainer: In theory, overeating does produce a short term metabolic boost since your body needs to work harder to digest the extra food. As mentioned in Breakdown of Calorie Expenditure in Our Bodies, digesting our food is 5-10% of our daily metabolism. That is the immediate effect.

In a Cornell study where a group of women and men agreed to overeat by 35% in a two week period and gained an average of 5 pounds. What they found from that study is that these participants still lost half of their weight gain from just resuming their previous eating habits after the two week overeating period. You burn more calories because the weight gain increases your basal metabolic rate (it takes more calories to fuel a heavier person). But the problem is that once you get used to eating larger portion sizes, it is difficult to see smaller portions as “normal.” Thank you for commenting.


mark August 28, 2009 at 3:57 pm

cannot seem to get a simple question answered what is the capacity of a 2 years old stomach?


asithi August 29, 2009 at 8:37 pm

@Mark – I do not know the answer to that question. I am assuming that you are asking this question in order to find out how much to feed a 2 year old? Young children usually eat when they are hungry. They have not develop our adult behavior of eating when we are bored, stress, unhappy, or upset. So if your 2 year old wants to eat, then they are probably hungry. You might want to read The Baby Food Bible if you want more specific detail. Thanks for the comment.


Darren October 30, 2010 at 3:38 pm

Great tip. I think I read this somewhere before. I eat 5-6 smaller meals per day. My Tupperware for work is about a fist full so I know how much to pack for my lunch and snack. It’s very helpful. I also try to stay away from the buffet. If I do go I put less on my plate so I have to walk up more and get more time to digest.


asithi November 7, 2010 at 2:44 pm

@Darren – Now that I am eating almost every 2-3 hours because of my pregnancy, my lunch bag is full of food. And each little container is about a fist full of food too. Thanks for the comment.


Michele March 14, 2011 at 9:43 pm

This makes so much sense, and I know I can feel that stretch when I over eat, and then next time it’s easier to eat more. When I was at my thinnest my full feeling came much quicker.

My question is about water. If I am drinking enough water, how does that affect the water balloon stretch?


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