The stomach naturally expands as it digests your food and shrinks when it is empty. But you may be able to reduce overall body fat and appetite by eating nutritious foods and eating smaller meals.

“Shrink your stomach” is a phrase that sounds custom-made for the latest magazine headline. While the idea is an interesting one, there isn’t a way — outside of surgery — to change your stomach’s size through lifestyle measures.

Keep reading to find out just how big your stomach is and how eating less may not “shrink” your stomach, but could “shrink” your appetite.

The stomach is a little like a balloon — it stretches to fill when you eat and drink, and goes back to its regular size when emptied.

Most adults have roughly the same size stomach, even though people can weigh different amounts. Your empty stomach is about 12 inches long by 6 inches across at its widest point. As an adult, your stomach can expand to hold about 1 quart of food.

When you stretch your stomach with a lot of food, it doesn’t stay that way or stretch out. It simply goes back to its previous size once it digests your food.

Your stomach is constantly expanding and shrinking to accommodate your food. You can’t consistently change its physical size by eating differently or in really small amounts.

For example, not eating won’t cause your stomach to shrink over time. And eating small amounts of food won’t “shrink your stomach” either. The only way you can physically and permanently reduce your stomach’s size is to have surgery.

You can lose overall body fat over time by eating healthy food choices, but that won’t change your stomach size. It’s possible that when people think about shrinking the stomach to lose weight, they’re talking about how stomach stretching affects appetite cues.

Let’s explore this concept in greater detail.

Your stomach and brain regulate your appetite in a number of ways. One of them is through messages transmitted via nerves when your stomach stretches a certain amount. An example is the vagus nerve, the major nerve that provides sensations to the stomach and transmits messages to the brain.

The vagus nerve has different monitoring nerve cells that send messages to the brain about how full the stomach is as well as what kinds of nutrients are present. When the stomach is stretched full with food, the vagus nerve sends signals to the brain to tell you it’s time to slow down or stop eating.

While it’s not possible to shrink your stomach, it is possible to change how your stomach adjusts to hunger and feelings of fullness. Researchers have found that over time, you can become accustomed to feeling fuller with smaller amounts of food.

While it’s not possible to shrink your stomach, it’s possible to change how your stomach adjusts to hunger and feelings of fullness.

On the flip side, it’s possible that when the stomach is empty, the nerves in your stomach can send messages to your brain. This can influence hormones in your body, such as ghrelin. Doctors call this the “hunger hormone” because it stimulates hunger.

Stomach size alone isn’t what affects hunger. Factors like low blood sugar, the thought or smell of foods, and much more also have an impact. All of these play a factor in your appetite.

Controlling your appetite is a more effective way to help you maintain a healthy weight than trying to “shrink your stomach.”

Ghrelin is a hormone that can work against you when you’re trying to maintain a healthy weight. Studies have found that ghrelin increases when you lose weight as a means to maintain balance in your body.

But hope isn’t lost — there are scientifically proven ways to help control your appetite. These include:

  • Eat several small meals per day instead of larger ones. This can “train” your stomach over time to increase feelings of satisfaction and fullness with smaller meals. This habit will also help keep your blood sugar levels steady, reducing strong cravings for sweets or carbohydrates.
  • Drink water before you eat a meal. This can help to stretch the stomach and start to increase feelings of fullness before you eat.
  • Eat a diet that includes a lot of healthy food options. This includes lean proteins and healthy fat sources, like nuts and avocados. The cells in your stomach lining recognize these as being beneficial to your body, making it less likely your hunger hormones like ghrelin will increase.
  • Wait 10 to 15 minutes when you get a craving to eat. Sometimes, taking more time before giving in to a craving is all you need to help it go away.

Appetite isn’t all bad. It does signal when it’s time for you to eat. But if you have trouble controlling your appetite and frequently eat too much, consider talking to your doctor.

Aside from surgery, you can’t shrink your actual stomach organ. You can, however, lose body fat in general. This is an excellent health goal since having too much fat in your body can lead to numerous health problems. Excess body fat also increases the risk of developing several types of cancer.

Visceral fat is a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and other conditions. This type of fat is found around the organs in your abdomen (belly).

You can help control your appetite by eating smaller meals and making healthy food choices. If you’re having a hard time managing your appetite, talk to a doctor or dietician. They can help you come up with a plan that’s tailored to your needs and health conditions.