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Healthy You

What happens to your body when you eat too much?

Wednesday, December 20, 2023 8:16 AM

By Endeavor Health

That feeling when you overdo it during a meal. When you never want to see that food again. Even your favorite treat doesn’t sit well when your stomach is stuffed to the point of pain.

It’s understandable how you got here. That mouthwatering indulgence you’ve been waiting to eat is often consumed quickly and in mass quantities.

But it’s not the best for your digestive system, obviously. What exactly happens to your body when you eat too much?

“Normally your body tells you when you’re hungry and when you’re full through hormones,” said Yasmin Kagzi, MD, an internal medicine and obesity medicine physician with Endeavor Health. “It usually takes about 20 minutes for the hormonal signals to reach our brains.”

Man uncomfortable from overeating

When your stomach is empty, it releases the hormone ghrelin, which makes you feel hungry. Once you’ve eaten, your fat cells release the hormone leptin, which tells your brain you have enough energy and makes you feel full.

As you’ve probably guessed, your stomach expands with the food. As it continues to expand beyond its usual volume, which can be painful, it begins to squeeze other internal organs, which can also be painful.

Another delightful side effect of an overly full stomach is acid reflux and heartburn.

 How do you avoid overeating?

  • First and foremost, slow it down. Eating slowly gives your stomach time to realize it’s full and send that message to your brain. Yes, the food tastes really good. Savor it instead of trying to eat it all in record time.
  • Limit salt and alcohol. Salty foods and alcohol are two things that can increase your appetite or cause you to mindlessly eat more.
  • Be mindful. Pay attention to what you’re eating, plain and simple. Load up on vegetables, as the fiber content will help you feel full.
  • Deal with stress. When we’re stressed out, food is a common comfort. We’re also more likely to overdo it when we’re stressed. Cortisol, commonly known as the “stress” hormone, has many roles, and it may indirectly increase our appetite by stimulating ghrelin production. When you reach the point where you can say, “I’m only eating this now because it tastes good, not because I’m hungry,” it’s probably time to stop and ask for a container for leftovers.

What if you’ve already overindulged (or you anticipate possibly doing so in the future)? Some ways to get relief from stomach pain caused by overeating include:

  • Take a walk. Moving a bit will help work the food through your digestive system. Walking is key, as hard-core physical activity at this point would slow digestion and likely result in even more discomfort.
  • Avoid crashing on the couch. While your sluggish demeanor may appear to indicate a nap is in order, attempting to sleep it off will result in a higher likelihood of heartburn and a slower digestive process.
  • Carbonation is not your friend. Maybe you’ve heard ginger ale will settle an upset stomach. But when you’ve eaten too much, drinking the air bubbles in carbonated beverages will add bloat to your bloat. Drinking water instead could help you recover more quickly. Drinking herbal tea such as peppermint or ginger could also help your body digest the meal.
  • Reach for the antacid. If you have heartburn or indigestion, an over-the-counter antacid could help you feel better.

It’s important to note that there is a difference between occasional overeating – having a second or third helping of something because it’s your favorite food – and binge eating, which is an eating disorder that includes repeated bingeing over time — generally at least once a week for three or more months.

Fortunately, binge eating disorder is very treatable. Talk to your doctor if you have any concerns.

NorthShore University HealthSystem, Swedish Hospital, Northwest Community Healthcare and Edward-Elmhurst Health are now united under one name, Endeavor Health. We’re setting a new standard for healthcare that’s focused on you, because your best health is our endeavor. Learn more.

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