What Happens to Your Body When You Overeat?
Overeating is what it sounds like, eating more than your body can comfortably handle. And while the occasional binge doesn’t necessarily result in weight gain, doing it frequently could have potential disastrous consequences on your health.
Let’s suppose it’s FriYAY, it’s time to let loose and relax! For some, that means spending the night out on the town, raising glasses then swinging by the drive-thru to satisfy the munchies. Others may stay in and curl up with their loved one(s) to watch a movie, order takeout, and share a pint of ice cream. In either scenario, all too often, relaxation equals overindulging in food.
If you spend many of your weekends this way, you may binge more than you realize. And, when you count, the extra slices of pizza on Tuesday, two (or six) cookies at that office birthday celebration, and mindless snacking in front of the TV on Thursday, you’re eating more than you need.
When you overeat, the body attempts to compensate for the excess food you’ve ingested.
1. Your stomach swells
When you overeat, the belly expands like a balloon to accommodate the food you ingest. Your distended stomach pushes against other organs in your body — which is why you may feel the need to loosen your pants.
2. You may get bloated and gassy (depending on food consumption)
Every time you swallow food, air moves into your digestive tract. Swallowed air, added to other gasses in your stomach, will give you that uncomfortable bloated feeling. (Bloating is worse if you’re drinking carbonated beverages).
Burping is a common side effect of overeating. Burping is your body’s attempt at releasing gas.
3. You may get heartburn
Your stomach produces acid to help break down your food.
The more you eat, the higher the amount of acid enlisted to aid the breakdown. But the additional stomach acid can potentially back up into your esophagus (the tube that carries food from your mouth to your stomach). The result, heartburn, is a painful burning feeling in your chest or throat. Heartburn is more likely to happen when you’re eating foods that generally take longer to digest, like cheeseburgers and beer (especially when consumed closer to bedtime).
4. Your body stores the extra calories as fat
As food moves through your digestive tract, the liver and the pancreas secrete enzymes to digest fats, carbs, and proteins. Cells in the intestinal walls absorb these macronutrients, along with vitamins and minerals, for use as energy.
Our bodies are efficient as saving excess calories in the form of fat. This is a remnant of previous days, centuries ago, when food was scarce and hard to come by.
5. Your organs work overtime
Digesting a massive meal requires your body’s organs to secrete extra hormones and enzymes to break down the large amount of food you’ve eaten. If this happens regularly, you may may potentially deregulate your metabolism and endocrine system. Untimely, overtime, this may result in potential adverse affects to insulin resistance and other healthy hormone production that when become unregulated when we overeat and overburden our organs.
6. You feel overfull
A release of leptin, a hormone produced by your fat cells, informs your brain that you’re no longer hungry and should stop eating. If you eat too quickly, you may miss this signal and eat past satiety — to the point of discomfort. Your overeating may also trigger your body to produce even more leptin, which may lead to a condition called leptin resistance — making it even harder for your brain to get the message to stop. Those with a lot of fat cells in their bodies are especially prone to leptin resistance.
Leptin resistance is a complex syndrome that is being studied to be better understood, especially to understand why some individuals are more prone to this condition
How to Stop Overeating
Many of us overeat out of habit or because we’re feeling anxious or upset. When you bring attention to what and how much you’re eating (also known as mindful eating) you may curb overeating tendencies.
A few suggestions to curb the need to overindulge:
- Log what you eat and drink in a food journal and note how your body feels after food consumption.
- Serve whatever you’re eating on a plate — avoid eating directly from the container the food came in.
- Focus on your meal — avoid eating in front of the TV, while you’re commuting, or doing something else.
- Eat slowly, deliberately, and chew, chew, chew before swallowing.
- Take your meals and snacks at regular times — avoid skipping meals as your hunger may cause you to overeat.
Breaking Down the Digestion Process
It is believed that your digestive system prepares for eating by releasing enzymes and hormones that break down food.
Once you’ve started eating, your food moves from your mouth to the esophagus, then to the stomach, through the small intestine, and then to the large intestine.
Check out a more thorough explanation of the digestive process from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health.
Though it requires a bit of effort, being mindful of your eating habits will ultimately help you appreciate what you eat as well as help you avoid the effects of overeating.