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What happens when you overeat?
Eating a large meal can affect your sleep, your weight and your organs over the short and long term. Find out what really happens to your body when you overeat.
Sometimes it’s taste, sometimes it's habit, or maybe it’s stress. But chances are, at some point, you have over-eaten.
“It takes about 20 minutes for your brain to send a signal to the stomach to let you know that you’re full. Overeating occurs when you continue to eat beyond this point of fullness,” says Erma Levy, a research dietitian at MD Anderson.
Overeating can lead to unwanted weight gain, and carrying excess weight can increase your cancer risk.
But it’s not just about the unwanted calories. Overeating affects your body in a variety of ways. We spoke to Levy to learn more about the effects of overeating. Here’s what she had to say.
So, what happens to your body when you overeat?
- Overeating causes the stomach to expand beyond its normal size to adjust to the large amount of food. The expanded stomach pushes against other organs, making you uncomfortable. This discomfort can take the form of feeling tired, sluggish or drowsy. Your clothes also may feel tight, too.
- Eating too much food requires your organs to work harder. They secrete extra hormones and enzymes to break the food down.
- To break down food, the stomach produces hydrochloric acid. If you overeat, this acid may back up into the esophagus resulting in heartburn. Consuming too much food that is high in fat, like pizza and cheeseburgers, may make you more susceptible to heartburn.
- Your stomach may also produce gas, leaving you with an uncomfortable full feeling.
- Your metabolism may speed up as it tries to burn off those extra calories. You may experience a temporary feeling of being hot, sweaty or even dizzy.
What are the long-term effects of overeating?
When you eat, your body uses some of the calories you consume for energy. The rest are stored as fat. Consuming more calories than you burn may cause you to become overweight or obese. This increases your risk for cancer and other chronic health problems.
Overeating -- especially unhealthy foods -- can take its toll on your digestive system. Digestive enzymes are only available in limited quantity, so the larger the amount of food you eat, the longer it takes to digest. If you overeat frequently, over time, this slowed digestive process means the food you eat will remain in the stomach for a longer period of time and be more likely to turn into fat.
Overeating can even impact your sleep. Your circadian clock, which controls your sleep cycles, causes your sleep and hunger hormone levels to rise and fall throughout the day. Overeating can upset this rhythm, making it hard for you to sleep through the night.
What are some ways to stop overeating?
- Eat sensibly throughout the day. Pay attention to your portion sizes.
Avoid processed foods which can be easily overeaten.
- Fill up on fresh fruits and vegetables. They provide a lot of fiber and will keep you full between meals and decrease the need to snack.
- Eat from a salad plate instead of a dinner plate. This will help you control your portion size.
- Avoid distractions when you eat, such as watching TV, using the computer or other electronic devices. Focusing on the meal itself will allow you to be more aware of when you’re full.
- Eat slowly and put your fork down between bites. This mindful eating habit will slow you down and make it easier to realize when you’re full.
- Drink water before, during and after meals.
- Plan your meals ahead.
- Keep a food journal to help you notice any positive or negative habits.