Why does overeating feel so gross?

The holidays may be a time for indulgence, but a smaller plate and some physical activity can prevent you from overdoing it.

Nick Beare 3 minute read December 24, 2021
two couples having dinner

Eating too much not only feels awful, it can also affect sleep patterns and even impair brain function. GETTY

The holiday season is a time for family, friends, generosity, and celebration. It can also be a time for indulgence, and as someone who enjoys a helping of dessert or three, I know a thing or two about indulging.

It takes about 20 minutes after you start eating for your brain to get that message that you’re full and should stop eating, and speedy eaters can blow by the point of being full before their brain gets the message — often causing that bloated, uncomfortable, too-full feeling. That sensation of, well, grossness, is your stomach stretching past its normal capacity as it attempts to accommodate the extra food.

Overeating can affect the body in several ways, with short and long-term effects contributing to weight gain, sleep problems and an elevated risk of cancer.

Acid reflux and elevated blood sugar

In the short term after you overeat, you might experience some acid reflux, stomach discomfort or elevated blood sugar levels. The acid reflux can be exasperated if you lay down after your meal as your stomach acid spills back up into the esophagus.

You might feel like laying down because overeating can also make you tired — as your body focuses more energy on digesting and less on keeping you awake. You may also feel a little extra warm, sweaty or even dizzy as your metabolism speeds up to burn off the extra calories.

According to MD Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas, when your stomach expands, it can also push against your other organs and force them to secrete more hormones and enzymes to break the meal down, which also contributes to that uncomfortable feeling.

The long-term effects of eating too much

The longer-term effects of overeating can be more severe. Calories are used for energy, but when we overeat, excess calories are stored as fat. Over a long period of time, that stored fat turns in unwanted weight gain, putting us at risk for a host of problems such as hypertension, diabetes, stroke and different types of cancer.

Overeating can also disrupt sleep patterns, take a toll on the digestive system and even impair brain function.

Preventing that uncomfortable too-full feeling

While there’s nothing wrong with enjoying a great meal, there are ways to prevent yourself from overdoing it.

First, take your time while eating, this gives your brain time to catch up while you eat so you can feel that ‘okay, that’s enough’ feeling at an appropriate time.

Try building some movement into the holiday as well so you aren’t sedentary for long stretches before and after meals. That could be a workout, a walk, or dancing in the house to some holiday music — getting your body moving can help burn those extra calories off in a productive way.

Also, pay attention to how you fill your plate. Portion control is an essential part of making sure you’re eating the right amount, and it will help you avoid eating too much. Studies have shown that using smaller plates can also help with portion size. Filling up on veggies and fruits and drinking water can also keep you from reaching for that extra slice of pie.

Nick Beare is a Toronto-based freelance writer. He can be reached here.

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