We’ve all been there before. Whether it be during a stressful moment, or enjoying one of your favorite desserts or snacks, overeating is something we’ve all experienced at one point or another. While mostly a normal and occasional occurrence, overeating can have adverse effects on your stomach and digestive system.
But what, exactly, is overeating? How do you know you’re doing it before it’s over? The answers vary for everyone, but it often starts with learning the signs of overeating, how to break the habit and what it means in the long run for your body.
What is overeating?
Kylie Arrindell, a dietician at Houston Methodist Hospital, describes overeating as “eating beyond what’s needed to fuel your body.” In layman’s terms, overeating is the act of consuming more food during a meal than is suitable, given the amount of energy expended through physical activity or excretion. Boredom, stress and other more serious underlying conditions can cause someone to overeat.
If you’ve ever experienced overeating yourself, you probably can confirm that the phrase “your eyes are bigger than your stomach” holds true.
According to Arrindell, the following are likely signs you have overeaten or are on the verge:
- You’ve begun eating out of boredom or to distract yourself.
- You experience intense physical symptoms such as nausea, bloating, flatulence and more.
- You notice you’ve eaten beyond the point of being full.
If you find yourself experiencing one or more of these signs, you’ve already taken the first step to putting a stop to eating too much: recognition. Recognizing behavior patterns is an important step to breaking a habit; the next is understanding.
In both the short and long term, overeating can have adverse effects on our bodies if continuous. In an article published by The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, multiple things can happen to your metabolism, stomach and even organs. Here’s what Erman Levy, a research dietician at MD Anderson, outlined on the subject:
“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. 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 can I do to prevent overeating?
Luckily, most instances of overeating entail simple lifestyle adjustments to break the habit. The first step you should take is changing the pace of your eating. Just by putting your fork down and drinking water between bites can be a game-changer—Levy advises that this mindful eating habit will help you slow down and discover when you’re full.
Next, pay attention to portion control. Especially when you start eating slower, you’ll realize you’re fuller sooner than you thought. Try plating your meals on a salad plate and reducing the portion of each section of your meal by just a quarter. You can always return for seconds if you’re still hungry!
Lastly, it’s important to be purposeful about what you’re putting on your place. Fill up with good carbs (think: brown rice, quinoa and oats), protein, fruits and vegetables, at least for the majority of your meal. These foods will keep you fuller longer, according to Levy. Planning your meals ahead of time can help to do this more efficiently, too.
How do I know it means more?
If adjusting your eating habits seems overwhelming or impossible, it could be a sign that your overeating is an underlying symptom of a larger factor, like compulsive overeating or extreme eating behaviors. The University of Rochester Medical Center says severe overeating is marked by consistency. More specifically, binging two times a week for around six months could indicate underlying compulsive or obsessive tendencies.
If this is the case, know there is help available to you! The URMC says cognitive behavioral therapy, nutritional therapy and psychotherapy are all viable options for recovery. Speak to your nutritionist or mental health care provider for further support.
Overeating happens to everyone at least once—you’re not alone! With this information and insight, you’ll better understand the behavior and how to alter it accordingly based on your individual health goals and circumstances.