What Exactly Happens to Your Body When You Overeat?

by Macaela Mackenzie
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What Exactly Happens to Your Body When You Overeat?

Overeating can seem harmless. So you finished that whole bag of chips the other day — what’s the big deal? But as one of the biggest causes of obesity, overeating runs deeper than simply having the occasional case of my-eyes-were-bigger-than-my-stomach syndrome.

“Overeating is when a person eats to the point of feeling uncomfortable,” says Keri Gans, RD, author of “The Small Diet Change.” “You should be able to walk away from a meal feeling satisfied but not stuffed like you need to undo your pants.”

But it’s not just a physical problem. To get to the root of why we do it, it helps to take a closer look at the psychological as well as the physical.

“A lot of it is behavioral,” says Gans. “Since we were children, we were taught to finish everything on our plate, and therefore we’ve lost the ability to recognize when we’re full.”

When you do fall prey to the temptation to overeat, a few things happen to your body.

“The immediate response for people when they overeat is that they feel tired and sluggish,” says Gans. “It takes work to digest a meal, and, if you’re eating a lot of food — especially high-fat foods — that takes a lot of energy for your body to digest.”

Next, you’ll get that uncomfortable bloated feeling. As your body works to digest the high volume of food, your stomach will produce gases, leaving you to deal with the discomfort of your waistband suddenly cutting into your stomach.

You might also experience a separate pain from acid reflux, which can be triggered by downing a high volume of food.

And most importantly (and obviously), any time you consume more calories than you burn, you’ll gain weight.

So what can we do about it? First, figure out if you’re actually hungry or if reaching for the plate of cookies in the break room is more of an emotional response.

“One of the first things I always tell my patients is to use what I call the ‘HALT’ method,” says Gans. “Are they hungry, angry, lonely or tired?”

Once you’ve ruled out an underlying psychological state as your motivation for eating, take a look at what’s actually on your plate. A properly portioned meal that’s high in fiber will fill you up and leave you feeling satisfied and nourished. Gans recommends following the 25-25-50 rule: one-quarter of your meal should be lean protein like grilled shrimp, one-quarter whole grains like whole-wheat pasta and half filling fiber like grilled veggies.

You can also eat from a smaller plate when possible, since several studies have shown that how big our portion appears relative to plate size plays a big role in how much of it we eat.

Now that you’re sitting at the table, make mealtime an actual event. “Slow down and remove distractions,” says Gans. “Actually focus on eating, tasting and enjoying your food.”

And finally, she recommends drinking water with your meals — it will help to slow you down and fill you up, giving you the upper hand on overeating.

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  • Sabrina Alvoi

    I honestly want to cry and die because im so fat.

  • Sissa

    It doesn’t seem to have answered the main question. I know I have acid reflux, stomach pain and I bloat when I overeat. I know the psychological reasons for when that happens. But what ‘exactly, happens to my body when I overeat? In terms of blood sugar levels, water retention, etc.? Guess the title led me to think of a more scientific approach.
    Also, gaining weight sucks but I personally disagree with the “most importantly, you’ll gain weight” statement. Overeating can cause a series of much more serious and permanent problems.

    • ShayM

      I was thinking the same thing!

  • Ida Fishington

    I agree with Sissa. Thought this was going to be a post about physiology of overeating. Just for once could we have an informative and useful blog post, instead of generalised and subjective rubbish.

  • Anna

    What an absolutely useless article! This just reiterates what we all ready know!
    Definitely wouldn’t waste money buying her book of its filled with knowledge the average person all ready knows.
    I think I could have written a more in depth article than that.

  • New Yorker

    I don’t often write a response but I agree with everyone that this article is absolutely useless. What editor would have ever allowed this content on here?

    I would be embarrassed if I was the author to have put this out in the internet but folks read the description she wrote about herself and the level of expectation is met.

    Honey, get a degree or get a real job and stop blogging.

    Hugs, from a New Yorker!

  • Mady

    Like everyone else is saying, this article is useless. Tell us please how our body reacts to excces food from a scientific perspective! Not just ‘oh, if you are overeating you gonna gain weight’ this is like ‘oh after Sunday comes Monday’. Duuuaah obviously!!!

  • Kamal Kishan

    Suppose i burn 2000 calories in a day..
    I take about 1300-1400 calories per day( for Weight loss)
    If i eat 600-700 calories at once in a meal out of 1300-1400. Will that effect my weight loss goals?

    • Ricky Cue

      It more depends of the amount of calories eaten at the end of the day vs in a sitting but you should try to eat smaller meals (4-5 small meals). Eating half your allowance in one sitting will not only let you only have 2 meals a day but puts your digestive system in overdrive which can make you feel sluggish and slow.

  • S.A.P.

    What an article. It’s like.. Question:what happens when you sleep.. Answer :You do nothing for 8 hours..

  • Thebodyisatemple

    Nice article. I’d like to talk about hydration. For Gan’s HALT method, I would consider adding another T for thirst. With caffeine and sugar being the most popular drink choices in this dehydrated culture, most people fail to recognize thirst, and instead think they are hungry. Drinking water between meals aids digestion, lubricates the bodily tissues, and aids satiety. Additionally, water should only be sipped at meals, as drinking water during a meal dilutes nutrients, inhibiting absorption. This leaves people nutrient starved, and hungry, so they eat more. It should be known that cold ice water constricts vessels, and disrupts digestion. This is why warm lemon water, or ginger tea might be a better beverage to “sip” during a course.

    Everybody is different, so macronutrient (carb, protein, fat) ratios differ. Fats are the long burning fuel, necessary for every cell, and provide satiety feelings by triggering response. Proteins help maintain structure and produce amino acids. Carbohydrates produce quick energy, and help heal. All have many other functions, and all are necessary. Eating unrefined whole foods is the key. If you choose to eat grains, make sure they are soaked before preparing, to avoid nutrient loss and digestive upset by phytic acid.

    Not taking the time to chew your food thoroughly until it is liquid does not allow salivary amylase to break down carbohydrates in the mouth. Additionally, Gastric Juices won’t be released in the stomach (HCL Hydrochloric Acid and Pepsin/Pepsinogen) won’t be able to break down protein. The stomach won’t have the right chemical triggers to open the pyloric sphincter to allow the nutrients to pass into the small intestine for nutrient absorption. What will happen, is the starchy carbohydrate will ferment, while the proteins purify, and the fats rancidity. Pressure will build and the upper esophagal valve will back flow, and weaken, allowing Hydrochloric Acid to go where it doesn’t belong…your throat….ouch! You’ll be tempted to resort to acid blockers, which bandaid the problem, but further reduce HCL production. Without HCL, parasites and pathogens aren’t destroyed in the stomach, and they invade you body. Also proteins aren’t broken down or utilized. Eventually, gravity works, and the huge undigested mass of food moves into your small intestine. The pancrea, which has important jobs including blood sugar regulation, is suppose to release bicarbonate to the acidic mass of food so it doesn’t burn the duodenum, creating ulcers or cancer. Instead, it tries to break down the undigested carbs, proteins and fats with amylase, protease, and lipase. The Gallbladder isn’t triggered to release bile to break down fats, so fat soluble vitamins ADEK cannot be assimilated, leading to depression and degeneration. The microvilli that should be absorbing broken down nutrients and releasing them into your bloodstream and lymphatic system are trampled and destroyed. So, the walls of your SI become permeable, and proteins enter your bloodstream, where antibodies launch an attack on the immune system. Voila! Allergies are formed, along with inflammation and duodenal ulcers or even cancer. The mass of food that eventually makes it to the colon provides plenty of food for candida, parasites, and yeast to grow and multiply. They send signals to the brain for you to eat more sugar and starchy carbs to feed them. You didn’t absorb nutrients, so you eat more. Overeating causes digestive blockages, and this vicious cycle repeats and intensifies, resulting in autoimmune diseases, diabetes, depression, fatigue, cancer, other issues, and even death.

    Consider choosing fresh, nutrient dense whole foods. Chew them thoroughly in a relaxed environment. If you can stay hydrated and remove environmental stressors, your body’s innate intelligence will do the rest. It knows how to take care of you! Treat it right.

    -Cyn, NTP

  • Cyn

    Nice article. I’d like to talk about hydration. For Gan’s HALT method, I would consider adding another T for thirst. With caffeine and sugar being the most popular drink choices in this dehydrated culture, most people fail to recognize thirst, and instead think they are hungry. Drinking water between meals aids digestion, lubricates the bodily tissues, and aids satiety. Additionally, water should only be sipped at meals, as drinking water during a meal dilutes nutrients, inhibiting absorption. This leaves people nutrient starved, and hungry, so they eat more. It should be known that cold ice water constricts vessels, and disrupts digestion. This is why warm lemon water, or ginger tea might be a better beverage to “sip” during a course.

    Everybody is different, so macronutrient (carb, protein, fat) ratios differ. Fats are the long burning fuel, necessary for every cell, and provide satiety feelings by triggering the leptin response. Fats are where toxins are stored, so eating organic, grass fed animal products is important. Also unsaturated fats degrade in heat or light. Only cook with saturated fats, and avoid fake hydrogenated fats always! Proteins help maintain structure and produce amino acids. Carbohydrates produce quick energy, and help heal. All have many other functions, and all are necessary. Eating unrefined whole foods is the key. If you choose to eat grains, make sure they are soaked before preparing, to avoid nutrient loss and digestive upset by phytic acid.

    Not taking the time to chew your food thoroughly until it is liquid does not allow salivary amylase to break down carbohydrates in the mouth. Additionally, Gastric Juices won’t be released in the stomach (HCL Hydrochloric Acid and Pepsin/Pepsinogen) won’t be able to break down protein. The stomach won’t have the right chemical triggers to open the pyloric sphincter to allow the nutrients to pass into the small intestine for nutrient absorption. What will happen, is the starchy carbohydrate will ferment, while the proteins purify, and the fats rancidity. Pressure will build and the upper esophagal valve will back flow, and weaken, allowing Hydrochloric Acid to go where it doesn’t belong…your throat….ouch! You’ll be tempted to resort to acid blockers, which bandaid the problem, but further reduce HCL production. Without HCL, parasites and pathogens aren’t destroyed in the stomach, and they invade you body. Also proteins aren’t broken down or utilized. Eventually, gravity works, and the huge undigested mass of food moves into your small intestine. The pancrea, which has important jobs including blood sugar regulation, is suppose to release bicarbonate to the acidic mass of food so it doesn’t burn the duodenum, creating ulcers or cancer. Instead, it tries to break down the undigested carbs, proteins and fats with amylase, protease, and lipase. The Gallbladder isn’t triggered to release bile to break down fats, so fat soluble vitamins ADEK cannot be assimilated, leading to depression and degeneration. The microvilli that should be absorbing broken down nutrients and releasing them into your bloodstream and lymphatic system are trampled and destroyed. So, the walls of your SI become permeable, and proteins enter your bloodstream, where antibodies launch an attack on the immune system. Voila! Allergies are formed, along with inflammation and duodenal ulcers or even cancer. The mass of food that eventually makes it to the colon provides plenty of food for candida, parasites, and yeast to grow and multiply. They send signals to the brain for you to eat more sugar and starchy carbs to feed them. You didn’t absorb nutrients, so you eat more. Overeating causes digestive blockages, and this vicious cycle repeats and intensifies, resulting in autoimmune diseases, diabetes, depression, fatigue, cancer, other issues, and even death.

    Consider choosing fresh, nutrient dense whole foods. Chew them thoroughly in a relaxed environment. If you can stay hydrated and remove environmental stressors, your body’s innate intelligence will do the rest. It knows how to take care of you! Treat it right.

    • emotional over eater dang it

      I’d also add a “B” for bored…..the second I am bored I look for food.

  • TTbean

    Those who read this article need to check out David Ludwig and his book “Always Hungry.” His perspective on why we overeat is mind blowing. It is not always about calories in, calories out. Processed food effects us more on a chemical level than it does on a caloric level. Please check it out!

  • Dewberg

    I drink over a gallon of water a day, eat healthy foods like salad, chicken breast, green beans most of the time and don’t have any distractions while eating and always feel great whenever I eat a ton 🙂

  • Penelope

    Most of you are too critical! Be kind and use words that the writer will benefit from. That will teach her to provide more information.
    So sarcastic, too! No need for that. Your responses are so immature and only create anger.