The average adult stomach can hold about 4 cups of food. Still, for a number of reasons many of us routinely consume 2 or 3 times this amount. The result? Discomfort and, ultimately, weight gain. What happens to your body when you overeat? Read on to learn about what happens and what you can do to help yourself stop when you’re full.
Why we overeat
We overeat for many reasons. Overly processed carbs such as chips, cookies and sugar laden yogurt cups blunt satiety and encourage us to eat more. That isn’t all. Other reasons include:
• Emotional discomfort – sadness, boredom, anxiety, depression are all feelings that can be difficult to tolerate. To avoid sitting with uncomfortable feelings, many of us turn to the comfort of food for a temporary distraction from feelings we would rather not face.
• Cultural messages – “clean your plate” is a message many of us grew up with and are loathe to abandon as adults.
• Busyness – sometimes we overeat simply because we aren’t paying attention. Mindless eating frequently leads to overeating.
• Abundance of options – buffet dinners, all you can eat specials and holiday meals offer so many choices it can be tough to avoid overdoing it.
What happens when we overeat?
The most immediate consequence of overeating is physical discomfort. Common symptoms of overeating include acid reflux, bloating, gas, heartburn, and nausea. Clothing may feel tight and uncomfortable as well. Guilt often follows. For many people, this sets off a vicious cycle: overeat, promise not to do it again, feel guilty, feel uncomfortable with guilty feelings, overeat to feel better, repeat. In time, the cycle may lead to unhealthy weight or even obesity.
What do instead
You can break the overeating/guilt/overeating/gain/overeating/guilt cycle.
• Find support to manage emotional discomfort – remember that no feeling is final. Everyone feels sad, anxious or bored sometimes. Reach out to a supportive friend, write in a journal, take a walk, do a guided meditation/mindfulness exercise, or head to the gym. Depression doesn’t have to be forever either. Help is available, in some cases at no cost. Contact your local United Way or Community Service Board for referrals.
• Cultural messages – plates have gotten considerably larger over the last decades. Serve yourself on smaller plates – 6 or 8 inches – and stay in the clean plate club.
• Busyness – Try doing one thing at a time. You may find that you are more effective later if you have lunch away from your desk. Slow down and notice the taste and texture of your food. Remember it takes the brain about 20 minutes to register satiety and fullness.
• Abundance of options – survey all available options. Spend your calories like money: 10% on high ticket/high calorie items, use the rest for a balance of lean protein, whole grain carbs and fiber.
Overeating can cause physical as well as emotional pain. Don’t beat yourself up or make promises to change your eating habits until you have a good plan. Once you get started, stay encouraged and keep trying even if you slip up. Rethink your plan and begin again as many times as you need to.