After you start eating, it takes the brain about 20 minutes to signal the stomach that you're full. Overeating occurs with you continue to eat beyond this point.
After you start eating, it takes the brain about 20 minutes to signal the stomach that you’re full. Overeating occurs with you continue to eat beyond this point. If you consistently eat more calories than your body needs, you will gain weight. Eating too much on a single day, such as Thanksgiving, doesn’t really lead to weight gain. However, it may take a toll on your body — at least in the short term. This is what happens to your body when you overeat.
Your stomach expands beyond normal size, pushing against other organs and making you uncomfortable.
Your clothes feel tighter and you may want to unbutton your pants. Your liver and pancreas work harder to secret extra hormones and enzymes that are needed to break down the extra food Hydrochloric acid builds up in the stomach to help with digestion. This can back up into the esophagus and cause heartburn.
The stomach may also produce extra gas, making you feel bloated and uncomfortable. You may have problems with belching, especially if you drink soda or any carbonated drink with your meal.
Your metabolism may temporarily speed up to try to handle the extra food. This can increase your body temperature and heart rate, making you feel hot, sweaty or dizzy.
Your blood sugar will spike in response to lots of starchy dishes. The subsequent drop in blood sugar can make you tired, thirsty and give you a headache.
You’ll feel sluggish and sleepy. This is often attributed to the turkey’s tryptophan content, but your body is diverting blood away from your brain to your gut to help with digestion.
You heart works overtime supplying the digestive system with extra blood needed to tackle the extra food. Your sleep may be disturbed. Even though you feel sleepy and fatigued, you may not sleep well.
Your body won’t be able to rest as usual in order to keep processing the overload of food. It will take 6-8 hours for the stomach to completely empty. Gas, bloating, and heartburn also contribute to a poor night’s sleep.
The vast majority of people will just be uncomfortable for a time after overeating. However, people with chronic health conditions should use caution. People with diabetes should carefully monitor their blood sugar and those with a history of vascular problems or hypertension may have a higher risk of complications related to elevated blood pressure or fluid retention. The extra strain on your heart from eating a heavy meal and the extra fat in that meal could increase your risk of heart attack, especially if you are already at risk.
You are unlikely to see any lasting effects from just one day of overeating, no matter how many calories you consume. True, excess calories are stored as fat, but there’s only so much you can absorb in a single setting. Any excess weight you see on the scale the next day is likely due to fluid retention from eating more sodium and carbs than normal and will probably disappear in the next couple days. It is the consistent habit of eating more calories than you can use that will cause weight gain.
Enjoy the day with family and friends and don’t worry too much about what you are eating. You can’t derail a healthy lifestyle with just a day or two of indulgence. However, these tips can make your day and evening a little more comfortable:
Don’t skip breakfast. Eating a light morning meal can kick start your metabolism and keep you from being too ravenous by the time dinner rolls around.
Eat slowly and chew thoroughly. There is a digestive enzyme in the salivary glands that starts to break down carbs, which will help with digestion. Eating slowly allows your body a little extra time to digest, which will help reduce discomfort.
Balance your plate with more vegetables and salads, instead of carbs and proteins.
Drink lots of water. This will help with digestion and flush out excess salt.
Take a stroll after dinner. Moving will help with digestion and burn a few calories.
As long as don’t make overeating a habit and can resume your normal fitness routine and focus on healthy eating in the days to come, you shouldn’t have any lingering side effects from a single Thanksgiving Day binge.
Anita Marlay, R.D., L.D., is a dietitian in the Cardiopulmonary Rehab department at Lake Regional Health System in Osage Beach, Mo.