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What happens to your body when you eat too much

INSIDER logoINSIDER 22/01/2019 Julia Guerra

a woman sitting at a table with a plate of food © iStock Eating intuitively - eating when you're hungry, stopping when you're full - should be simple enough, right?

In theory, yes, but the temptation to indulge is everywhere, from the occasional birthday cake at work taunting your mid-afternoon cravings to the pint of ice cream you keep crammed into the back corner of your freezer.

And while indulging sometimes is all well and good, doing it too often can have health repercussions. 

Overeating is typically associated with junk food, but you can overdo it on the good-for-you foods, too.

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In fact, Robert Glatter, M.D., an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Lenox Hill Hospital, Northwell Health, defined overeating, or eating too much, as simply a situation of taking in an excess amount of food in relation to how much your body a) needs and b) can handle at once. 

Eating too much is subjective to your body, and depends on a few key details 

Your body composition, age, height, how much you move throughout the day, your sleeping patterns, medical conditions, and even your health goals should be taken into consideration when measuring how much is too much, according to Grace Derocha, registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator and certified health coach at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.

Overeating is typically associated with junk food, but you can overdo it on the good-for-you foods, too. I © Getty Overeating is typically associated with junk food, but you can overdo it on the good-for-you foods, too. I "Individuals can measure how much is too much by combining food journaling, portion control, and measurement with mindfulness and intuitive eating," Derocha explained. "Using these tactics to learn the difference between when your body is full or satisfied versus hungry will help reinforce when too much is being consumed."

You'll know you've eaten too much by a few telltale signs your body gives you soon after that last bite 

Let's say all of a sudden you experience a hot flash mid-bite, but the food you're eating isn't spicy. Derocha said this kind of unrelated warmth could be a clear indication you've overeaten as your body temperature climbs when you digest.

What's more, Derocha added, if you need to take breaks in order to finish your meal, or loosen your pants to cope with bloating or discomfort, chances are you've eaten too much. But hunger cues - or, in this case, fullness cues - aren't solely physical.

"If the thought of finishing what's on your plate or already in your mouth is unbearable, " Derecha warned, "this signifies you have fully satisfied your hunger and are full."

Individuals can measure how much is too much by combining food journaling, portion control, and measurement with mindfulness and intuitive eating © Getty Individuals can measure how much is too much by combining food journaling, portion control, and measurement with mindfulness and intuitive eating

Eating too much causes your body to work in overdrive 

Sometimes your eyes are bigger than your stomach. Sometimes your cravings get the best of you and two cookies turns into a whole lot more. Overeating happens, and even though it might feel satiating in the moment, taking in an excess amount of food can do some real damage to your insides, Derocha explained.

For one, eating too much can cause a spike in your blood sugar levels because your body begins to overcompensate and produce more insulin than usual to keep blood sugar levels at a healthy range. As a result, you might experience headaches, increased thirst, fatigue, or lethargy, Derocha said. It's also possible that your body will store the excess blood sugar and calories, leading to weight gain.

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In terms of your actual stomach, Glatter told INSIDER that when you overeat, your digestive organ literally swells, causing bloat, discomfort, even nausea and, in some cases, acid reflux. What's more, when food takes a long time to break down, your sleep patterns, as well as your brain functionality, can become distorted, too, Derocha added.

"Recent studies suggest overeating, or consuming foods high in fats and sugars for an extended period, can impair cognitive function," she told INSIDER. "A few findings include memory loss, impaired judgment, and increased white matter in the brain (typically associated with older people)."

So how can you ease a stomach that's been fully loaded?

© Pexels  First things first, if you do eat too much, remember to be gentle with yourself not just physically, but also mentally, too. Move forward and, if you want, incorporate healthy, nutrient-dense foods into your next meal. 

Once you've come to terms with the fact that you've overeaten, and your body is probably paying the price, Derocha said your first order of business should be to drink the recommended six to eight glasses of water per day to keep hydrated, help the body digest, and also to help detox your system from the excessive sodium intake.

As far as physical activity goes, Derocha told INSIDER exercise can help jumpstart your metabolism and help your body work off the extra calories. However, rigorous exercise probably isn't the best idea too soon after you've cleared your plate. Instead, Glatter suggested going for a light walk or practicing yoga might help you feel better and aid in digestion. 

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