Arriving at your next meal hungry is a good sign of a healthy appetite. But eating past the point of fullness can be uncomfortable and take away from your satisfaction. Why is it so easy to overeat on some days and not others? Read on to learn the signs of overeating and how to manage it!
What Is Overeating?
Overeating is defined as consuming calories beyond your body’s needs. Consuming more calories than you burn can set you up for unwanted weight gain, which can increase your risk of different diseases.
Overeating occasionally will not make you gain weight overnight, but chronic bouts of excess eating are a different story. These eating patterns can make it difficult for you to recognize your hunger and satiety cues. This makes it harder for your body to recognize when it is full, and the risk of overeating continues.
Who Is The Most Likely To Overeat?
A 2020 summary of over 300 published articles found that people across the lifespan are susceptible to overeating. The long-term effects of overeating can alter endocrine function, which is your body’s primary system for creating and releasing hormones into your bloodstream.1
People who overeat have higher levels of circulating insulin hormone, which is responsible for clearing sugars out of their bloodstream. Having too much insulin in your blood can be a precursor to a condition known as insulin sensitivity, which can increase your risk of developing full-blown diabetes.
Signs of Overeating
Overeating can make you feel like your stomach has expanded beyond its standard size. Sometimes this can bring on feelings of nausea or even indigestion and heartburn if your clothes are very tight. Other signs of overeating include:
- Feeling unusually tired, drowsy, and sluggish after eating. The thought of getting up and walking feels out of reach.
- Eating too fast increases your risk of swallowing air, making you feel bloated.
- A rise in temperature, such as a hot flash. This indicates your metabolism is firing up to start converting the food you consume into usable energy.
- The meal no longer has the same appealing taste as your first bite.
- Feeling sick or vomiting after eating is an extreme symptom that might occur in some people after overeating.
What Leads To Overeating?
It’s challenging to control how quickly and how much you eat when your gut is signaling your brain that it is empty and needs nourishment right now.2 In these moments, your hunger might drive you to overeat! Here are some typical breakdowns that might result in overeating:
- You lost track of time which resulted in skipping a meal.
- The meals you ate were too small.
- The breaks between your meals were too long.
- You felt unwell during the day and had no appetite, but in the evening, you were ravenous and ready to eat.
- You are at a party where food is the focal point. You are having a great time, so you keep eating.
It’s important to know that everyone has days when their schedule doesn’t go as planned, and their nutrition goals are put on the back burner. Your body is resilient, and it can handle these one-off events.
However, if overeating happens more frequently or daily, it’s a good indicator that you’ve stepped beyond an acute scenario and are headed toward chronic overeating. This is when potential health risks could arise.
Emotional overeating can be a coping mechanism to soothe negative feelings.3 This can happen when you feel sad, bored, or stressed. Sometimes people get stuck in a cycle, and the eating triggers a new emotional response, and the cycle repeats.
The American Psychology Association released its annual report on stress and its impact on American citizens. In 2022 at least one-third of the adult population feels overwhelmed by their stress every day to the point where they can’t function and complete daily tasks.4
Learning new strategies to manage your emotions can be a game changer. Consider doing over activities that don’t relate to food or eating. You may do more chores around the house, get outdoors for a nature walk, or call a friend for a good conversation.
Overeating Treatment Options
Here are some tips to stop overeating:
- Add fiber-rich foods to your meals and snacks.5 Fiber promotes satiety and is linked to stable blood sugars and improved cholesterol levels. Eat more fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, legumes, and whole grains.
- Avoid skipping meals. If you miss an opportunity to eat, you may arrive at your next meal famished, and you are more likely to overeat.
- Include 15-30g of protein in your meals because it promotes satiety.6 Include various animal or plant-based options because different foods offer a range of essential vitamins and minerals.
- Keep non-perishable, nutritious snacks on hand in case of emergencies. A go-to recipe would be an unsalted trail mix with various nuts or a small tinned tuna can with whole-grain baked crackers.
- Slow down your eating habits. On average, the human brain needs 20-30 minutes to process information from your gut and send a response signal that you are full.7 Try setting a timer to see if you can eat your next meal across this window of time.
- Include mindful eating practices. Focus on the snack or food before you and turn off any screens. Savor every bite and try to taste every flavor in the dish. These moments will also help you slow down and help you appreciate the meal.
- Stay hydrated throughout the day because thirst can be mistaken for hunger.8 Choose water whenever possible to avoid consuming excess calories commonly found in fruit juices, sodas, flavored coffee products, and store-made smoothies.
- Seek support for emotional eating. A health professional can teach you new techniques.
How Much Food Is Enough?
Several factors can influence your daily caloric needs, including your metabolic health, your age, your height and current weight, and how active you are.
Here are the daily caloric guidelines published in the recent 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans:9
- 19-30 years: 2000-2400 calories
- 31-59 years: 1800-2200 calories
- 60+ years: 1600-2000 calories
- 19-30 years: 2400-3000 calories
- 31-59 years: 1200-3000 calories
- 60+ years: 2000-2600 calories
Are There Any Risks of Overeating?
A risk of overeating can be unwanted weight gain. Gaining weight and falling into an overweight or obese classification increases your risk of chronic diseases and different types of cancer.10
The metabolic changes linked to overeating can also affect people, even without gaining weight. A single day of overeating can reduce your body’s insulin sensitivity, so your sugars might creep higher than usual. Chronically elevated blood glucose can increase your risk of full-blown diabetes.11
Work With A Registered Dietitian
Making nutrition changes can be challenging. Nourish has several Registered Dietitians who can help you meet your goals. Check out the directory of RDs now and reach out to start making a connection!
- Bray, G. A., & Bouchard, C. (2020). The biology of human overfeeding: A systematic review. Obesity Reviews, 21(9).
- Ahima, R. S., & Antwi, D. A. (2008). Brain regulation of appetite and satiety. Endocrinology and metabolism clinics of North America, 37(4), 811–823.
- van Strien T. (2018). Causes of Emotional Eating and Matched Treatment of Obesity. Current diabetes reports, 18(6), 35.
- American Psychological Association. (2022, October). Stress In America 2022. American Psychological Association.
- Hilbert A. (2019). Binge-Eating Disorder. The Psychiatric clinics of North America, 42(1), 33–43.
- McKiernan, F., Houchins, J. A., & Mattes, R. D. (2008). Relationships between human thirst, hunger, drinking, and feeding. Physiology & behavior, 94(5), 700–708.
- Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025 and Online Materials | Dietary Guidelines for Americans. (n.d.).
- Barber, T. M., Kabisch, S., Pfeiffer, A. F. H., & Weickert, M. O. (2020). The Health Benefits of Dietary Fibre. Nutrients, 12(10), 3209.
- Kokkinos, A., le Roux, C. W., Alexiadou, K., Tentolouris, N., Vincent, R. P., Kyriaki, D., Perrea, D., Ghatei, M. A., Bloom, S. R., & Katsilambros, N. (2010). Eating slowly increases the postprandial response of the anorexigenic gut hormones, peptide YY and glucagon-like peptide-1. The Journal of clinical endocrinology and metabolism, 95(1), 333–337.
- Effects of Overweight and Obesity. (2022b, September 24). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Parry, S. A., Woods, R. M., Hodson, L., & Hulston, C. J. (2017). A Single Day of Excessive Dietary Fat Intake Reduces Whole-Body Insulin Sensitivity: The Metabolic Consequence of Binge Eating. Nutrients, 9(8), 818.
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