How We Stress The Body by Overeating

Thanksgiving is here again and an entire season of overeating will begin. From Thanksgiving through to New Years Day good eating is defined as eating anything you want and as much of it as you want. Therefore, if you're reading this blog post, it's likely you've felt the negative effects that accompany overeating --  burping, bloating, gas, indigestion, tightening of the waistband and fatigue -- and you're ready to do something about it.  You're not alone.

Feeling Like Crap Is Never Factored Into the Equation

Look, no one wants to set out to eat their favorite meal and then feel like crap, but doing so doesn't come without a price. 

Often we don't give much thought to the physiology of what's happening in our amazing human bodies when we overeat. That's why Thanksgiving and the holiday season in general, is the perfect time to reflect on this.  As you sit and enjoy your favorite foods and reach for seconds, thirds and dessert, the furthest thing from your mind is the thought of how your body is going to handle the heavy load.

You're Stuffed, And Suddenly You Become Aware Of:

  • Fatigue - Suddenly you're tired. The fatigue experienced by overeating is the exhaustion of every organ and every cell in your body working against what you ate. Overeating stresses your organs at a cellular level and leads to complications that should not be underestimated, like digestive issues, poor liver function, kidney damage, diabetes, heart disease and overtime, cancer. You are made of cells. Those cells need energy to repair and regenerate themselves.  The energy they use to perform this function is called nerve energy. The body needs adequate nerve energy for healthy functioning. The typical stresses of life and especially overeating deplete your nerve energy. You squander your nerve energy when you overeat, drink stimulants such as coffee and tea, when there's anxiety, and when you're physically stressed. Your nerve energy is a delicate and precious resource. You need to conserve it.
  • Lower Stomach Acid - Overeating reduces stomach acid causing symptoms of gastritis such as GERD - heartburn/acid reflux, gas, bloating and diarrhea. Overeating also causes the stomach to distend. At the same time, the stomach works and churns to get food moving into the already overloaded intestine as the body struggles to maintain a balance.  
  • Malabsorption of Nutrients - Every time we overeat we tax the body so that it doesn't absorb nutrients. The stomach works double-time to release digestive enzymes to break down each food we consume.  If we consume many different foods at one sitting the pancreas needs to sort out which digestive enzymes to release to break down those foods. This is work. Overwhelming the digestive organs in this manner may result in diarrhea. Diarrhea is the body's not so subtle way of telling you it wants what you ate OUT! Once diarrhea occurs there's a 'rushing' out of nutrients, that never get absorbed.
  • Overloading the Pancreas - the pancreas also pulls a double shift releasing insulin to compensate for the intake of sugar. This not only exhausts the pancreas but when done repeatedly, overeating leads to Type 2 diabetes.  All food, whether it's protein, fat, or carbohydrates gets broken down into glucose. When you have insulin resistance and you overeat, the cells in your body are unable to absorb the extra glucose. The body stores this excess as fat.
  • Taxing the Liver - When you overeat the liver is making bile to do its job of stabilizing cholesterol levels, blood sugar and filtering toxins effectively. The heart of course, isn't exempt here --  it's working diligently to pump blood to the stomach to aid in the process of digestion. The lack of blood flow to the brain can leave us feeling dumber, foggy and unable to concentrate. 

You say you want to sleep it off?  Not happening.

Indigestion is the number one cause of insomnia.  Sleep is the only time the body can concentrate on the process of digestion if it hasn't completed this task while you're awake. While digestion may or may not cause noticeable symptoms during the night, if you're up and down or tossing and turning, it's safe to bet improper eating is the cause.

Avoiding Overeating Is Relatively Simple

  • Pace yourself - don't let your eyes be bigger than your stomach. Give some thought to how you're going to eat beforehand. Decide to fill your plate with healthy foods first. The first serving should be filled with an abundance of leafy greens, a small portion of protein and some cooked vegetables. After doing this it's unlikely you'll want seconds.
  • Chew your food - take the time to do this.  Through chewing prepares food for easy entry into the stomach and results in better overall digestion and absorption of nutrients. Plus, it makes you fuller faster.
  • Don't drink with your meals - While the holidays are about toasting and drinking with meals, this practice can impede your digestion. Drinking with meals dilutes necessary digestive enzymes in the stomach, which slows the digestive process. A better practice is to drink 15 minutes before eating or 2-3 hours afterward to keep digestion efficient.
  • Sit next to someone you like! Eating with people you enjoy is great for digestion, plus, it'll keep your mind off your plate.
  • Avoid the salt shaker.  Salt is a stimulant to the palate. It causes us to want another bite. Eat foods less salted. You're amazing body will cue you to want less of them. 
  • Stop at the first signal of feeling full. When you begin to feel full, get up from the table to distract yourself from mindless picking. 
  • Don't try to work it off.  Once you've overeaten and taxed the organs, heading to the gym to "work it off" isn't a good idea.  First of all, it's a neurotic behavior. Secondly, the food you ate today is energy for tomorrow. That means, your holiday overeating binge is useless energy that will not "burn off"until it has been digested and absorbed by the body as nutrients.  Third, "working it off" further stresses a body that needs to digest.  Keep in mind that activity of any kind after overeating, including walking, stops digestion to redirect blood flow from the stomach to the limbs. It does not burn off what you just ate. It only allows your heavy meal to sit in your stomach and intestines longer. 

Three Things To Do When You Over-Indulge

  1. Stop Eating.
  2. Rest
  3. Allow the body to finish it's digestive work.

Physiological rest of the body's organs can also be obtained by a short, restorative fast (you do this every night as you sleep). However, you can extend your nightly fast harmlessly by drinking pure water for 24 hours, then slowly introducing easily digested foods like fruit juices and vegetables back into the diet again.