Every person overeats at some point or the other. It is a bad practice that we repeat many times in life and leads to immediate discomfort as well as long term health risks if it is done too often. Understanding why we tend to overeat at times, and what patterns may be dangerous can help to prevent several conditions associated with obesity in particular. Obesity is one of the main complications of repeated overeating and has today become the leading cause of serious health conditions in the developed world. However, there instances where we think we have overeaten but the symptoms experienced are due to some other underlying problem.
How much is overeating?
This is a difficult question to answer without delving into the medical science behind nutrition. Food intake should ideally be measured by the calories contained with the different foods we eat. The average adult male needs about 2,500 calories per day while women require approximately 2,000 calories. This calorie intake varies among individuals, and is also dependent on age, level of physical activity as well as body weight. The daily calorie intake should be divided into three meals and two snacks.
Therefore a person should eat three meals of 500 to 600 calories and another two snacks between meals of 200 to 300 calories in order to maintain an adequate daily calorie intake. Consuming more calories in a day will lead to weight gain, and less calories would lead to weight loss. From a scientific perspective, overeating would mean consuming more calories in a day than is needed to maintain an optimal weight. However, this is not always a practical approach to determining what is overeating from adequate eating or under-eating.
Feeling Full or Bloated
Most of us determine when we have eaten enough by the three signals:
- Stretching of the stomach.
- Cessation of hunger pangs.
- Feeling satisfied during/after eating.
When we overeat, then a bloated feeling arises. Some of us describe this as feeling stuffed. This may occur with excessive stretching of the stomach but is also associated with other symptoms like nausea, reflux and belching. Collectively we refer to it as indigestion. It is a term used to describe an uncomfortable feeling during or after a meal. Bloating is a sensation of fullness in the stomach although the term is also used to sometimes describe abdominal distension (enlargement).
Weight Gain from Overeating
While a symptom like bloating or symptoms associated with digestion are helpful in determining overeating in the short term, monitoring body weight is an effective way of assessing overeating in the long term. The excess calorie intake will lead to weight gain. It can occur even if a person does not feel bloated or stuffed after every meal. Small quantities of food will not matter if these foods are high in calories. Ultimately it is these calories will lead to weight gain if it is not consumed by physical activity.
Causes of Overeating
The reasons for overeating may not always be due to a physiological or psychological disturbance. Sometimes we overeat because the meal consists of foods that we enjoy, or it is in a social setting where eating in excess is commonplace. These instances are usually once-off every now and then like during the festive season where big meals are considered a norm. At other times though, there is a disturbance in the body either on the physical or psychological level which leads to overeating.
- Pregnancy: Overeating is expected as the body’s demands for nutrients increases. However, there is a limit to just how much a pregnant woman should be eating so as not to gain excessive weight which can put both mother and baby at risk.
- Exertion: Physically exerting yourself may lead to overeating on successive meals as the body tries to replenish its stores that may have become depleted during activity.
- Comfort eating: Food is sometimes used as a means of relieving psychological stress. It is a common practice with emotions like anxiety and sadness. Usually it is short-lived.
- Intoxication: Overeating may occur with intoxication as a result of consuming alcohol or illicit street substances. Marijuana (cannabis) is known to increase appetite, as does alcohol consumption.
- Binge eating: Overeating may be seen with several different types of eating disorders including binge eating disorder, compulsive eating disorder and bulimia nervosa.
- Hyperthyroidism: Overactivity of the thyroid gland and a subsequent rise in thyroid hormone levels increases metabolism. There is also an increase in appetite levels as the body needs more calories to continue functioning.
- Diabetes mellitus: Hunger is a common symptom of diabetes mellitus which can lead to overeating. Weight gain may not occur despite moderately increasing food intake.
- Hypoglycemia: Low blood sugar levels (hypoglycemia) does not often lead to overeating but rather to frequent eating. However, some people may overeat to avoid hypoglycemic attacks or by mistaking other symptoms for those of hypoglycemia.
- Intestinal worms: An increase in appetite is not a common symptom of an infestation with tapeworms or other intestinal worms. Usually there is loss of appetite, but sometimes there may be an increased appetite especially among children.
- Medication: Several prescription and OTC drugs (like corticosteroids and tricyclic antidepressants) may cause an increase in appetite and lead to overeating. Sometimes these drugs, like aspirin and other NSAIDs, cause gastritis or aggravate peptic ulcer disease and these symptoms are mistaken for hunger pangs, thereby leading to overeating.
Since bloating, the feeling of being stuffed, is also thought to be overeating, it is important to consider the causes of bloating even when eating is within the norm.
Remedies for Stuffed Feeling
The simplest and most obvious remedy for the stuffed feeling associated with overeating is to eat less. It means consuming smaller meals more frequently rather than larger meals just a few times a day. Ultimately the calorie quota for the day should not be exceeded. Where these is a pathological cause (physical or psychological disease) then it needs to be treated appropriately and overeating may then subside. Sometimes there is no cause despite the sensation of having overeaten and feelings stuffed. This is known as functional abdominal bloating.
The following measures may help to remedy overeating especially when there is no underlying disease responsible:
- Drink a full glass of water before a meal. Do not try to fill up entirely on water. Food is necessary as well.
- Spread your meals out during the course of a day. Do not try to skip one meal and decide to cover up on the next.
- Avoid fad diets especially eating plans that involve any duration of starving. It leads to weight gain in the long run.
- Identify psychological stresses in your life and find healthy ways of coping, not with food.
- Take a walk or stand and do some physical activity after a meal. It aids with digestion and reducing that stuffed feeling.
- Learn self-control and practice restraint when it comes to food. It must be a conscious effort to make a change.