The holidays are the best, right? Friends, family, warmth, happiness — and, of course, food. That last part, though, can be a bit of a problem, especially when you overdo your meals and wind up with a case of the blobs because you’ve overeaten.
While we all know moderation is the key to happiness and comfort (as far as our tummies go), it can be far too easy to get carried away and be a major glutton at a holiday shindig. While you should avoid overeating in the first place, well, sometimes we forget this notion. Here’s what you should do if it’s happens to you.
What happens when you overeat?
You know how overeating feels, right? You feel bloated and uncomfortable and you spend the rest of the day hoping your digestion skills are up for the task ahead. SheKnows spoke with Dr. Susan Besser, a family physician with Mercy Personal Physicians in Baltimore, Maryland, who is also a diplomate of the American Board of Obesity Medicine. We wanted to find out exactly what is going on in the belly when we’ve stuffed ourselves too full of ham and dessert.
“On a purely mechanical level, your stomach is distended (swollen) when you overeat,” she said. “There is a limited amount of room in there, and it doesn’t like being stretched beyond its normal capacity.”
Of course, your stomach tries to rectify the problem by moving food along ASAP, which can result in further discomfort. In some people (especially those with reflux issues), the stomach may try to push its contents back up the esophagus, which can feel awful. Your stomach can also try to push it out the other way… out the back door, and quickly, which can result in diarrhea and cramping.
What’s the first line of defense for overeating?
Whatever you do, says Besser, don’t lie down flat on your back. That can further exacerbate any reflux issues you may be having, so instead, consider a recliner if you’re too miserable to move. Brisk exercise is also a no-no.
“Exercise signals the body to focus on the muscles and not on the intestines, so the intestinal activity will slow down, leaving all that food sitting in there causing cramping,” she explains.
What you can do, however, is take a leisurely walk. Don’t overdo it, of course, but moving around can boost your metabolism a bit and can help you digest your gigantic meal, which is the ultimate goal after you’ve eaten too much.
What should you eat or drink after overeating?
It may be obvious, but for the love of all things holy, don’t continue to stuff food in your maw the same day you’ve overeaten. “Basically, just eat lightly the rest of the day — if at all. You will need to drink water later in the day, so you don’t get dehydrated,” Besser notes. “But probably, you can skip eating for the rest of the day.”
In other words, water is queen and food is for the birds. You want your stomach to work on digestion, and you don’t want it to be forced to deal with additional insult in the form of food.
You’ll probably be feeling better by the next day, but try to learn your lesson and avoid overeating two days in a row. You don’t need to avoid eating anything specific — unless you’re worried it will make you feel awful. Also, keep hydrating, because water is life.
Can you take medication for overeating?
In a word, no, not really. Besser says some OTC medications, such as antacids or anti-gas drugs, may help, but sometimes all you can do is wait it out. Unfortunately, a quick fix isn’t in the cards for those who have overdone their holiday consumption. “There really isn’t any great medication to counteract the overeating blues,” she says.
Of course, not overeating in the first place is the ultimate cure to these gastric woes. “You can still enjoy your favorites,” Besser explains. “Just understand mostly you are eating for craving, not nutrition. Craving relief only requires a few bites — eat slowly and savor.”
But if you’ve pounded back tons of cheesecake and cheesy potatoes, just keep in mind your discomfort is temporary. Keep drinking water, and vow never to do it again.
A version of this story was published in December 2017.