The holidays (from Thanksgiving all the way through Super Bowl Sunday) 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 feeling sluggish and decidedly not great 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 it’s totally fine to do you and indulge when you want to, sometimes your eyes are way bigger than your stomach and you overdo it — bringing on a sluggish and sleepy afternoon that can bleed into the next few days. 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 listen to your body as you eat. Even if the holidays feel like they’re all about the food on your plate, go at your own pace, if you’re worried about feeling discomfort. Don’t continue to eat once you feel like you’re at-capacity and not feeling hungry anymore. “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.”
After all, you want your stomach to work on digestion — and you don’t want to add more to its workload.
You’ll probably be feeling better by the next day, which is great. But definitely take the time to remember try to learn what feels satisfying and what has you feeling bad. 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
“There really isn’t any great medication to counteract the overeating blues,” she says. Instead, she says it’s better to try to approach big food-centric holidays slowly so you can enjoy the most out of your meal without risking upsetting your stomach.
“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 and do not feel fantastic, just keep in mind your discomfort is temporary. Keep drinking water and enjoy your food at the right pace for you body.
A version of this story was published in December 2017.