We have all given in to the temptation of overeating at least once in our lives. Whether you had three plates of comfort food on Thanksgiving or ate 2,000 calories in one sitting, consuming too many calories can leave you feeling sluggish, overly full and worried about weight gain.
Consistently overeating can lead to weight gain, but one large meal will not set you back too far. If you gained weight from consuming one too many big meals, there are some ways to curb weight gain from overeating. You can also prevent future episodes of heavy eating by practicing mindful eating.
However, if you have binge eating disorder, you may need to seek help from a health professional to address the behavior and pattern of frequently overeating. While overeating and binge eating are similar, binge eating disorder is a mental health condition that requires treatment.
Binge Eating vs. Overeating
The definition of overeating is simple. Overeating is when you consume more calories than you actually need to maintain your weight. This can become a repeated behavior known as compulsive eating, which is when you eat far more than necessary.
This is similar to binge eating disorder, which is a mental health condition. While both compulsively overeating and having binge eating disorder have some overlaps — such as consuming more calories than needed — there is a stark difference.
According to Mayo Clinic, almost everyone overeats from time to time, but people with binge eating disorder have distinct physical, emotional and behavioral symptoms. People with binge eating disorder may be normal weight or even overweight or obese due to the repeated consumption of too many calories.
People with this disorder also tend to have bingeing episodes where they eat large volumes of food past the point of fullness and to the point of being physically uncomfortable. After a binge episode, one might feel depressed, guilt or shame from the pattern of uncontrolled eating.
However, not everyone who overeats has binge eating disorder. People who do not have this disorder may have periods of overeating for emotional reasons or due to special occasions, such as holidays and birthday parties.
What Happens After You Overeat
After overeating, you may feel some uncomfortable physical symptoms. Even if you overeat foods that you consider to be healthy, such as fruits and vegetables, the excess volume in your stomach can cause discomfort.
Some of the physical symptoms are obvious: Abdominal pain, abdominal distension, cramps, nausea, upset stomach and diarrhea. However, there are some acute symptoms related to cognition.
According to an August 2015 study published in Nutrients, your diet can affect your cognitive abilities. A high-energy diet (i.e., a high-calorie diet) has been linked to diet-induced cognitive decline.
Researchers also looked at diets high in fat and sugar as culprits of cognitive decline and found that they are associated with impaired memory, hunger cues, satiety cues and inflammation in the central nervous system. Researchers recommend consuming omega-3 and curcumin to boost cognition.
Overeating can also lead to weight gain. Since weight is gained over a period of time, it is unlikely that you will gain weight after a single day of overeating. It is more likely that weight gain will occur as a result of habitual overeating throughout a period of time.
Lose Weight Gained From Overeating
The general rule of thumb surrounding caloric intake is that a weight gain of one pound requires a surplus of 3,500 calories consumed. The opposite is true for weight loss — you must consume 3,500 calories fewer than burned. However, the quality of your food is also important.
A May 2019 study of just 20 participants was published in Cell Metabolism, wherein a connection between ultra-processed foods and overeating was found. Researchers observed two groups of participants who were presented with the same amount of calories, sugar, fat, fiber and macronutrients. However, one group consumed an ultra-processed diet while the other group consumed an unprocessed diet.
The ultra-processed group consumed an average of 500 calories more per day than the unprocessed group, which led researchers to conclude that overeating is more likely to occur when processed foods are available.
To lose weight that was gained from overeating, you may need to create a caloric deficit. Since highly processed foods are addictive, as demonstrated in a February 2015 study published in PLOS, implementing a caloric deficit may be easier to stick to with an unprocessed diet. Whole foods tend to be lower in calories, too, so you can consume more of them while setting up a caloric deficit.
To stop overeating, Cleveland Clinic recommends the following:
- Consume whole foods instead of processed ones
- Do not skip breakfast
- Eat your meals slowly
- Avoid foods that trigger overeating, such as sweets and baked goods
- Keep a food diary
- Get enough sleep
- Exercise regularly
- Control your stress levels
Read more: How to Lose Weight if You Can't Stop Eating
Practice Mindful Eating
Practicing mindful eating, which is similar to intuitive eating, may sound intimidating, but it is not as complicated as it sounds. Per Harvard Health Publishing, mindful eating means focusing on your meal at the present moment and acknowledging your sensations as they occur.
Being mindful of your food choices and eating behaviors can help you reduce the likeliness that you will impulsively overeat. When you eat mindfully, you focus on enjoying your food slowly instead of ravenously devouring your food. You also eat smaller portions, take smaller bites, chew thoroughly and take your time.
Harvard Health Publishing also tells us that stress-related overeating may hinder your weight loss goals. Stress affects hormones, including those that regulate hunger and satiety levels. In combination with comfort foods that tend to be high in fat and sugar, overeating is more likely to occur when you are experiencing high levels of stress. This can cause weight gain, so stress-relieving practices like meditation and exercise are recommended to encourage steady hormone levels and healthy weight loss.
- Mayo Clinic: “Binge-Eating Disorder”
- Nutrients: “Diet-Induced Cognitive Deficits: The Role of Fat and Sugar, Potential Mechanisms and Nutritional Interventions”
- Cell Metabolism: “Ultra-Processed Diets Cause Excess Calorie Intake and Weight Gain: An Inpatient Randomized Controlled Trial of Ad Libitum Food Intake”
- PLOS: “Which Foods May Be Addictive? The Roles of Processing, Fat Content, and Glycemic Load”
- Cleveland Clinic: “9 Tips to Help You Stop Overeating”
- Harvard Health Publishing: “8 Steps to Mindful Eating”
- Harvard Health Publishing: “Why Stress Causes People to Overeat”