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How Much Is Too Much: The Dangers of Overeating

September 27, 2023

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The Meadows

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By Mandy Parsons

Food is a basic necessity of life. It takes proper nutrition to maintain a healthy body; however, today’s Americans are eating too much food. Pew Research Center estimates that our daily caloric intake increased 23% from 1970 to 2010.

And the onset of COVID only exacerbated this problem. According to a recent study by Google Consumer Surveys, 100 million Americans reported overeating more since the pandemic began, in excess of 18,000 extra calories per month.   

Overeating has become an epidemic and is a major factor in obesity. It is a complex issue with physical, mental, and emotional implications that is not limited to those who are overweight.

Overeating is a complex issue with physical, mental, and emotional implications that is not limited to those who are overweight.

Furthermore, the solution to overindulgence is not always a matter of willpower. As with substance abuse, many people use food to “feel good” or distract themselves from difficult feelings or emotions.

How do you know if you are eating too much? What are the signs? Also, what causes you to overindulge, and how can you find balance?

How Much Food Is Too Much?

Overeating is defined as eating in excess — or eating more food than your body needs — often to the point of feeling uncomfortably full.

So how much food is too much? Are you eating a healthy amount of food? If you consistently consume more calories than your body can use for energy, you may be overeating. Consider the following possible signs:

  • Does your stomach feel heavy following meals?
  • Do you have trouble breathing?
  • Do you experience subsequent nausea, acid reflux, heartburn, gas, or bloating?
  • Are you tired or sluggish after eating?
  • Are you consistently gaining weight?
  • Does eating too much disrupt your ability to sleep at night?

It’s normal to splurge during the holidays or on vacation, but if you suffer from these symptoms regularly, there may be cause for concern. Moreover, it’s important to determine whether your overindulging is an unhealthy habit or an actual eating disorder.

Food addiction, for example, is similar to drug or alcohol addiction in that food addicts eat to experience a “high.” They often turn to food as a coping mechanism for dealing with emotional distress.

Another serious condition, binge eating disorder (BED) is characterized by repeated consumption of large amounts of food due to compulsion. Compulsive overeating is a defining characteristic of BED. Those with BED feel out of control while eating and typically eat way too much, way too quickly. They also tend to be embarrassed or disgusted after an episode.

Why People Overeat

People overeat for numerous reasons, not all of which are about hunger. The Atlantic describes eating as “inherently calming,” and powerful “as a tool for comfort and nurture, which likely goes back to the mother-infant connection.”

People overeat for numerous reasons, not all of which are about hunger.

Consequently, we often eat out of emotion, as certain foods trigger the release of “happy chemicals” in our brain. That’s why, when we feel sad, we may indulge in our favorite treat to boost our mood. But how do we distinguish between emotional eating and actual hunger?

Emotional hunger is driven by stress, boredom, or worry; we eat to relieve those uncomfortable feelings. Real hunger is prompted by physical symptoms such as stomach pain, dizziness, or low energy. Also, emotional hunger has a sudden onset and craves certain foods, usually high-fat or sugary, whereas actual hunger is gradual and less specific.

Cleveland Clinic recommends that you interview your hunger before you act on it to determine whether you are actually hungry. If you can identify the source of your hunger, you will better know how to respond. In many cases, that may look like going for a walk, watching your favorite television show, or calling a friend.  

man experiencing pain in stomach

Other causes of chronic eating include environmental and social factors. For instance, we are constantly bombarded by food advertisements and products. Dining out has changed, with restaurants now offering significantly larger portions. Additionally, socializing frequently involves food, and we sometimes eat mindlessly with friends or to feel included.  

Dangers of Overeating and How to Find Balance

Too much food is harmful to your health. The side effects of overeating include obesity, digestive issues, disruptions in hunger regulation, and sleep problems. High-fat and calorie-dense foods increase your risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

But the negative effects of eating too much extend beyond physical complications. Many overeaters are trapped in a cycle of guilt and shame. Your behavior might cause you anxiety or depression as well. Plus, when you place too much focus on food, you lose sight of the most important things in life like your passions and relationships.

And this applies not only to overeating but also to restricting: Both are extremes. The goal of healthy living is to find balance in all areas. But how do we find balance when it comes to food?

  • Practice Portion Control

Try dialing back your portion sizes by drinking a glass of water before you eat. Consider using a smaller plate, not eating from an open container, and waiting a few minutes before going back for a second helping.

  • Adopt Mindful Eating

Focus on what you are feeling in the moment, what is driving you to eat, as well as the actual eating experience. Slow down, take small bites, and savor every mouthful.

  • Identify Overeating Triggers

Know what types of foods cause you to overeat and avoid them. Be intentional about what food you keep in the house and where you dine out.

  • Embrace Healthy Eating

In addition to increasing your longevity, there are countless benefits to healthy eating including increased energy, boosted immunity, strong muscles and bones, and proper digestive function. 

  • Let Technology Help You

There are so many apps and forms of digital therapeutics available today that can be customized to fit your specific eating goals. Take advantage of their helpfulness in keeping you accountable and on track.

If your overeating has spiraled out of control or you’re eating to self-medicate from other issues that need to be addressed, please contact us today at The Meadows. For more than 45 years we’ve been helping people overcome addiction, heal unresolved emotional trauma, and develop the tools needed to live a healthy, happy life.