Chances are your motivation to eat less and commit to foregoing that second (or third) helping of mac and cheese is at least partially tied to your desire to lose weight, get ripped, and look better overall. But in case your six-pack fantasies aren’t enough to motivate you to push back from the table, you should probably know that overeating will do a lot more than just pack on the pounds. This simple act can trigger wide-reaching health consequences—from sleep disturbances to the development of digestive problems like leaky gut syndrome or IBS.
While calorie needs vary from person to person, based on factors like age, height and weight, fitness goals, and overall activity level, the bottom line is this: You’re much more likely to overeat and consume too many calories if you eat lots of processed foods (which are high in refined grains and sugar), don’t get enough fiber, and drink a lot of sugary drinks or alcohol.
Now that doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy a burger and a beer from time to time, but it’s all about balance. And when you know the true impact that all of those excess calories can have on your body, it’ll be much easier to practice moderation.
Here are five ways that overeating might be taking a toll on your body:
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1. Increased fatigue and weakness
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A popular habit among those looking to lose weight and/or tone up is to drastically restrict calories on certain days, only to eat very large amounts on other days. And this vicious cycle not only has a negative affect on both your waistline and mental health (when you beat yourself up for not sticking to the plan), but the blood sugar roller coaster it causes can also lead to exhaustion, muscle weakness, and difficulty concentrating.
A common example of this pattern is people who severely limit their diet during the weekdays and then have cheat days (read: binge days) on the weekend. In some instances, calorie or carb cycling might be beneficial, but the majority of people will notice unwanted side effects from not getting enough fuel and nutrients for days on end, only to overdo it on others.
Hypoglycemia is the official name of the condition caused by low blood sugar levels, or low glucose. Glucose is mostly found in carbohydrate foods, so a rebound effect of yo-yo eating is that you’re typically left craving sweets and other junk foods to provide more energy, setting the stage for a binge afterward. Additionally, overeating processed foods—even if only on certain days—takes a lot of digestive energy, often leading to sluggishness and lethargy.
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2. Heart Problems
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Overeating is tied to many common heart problems, including high blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Findings from one study of almost 2,000 heart attacks even suggests that a single act of overeating could quadruple one’s chance of having a heart attack on the same day.
Heart disease is mostly a result of inflammation caused by fatty material and other substances that form a buildup of plaque within the walls of arteries, cutting off normal blood flow. And one of the primary causes of this plaque development is poor nutrition and low antioxidant intake—that is, not eating enough fruits and veggies, healthy fats and lean proteins, and eating too much of the other crap. A high-calorie, high-sugar, and overall poor diet can lead to increased free radical damage that wreaks havoc on the entire body—damaging cells, breaking down tissue more quickly, mutating DNA, and, of course, overloading the cardiovascular system.
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3. Mood Swings
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If you’re in the habit of continuously overeating, also described as eating “mindlessly,” it’s likely that you’re also feeling scattered and emotionally out of balance in other areas of your life, too. Overeating, and then gaining weight and suffering health problems as a result, may also lead you to blame yourself for a lack of willpower, causing you to feel like you have no agency over your body or self-control around food.
Using food to cope with difficult feelings is always a lose-lose scenario that often leads to crash dieting and then a rebound effect. And you may find that gaining weight, losing it, and repeating this cycle over and over again causes both your morale and metabolism to plummet.
One way to avoid this ugly pattern is to practice mindful eating—in other words, increase awareness of your current eating habits, patterns, and triggers so you can formulate a better game plan.
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4. Digestive issues
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According the American Nutrition Association, 70 million Americans suffer from some sort of digestive distress each day. And our reliance on processed convenience products and drive-thru meals—along with our tendency to eat too much of these foods—certainly plays a role in all of those tummy troubles.
Some of the many ways that overeating causes digestive issues include:
Causing acid reflux or heartburn, particularly after eating lots of fatty or fried foods, or drinking too much alcohol.
Leading to the development of leaky gut syndrome, particularly when consuming processed grains, dairy products, or allergen foods like gluten or peanuts.
Contributing to SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth), and related problems like gut dysbiosis, mostly due to eating too much sugar, refined grains, and large meals that overload the digestive system.
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5. Nutrient Deficiencies
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It might seem counterintuitive, but you can eat too much and actually be lacking certain essential nutrients. In fact this is very common, considering that it’s hard to overeat low-calorie, nutrient-dense foods like bulky veggies, fruit, and 100% whole grains.
Increasing the amount of fiber and produce in your diet can help curb overeating and also ensure that you’ll be getting adequate amounts of key vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. But it’s also worth considering the macronutrient ratio in your diet. It’s possible that you may be focusing too much on one particular macronutrient (like protein or fats) but neglecting to get enough of the others.
As an example, many people turn to high-protein diets to build strength and muscle definition, but few consider the negative consequences associated with taking this eating approach too far. Some of the ways that vey high-protein diets (in which upwards of 50% of calories come from protein) might impact your health include: stressing your kidneys, causing indigestion or constipation, leading to high cholesterol, and triggering fatigue or mood changes if you’re not getting enough healthy carbs and fats.
On the other hand, over-consuming carbs and not getting enough healthy fats and protein can cause other symptoms like bloating or gas, cravings for sugar, trouble feeling full enough between meals, moodiness, or IBS.