This Is What Happens to Your Body When You Binge at a Holiday Party
Your full stomach and desire for sleep are two signs that your body is under strain. Learn what’s really going on inside.
That big meal is no big deal, right?
For the most part yes—you can indulge occasionally with no real consequences, agree most experts. However, there are some changes in your body that occur which, if you’re susceptible, could have real health implications. (Also, you're going to want to make sure your food binge isn't actually a food addiction.)
Your stomach literally gets bigger
It’s no exaggeration that you ate more than your stomach wants to hold. When you keep eating once your stomach is full, it will keep expanding to make room for more food—and that’s when you get uncomfortably full. “If it’s stretching larger than its normal size, it can put pressure on your other organs,” says registered dietitian nutritionist Jenna Braddock, RD, founder of Make Healthy Easy. By the time you’ve digested your holiday feast, though, your stomach size will go back to normal. At least it usually does—crazily enough, some people’s stomachs stay stretched out.
One big meal (or even one holiday season) of unhealthy foods shouldn’t do any permanent damage, but if you’re constantly overeating, your stomach might learn not to bounce back, says registered dietitian nutritionist Caroline Passerrello, RDN, spokesperson for the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. That means the next time you eat, you’ll need to eat more to feel full, and the cycle of overeating will continue.
Your food starts backing up
After overeating, you might start feeling a burning sensation in your chest or throat. That’s because an expanded stomach messes with the ability for the opening between your stomach and throat to stay closed. “Your stomach is so full the food starts backing up,” says Passerrello. (Try these natural heartburn remedies to get some relief.)
Your digestive system becomes an energy hog
Don’t blame the tryptophan in turkey for putting you in a food coma. Protein (there’s plenty in turkey) and fatty foods (basically everything else on your plate) take a long time to digest, so you could spend up to 12 hours feeling the effects of your holiday dinner, says Braddock. While your body is focused on breaking down that massive feast, it sends more blood to the digestive tract, she says. Your brain and the rest of your body are getting less blood than they’re used to, so you start feeling that familiar post-binge sleepiness. To combat it, resist the urge to nap and go for a walk. “You’ll use some of that food you ate instead of storing it,” says Braddock. “It’s helping the blood flow go through the rest of the body.” (Tip: Fill your plate with these healthy holiday foods.)
Your heart is working overtime
While the digestive system begs for more blood, your heart works hard to meet its demands. That strain could be part of the reason a study published in The Egyptian Heart Journal found that eating a heavy meal increases the risk of a heart attack after a fatty meal. Another small study published in the journal Laboratory Investigation found that a single high-fat meal could boost blood fats, stiffen arteries, and increase inflammation over the next four hours in healthy volunteers. “For those at risk for heart disease or who already have heart disease, be careful about what you eat, or manage your portion sizes on that day,” says Braddock. (Also, here's what else you need to know about heart health.)
Your body won’t get the deep sleep it needs
Even though festive foods can make you want to sleep for days, you still won’t get restful sleep at night. Your body is still working away to digest all that turkey and cake, so you’re using more energy than you normally would at night. “When you sleep, your energy is still going to digestion, so you can’t complete the shutdown to get restful sleep,” says Passerrello. “The body wants to have a certain amount of energy allocated, and when you throw it off it has a cascade effect.” (Here are all the ways your diet may be wrecking your sleep.)
Your blood sugar may spike
The more you eat, the higher your blood sugar goes because the carbohydrates get converted to blood sugar while you digest. That spike in blood sugar also means an inevitable crash, which is why you still end up digging out leftover pie after your food coma wears off. “You could be spiking your blood sugar with carbs and crash again, so you eat again to fix that feeling,” says Braddock.
How that you've learned what happens when you binge at a holiday party, learn the signs you have a sugar addiction.