Overeating is a common problem with adults and children across the world. Overeating is a recognized disorder, and about 28.8 million Americans face this at least once in their lifetimes.
While taste and love for food can cause people to overeat, genetics can also increase a person’s tendency to overeat.
Why Do You Need To Eat?
Eating is a daily activity needed for the survival of all living beings. Food gives energy and helps human beings grow. The amount of food you eat has to depend on the calories you burn. In simple terms, the more active you are and the more energy you burn, the more food you will need to eat.
What Is Overeating?
Overeating happens when you consume more calories than you can burn. Let’s say it is Thanksgiving, and you have been gorging on roast turkeys, candied yam, sweets, and drinks all day long.
This is a typical day of overeating for you. Most Americans overeat during festivals and holidays. For some individuals, overeating is an everyday problem.
Overeating can be a symptom of bulimia nervosa (overeating followed by vomiting out the contents) or binge eating (overeating frequently).
The tendency to overeat is one of the biggest mental health challenges in the country.
Why Do Some People Overeat?
While excessive hunger is one reason people overeat, other genetic and non-genetic reasons increase a person’s tendency to overeat. We will be discussing these in detail in the coming sections.
Knowing these reasons and working on them will help you handle the condition better.
What Happens To Your Body When You Overeat? - Overeating At The Molecular Level
Human beings are designed to handle a specific amount of food. The stomach expands to handle large amounts of food when you overeat. The expansion puts pressure on the stomach and the nearby organs in the body.
After you eat, food is broken down by saliva and other enzymes. Fat, proteins, and sugar are separated. The sugars enter the bloodstream and are passed on to the cells for energy. Excess sugar is stored as glycogen in the liver and muscles.
Proteins are broken down into amino acids and are used by the tissues and muscles. Excess proteins are converted into fats and sugars.
The body uses a certain amount of fats needed, and the remaining goes to the adipose tissues and are stored.
What happens to the excess sugars, proteins, and fats?
When you overeat and have excess proteins and sugars in the body, both get converted into fats. Fats end up getting stored in the fat cells, and this leads to gradual weight gain.
When you receive excess calories through food, your fat cells keep building up. This leads to weight gain, obesity, and other lifestyle conditions.
Your brain takes about 20 minutes to let your stomach know that you are full. Most people end up overeating in these 20 minutes.
When you consume more calories than what’s needed for the body, it is considered overeating. When you know your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), it is easy to calculate the calories you can safely consume in a day.
Here is how you can calculate your BMR.
Women: BMR = 655 + (4.35 x weight (pounds)) + (4.7 x height (inches)) - (4.7 x age in years)
Men: BMR = 66 + (6.23 x weight (pounds)) + (12.7 x height (inches)) - (6.8 x age in years)
Let’s take an example. A 30-year-old woman weighs 154 pounds. She is 62 inches tall. Here is her BMR value.
655+ (4.35X154)+(4.7X62)-(4.7X30) = 1475
Converting BMR to recommended calorie consumption.
The FTO gene is one of the most discussed genes for weight gain and the tendency to overeat. Many studies mention that this gene is a switch that controls many other ‘weight-related’ mechanisms in the body.
The rs9939609 SNP of the FTO gene increases a person’s tendency to overeat. The ‘A’ allele of this SNP causes the below effects in the body.
-Increased Ghrelin levels : Ghrelin is called the hunger hormone. Increased ghrelin means increased hunger
-Increased food intake
-Decreased satiety levels : individuals don’t feel contended after eating food
-Increased risks of emotional and binge eating
People with the AA genotype have a higher tendency to overeat and also are at a higher risk for developing weight gain-related side effects like obesity, heart conditions, diabetes, and risks for cancer.
About 14% of the population have the AA genotype. Those with the AT genotype make relatively healthier food choices. They are satisfied after eating their meals and do not overeat.
Non-genetic Factors Causing Increased Tendency To Overeat
Why do people overeat? The different non-genetic factors that push people to have an increased tendency to overeat will surprise you.
Boredom - People eat when they are bored. This is a very common reason why healthy individuals gain weight. Finding other ways to deal with boredom can prevent the tendency to overeat.
Mental stress and anxiety - A person’s mood affects how much the person eats. Both positive and negative moods can cause people to overeat. A study concluded that women who were stressed at work overate at lunchtime!
External cues * - External cues play a very important role in causing people to overeat. In a country like America, food is everywhere. You are constantly exposed to food and beverages either sold or advertised, forcing people to eat more than what they need.
*Social pressure - Eating has become a social habit. People invariably visit restaurants and bars when they get together. Those who have an active social life end up eating more over the week.
Lowered ability to resist - Some people have a better ability to resist overeating than others. While one person can stop with two slices of pizza, another person ends up stuffing 3-4 pieces and then feeling uncomfortable. This is another cause for overeating.
Taste - Food has become so much tastier now. International tastes and flavors are available, encouraging people to eat more and eat often.
Symptoms Of Overeating
Overeating may not look like a problem at all until you experience one or more of the below symptoms.
-Discomfort after you finish your meals
-Breathing difficulties because the stomach pushes the lungs
-Gas and bloating
-Feeling of tiredness and sluggishness after a meal
-Not able to stay physically active after a large meal
-Guilt and shame of overeating
-Nausea and vomiting
-Increased metabolism leading to sweating and dizziness
Side-Effects of Overeating
Here are some of the long and short-term side effects of overeating.
-Weight gain and obesity
-Sleep apnea (breathing stopping and starting randomly at night)
-Increased risks of type II diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart diseases)
-Increased risks of different types of cancer
-Impaired brain functioning in older individuals
Recommendations For Those With A Tendency To Overeat
Know why you are overeating - Knowing the reason behind overeating can help address the problem better. If you are genetically prone to overeating, making lifestyle changes like counting calories and taking professional help. If one particular reason like stress or boredom makes you overeat, handle that first.
Know your trigger - Certain foods can trigger overeating. It could be a particular taste, flavor, or even a place that makes you overeat. Know your trigger, and stay away from it.
Do not eat directly from containers - If you want to eat chips, add a handful to a plate, replace the pack of chips in a closed shelf, and then start eating. If you eat directly from the pack, you will not stop until you finish the whole pack.
Choose healthier food options - Eating the same quantity of fruits and chocolates does different things to your body. Fruits are not addictive, while chocolates are. Pick the right foods, and you will not have the urge to overeat.
Stop before you feel full - One trick that experts suggest to prevent the tendency to overeat is to stop before you feel full. This way, you can consciously prevent overloading on food.
Manage boredom and stress differently - If you are bored, stressed, or anxious, find other healthier ways to manage them without depending on foods.
Take help - Is overeating causing mental, physical, and social issues? Take professional help to handle the disorder.
- The tendency to overeat is a common condition that millions of Americans struggle with. Some people are diagnosed with eating disorders, while many others go undiagnosed.
- Overeating puts unwanted pressure on the different organs in the body and leads to serious side-effects.
- Many non-genetic factors cause a person to overeat, including boredom, stress, anxiety, social pressure, and external cues.
- Genetically, changes in the FTO gene can cause an increased tendency to overeat.
- Knowing why you overeat and handling the condition with dietary changes, lifestyle changes, and professional help makes a difference.