Everyone knows that eating too much, too frequently can make us fat.
And that seems to be the main motivation most people have to not overeat – they’re worried about the effect eating too much has on their waistline.
But did you know that there are a lot of physical problems that can develop if we overeat too often?
When I decided to finally lose weight, after topping out at 225 lbs, my motivation was part “I want to be skinny and hot” and part “I don’t want to die young like my mom.”
My mom wasn’t grossly overweight, but I know a big part of the reason she isn’t here today was due to lifestyle choices (smoking, not exercising etc) and I knew my lifestyle choices were going to take me down a similar path. Diabetes plagued the maternal side of my family. My mom, Aunt, Pepe and Meme, all died young, all partially from complications due to type II diabetes.
Diabetes doesn’t just affect overweight, sedentary people BUT, I knew that if I remained sedentary and didn’t change my eating habits and my weight, that the diagnosis would be a guarantee with my family history. I also had high blood pressure (another genetic gift from my ancestors!) and worried about my heart, my lungs (I had asthma too) and how every other system in my body was affected by my weight.
I knew my binge-eating, overeating, chronic dieting and being in the “obese” category would contribute to my long term health – but at the time, other than possible cardiovascular disease and diabetes, I didn’t realize how many health conditions can arise because of our eating habits.
I was motivated to change my weight out of fear of death. Sounds dramatic but that’s where my head goes.
I was motivated to change my eating habits because of a fear of health complications while I was alive.
I was able to make both those things a reality when I started to see the payoff in my health (more energy, clearer skin, better asthma control, lower weight, less illness etc).
I was able to maintain those changes (finally) after a lot of trial and error but what finally made it stick, was the internal emotional and mental work I talk about so much on this blog.
Some of us overeat out of boredom, because it’s habit (our families ate a lot so we do too), because we’re out of touch with our hunger cues, or because we’re trying to satisfy an emotional hunger. Regardless of the reason you might be overeating and regardless of where you are in your journey . . .maybe you need to hear this.
Maybe hearing me wax on week after week about getting to know yourself and tuning in to your body instead of dieting aren’t cutting it (for you), maybe you need to hear something else.
I’m not a fan of scare tactics but sometimes we need a reality check, right?
If you don’t care about having a good relationship with yourself, with food and your body, maybe what you need to hear today is all shit that can go wrong with your body if you continue on the path you are on today. If you keep overeating, if you keep bingeing, if you keep playing this game of restrict and consume – well, there are a few things you might have to worry about that go beyond just going up a size, that go beyond your family predisposition to diabetes.
The emotional stuff of food is important and really, in my opinion the key to lasting health, but you can’t get there if you don’t recognize the role your daily habits have in all of it.
So let’s get into it.
What other physical health problems can arise when you don’t listen to your internal cues about when to stop eating?
Here are just a few that you might not be aware of:
It’s well known that people suffering from bulimia and anorexia are likely to have tooth decay issues, from stomach acid during the purging process (in the case of bulimia) or from a lack of nutrients (in the case of anorexia) but did you know that people who binge-eat can also have tooth problems arise from the habit?
Our teeth are made to withstand a certain amount of wear and tear over many years but eating far more than our bodies need, and doing so frequently can physically wear down the teeth faster than normal. All that extra chewing and chomping can also cause damage to the gums.
Eating extra food frequently also exposes the teeth to more of the acidic foods that wreak havoc on tooth enamel! One of the worst offenders is sugar and those of us who have a history of bingeing love our sugar-filled foods. Another common way your teeth can suffer from eating too much is if you have serious heartburn (such as in the case of those with GERD) – the acid from your stomach can enter the mouth and get to that enamel again!
Dental work is expensive, painful and time consuming, and healthy teeth and gums are supremely important to your overall health – it’s really not just cosmetic. If you want your teeth to last into your twilight years you have to take care of them and in addition to brushing, flossing, getting regular check ups, it also means avoiding habits that speed up damage – of which, frequent overeating, is one.
Check out this article from Sept 15, 1948 in the Chicago Tribune. It’s old news that overeating is bad for your teeth (and apparently we should remember to take off our lipstick before we go to the dentist – haha!).
Gastrointestinal Upset and Disorders
If you’ve ever overeaten to the point where you need to go put on a pair of comfy sweatpants to allow for the expansion of your belly, then you know what it feels like to have your digestive system at maximum capacity! You may have experienced gas, cramps or even heartburn (that one can also affect your teeth as mentioned above). It doesn’t feel good!
Overeating once in awhile is normal and it isn’t a big deal but when we overeat on a regular basis, we’re putting extra stress on the organs in our digestive system – stomach, gallbladder, intestines, liver, kidneys etc. They work hard each day to digest and process our food and waste so that we have energy and all systems in our body receive the nutrients they need, but when you fill up your stomach with a ton of food at one time, and do it repeatedly, everything gets clogged up. Tired. Slows down. Can’t keep up. Chronic overeating can increase your risk of constipation, diarrhea, gallbladder disease, diverticulitis, pancreatitis and in some cases, cause the stomach to rupture.
One of the first places we “feel” things whether intuitively or physically is in the gut. Overeaters tend to override those signals because of the comfort eating gives us. Tune back into your body – if you are feeling frequent discomfort in your gut, it’s trying to tell you something. Don’t ignore this stuff.
Deficient in important nutrients
What? I know it sounds a little crazy but it can be a real issue. You’d think that if you’re consuming large quantities of food that you’d be consuming all the vitamins and minerals that you need but think about the foods that most people binge on – sweets, fried food, crunchy processed junk food etc – high sources of calories but low nutritional content. When we overeat, we overeat chips, cookies, candy, breads, cakes. No one is overeating lettuce, carrots and pomegranate seeds!
Heavily processed foods are usually lacking in important phytonutrients (flavonoids, chlorophyll, carotenoids etc) because the high heat or high chemical processing they go through destroys them. If you are consuming a lot of these processed foods in favor of fresh food, you’re not going to get valuable nutrients that can help protect you from disease.
This is not just a problem for those of us in the US. Even in places New Zealand and Brazil they are noticing the effects of low nutrient content and the wide availability of heavily refined products. Increase the amount of colors you eat in your daily diet and you’ll get a wider range of nutrients (and I’m not talking about colors provided by food coloring).
Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is a condition where the liver accumulates excess fat which in severe cases can cause inflammation, scarring and in serious even liver failure. Doctors aren’t 100% sure what causes NAFLD but we do know that risk factors include obesity and many conditions that can be triggered by obesity. Overeating is a behavior associated with the disease.
By no means am I suggesting that if you have gallbladder disease, NAFLD, GERD or anything else that I mentioned here that you must be a secret binge-eater. And no, I don’t assume that if you’re overweight that you are doing these things either (people of all sizes struggle with this shit). Obviously there are MANY causes for all of these conditions – but if you stay on the overeating path long enough you majorly increase your risk of all sorts of complications.
What would motivate you to change? Is is something on the outside – your appearance or weight? Is it health worries like I talk about here (and something that motivated me)? Is it the internal stuff, like feeling confident in your skin and being at peace with your choices? Is it having more energy? Sleeping better? Not being in so much physical or emotional pain? Only you know what that pain point is for you.
For me, I couldn’t sleep at night because I was worrying so badly about my health. I needed a reality check to finally make changes – maybe you do too.
This isn’t to fat shame you. I believe some people are overweight, healthy and not doing things to harm their health. But you’re not healthy if you are overeating frequently regardless of your size.
Where do you begin? Baby steps. What is one healthy thing you can do for yourself today? Here are a couple of ideas to get you started.