Eat, drink and be merry? The doctor says “no”

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The festive season is on us and with that goes excesses. Excesses in demands on our minds, bodies and wallets. This time of year is especially hard on our bodies as we brave year-end functions, buffets and Christmas dinners. But what effect does all this overeating have on us and what can you do to mitigate the effects?

Most of us have the occasional cheat meal, and that’s fine—if you stick to one meal. When you continuously overeat, you are going to feel the effects. And quickly. Ilyse Schapiro, R.D., C.D.N. says: “If you’re healthy, occasionally overeating won’t kill you. But regularly overeating, or overeating for an extended period—such as a week or more—may cause changes in health and body composition”. Here are some ways you can be affected:

It may round out your six-pack

One day of overeating may not do it, but after a few days, you are going to start seeing the effects. The rule of thumb is that for every 3,500 calories you over-consume, you’ll gain a pound of fat. If you consume 7,000 excess calories, you’ll gain two pounds of fat, and so on.

Overeating nudges you closer to diabetes

The extra fat that comes about because of overeating does more than make your favourite jeans feel tight. Overeating, even if just for a few days, can trigger insulin resistance – the precursor for diabetes. Insulin resistance occurs when cells are unable to convert blood glucose into energy.

It disrupts the “full feeling”

If overeating becomes your new normal, your body will stop producing hormones that help regulate appetite and weight – e.g. uroguanylin, a chemical produced in the gut that tells your brain you’ve eaten enough. It also disorders your perception of when you’ve eaten enough and – like a drug – it takes more and more to feel satiated.

You will feel tired all the time

Overeating before bedtime is a problem because your body needs to shut down for proper sleep but if it has food to digest you will not sleep properly. This sets off a vicious cycle because if you don’t get a good night’s sleep your hunger hormones are altered again, which can trigger bouts of overeating.

Stresses your cardiovascular system

After a large, fatty meal the body is flooded with insulin, which makes it more difficult for the coronary arteries to relax. Eating large amounts can also trigger the release of the stress hormone norepinephrine, which increases heart rate and blood pressure. These reactions together can cause a blood clot, which could block a blood vessel and that in turn could lead to a heart attack or stroke. The risk of having a heart attack jumps to four times the normal rate in the two hours following a large meal.

Prevent or undo overeating damage

Relax

Don’t beat yourself up. One over the top meal is not the end of the world. Also, too much guilt about eating habits can lead you to deny yourself. This can make you feel deprived and then cause you to binge again in an unhealthy cycle. Instead, decide what you’ll do differently in the future, especially in the days that follow.

Keep to the not twice rule

The not twice rule states that you will not do anyone “wrong” thing twice in a row. For example, do not miss more than one workout. In this case, it’s do not have more than one “bad” meal right after the other. So, enjoy that year-end function lunch but follow it up with a healthy dinner. Take it one day at a time, and you’ll be fine!

Take a Walk

A leisurely walk will help stimulate your digestion and even out your blood sugar levels. Alternatively, go for a bike ride instead. However, don’t overdo it. A real workout could send the blood to your legs instead of your stomach, which could slow digestion.

Fill up with fruits, vegetables and whole grains

To get back on track with feeling full after a normal serving of food, add more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains back into your diet. This will help offset the unhealthy food that has been consumed while still helping you meet caloric needs and so minimising the effects of overeating.