Some research has shown that overeating may be caused by the neurotransmitter Dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical that helps us feel pleasure, thus when we eat, we often feel a slight high. This system causes us to want to seek out food and eat at regular intervals so we stand a better chance of gaining a full range of nutrition, thus have a better chance of surviving.
The Effect of Overeating on Dopamine Levels
Research into the dopamine system has also shown that when we overeat, dopamine receptors are slightly depleted in the brain. In fact, many obese patients who have previously had trouble cutting down on food show strong evidence of Dopamine receptor depletion.
If there are fewer Dopamine receptors in the brain, a person would have to eat more just to get that same good feeling. This means:
- The more the person eats the greater the reduction of receptor sites, and this causes them to take greater amounts of food for the same feeling.
Resisting temptation goes a long way toward keeping those receptors active, which is why slimmer people may be satisfied after eating a bite of cheesecake, rather than a whole slice.
This gives credit to the argument that individuals can, in fact, have an addiction to food. It is a condition that needs to be treated like any other addiction, through counselling, education, and constant monitoring. Unfortunately, individuals addicted to food have to regain control of their eating habits while continuing to face food everyday.
Processes in your body when you eat too much
Saying that you are stuffed is not just a figure of speech, when you eat too much at once, you are stretching your stomach beyond its normal capacity. When you pull up to the table, your stomach is somewhere around the size of your closed fist. Before you start shoveling it in, take a look at the food on your plate, as compared to the size of your clenched hand.
Overextending your stomach’s capacity repeatedly through overeating not only causes considerable discomfort in the short term, it can compromise your health in the long run. If you recognize any of the following symptoms, you are probably eating too much in one sitting!
- Shortness of breath after eating
Gorging yourself at mealtimes causes your stomach to become distended, forcing it upward against your diaphragm and lungs. Your stomach can expand up to three times its size after a large meal, causing you to have difficulty catching your breath until your stomach once again recedes to its normal size.
- Belching and/or nausea
When you eat too much, not all of the food you swallow can make it to the stomach right away. This causes a backup in your esophagus which leads to frequent burping, and occasionally, feelings of nausea – not the ideal end to a delicious meal.
Eating too much at once makes it difficult for the valve at the top of your stomach to close properly, permitting digestive fluids to back up into your esophagus and causing acid reflux. This condition causes severe discomfort; if it happens on a regular basis, you can sustain damage to the delicate tissue lining your esophagus. In some cases, this can lead to esophageal cancer.
- Food coma
It is fairly common to feel sleepy a short time after eating a large meal. While this is in part due to brain chemistry, the so-called “food coma” is also directly related to the energy expenditure needed to digest an overdose of food. The stomach and intestines are hard-put to process and distribute all of the nutrients they have received; this causes an energy drain on the rest of your system that leaves you yawning and yearning for a nap.
While it can be tempting to eat big at family dinners and holiday gatherings, a little common sense can help you overcome the urge to gobble as much as you can:
- Try drinking a glass of water before you sit down to eat, it will fill up some of the space so that you feel full sooner, without causing all of the nasty effects described here.
- Eat smaller, more frequent meals.
- Try sampling small amounts of the foods you enjoy, rather than loading up your plate two or three times.