It’s possible that holiday patterns of overindulgence can actually predispose the body to develop patterns of ongoing overeating. Overeating causes biological changes in the body that can lead to more food cravings, disrupt food and sleep cycles, and cause your stomach to send mixed signals about when it’s actually full.
Metabolic and hormonal processes go into overdrive when we overeat. The body attempts to cope with excessive food intake by producing extra insulin, triggering a cycle where blood sugar levels are negatively affected and cravings for high sugar, high carbohydrate foods result. For some, this vicious cycle can create a sense of “sugar addiction” or feeling out of control with food.
Overeating and high fat diets may also affect our internally regulated patterns of eating and sleep. Dr. Joe Bass, an endocrinologist and molecular biologist at Northwestern University, has studied the effects of eating patterns on the body clocks of mice. Mice who are overfed show changes in their body clocks, which regulate sleep and eating. In his research, mice who were fed a high fat diet actually began waking up during the night to eat. This extra food consumption led to weight gain. Bass hypothesizes that people who eat lower fat diets may sleep better and may be less predisposed to night time binge eating.
Finally, we know that overeating can affect the body’s ability to identify fullness or satiety. Consistent overeating triggers changes in the part of the stomach that sends signals to the brain indicating that the stomach is full. According to Dr. Sasha Stiles, a specialist in obesity at Tufts Medical Center, “When you overeat time and time again, this electrical conduit pathway gets tired and it doesn’t tell your brain that you’re full anymore. It may send abnormal signals and you may not even realize you’re full.”
What’s an over-indulger to do?
• First of all—don’t panic. Knowledge is power. Acknowledging that your body might be going a bit haywire after a few weeks (or more) of overindulgence is an important first step.
• Focusing on a lower fat, low sugar balanced diet will help. Be patient with yourself and know that overeating and sugary high fat food choices may actually have impacted your cravings. Over time, with changes in your diet, these cravings will change.
• This is a time to become a real listener to your body. Pay attention to what signals your body sends you about hunger. Notice what you eat and how your body responds. By paying attention to what you eat AND to how your body feels, you will grow more skilled and more confident at knowing how and when to feed yourself.
Take good care,