As the holiday season approaches, many of us eagerly anticipate the delicious and bountiful feasts that come with it. Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate gratitude, spend quality moments with loved ones, and indulge in a hearty meal. But this beloved holiday often leads to a less enjoyable Thanksgiving tradition: overeating.
Overeating at any holiday meal can leave you feeling uncomfortably full and dealing with the all-too-familiar stomach pain. In this article, we’ll provide tips for alleviating stomach pain resulting from overeating and ways to prevent it in the first place.
What Is Overeating?
Overeating is simply consuming more food than the body needs at any given time. Several scenarios might lead to overeating, but it often occurs when you ignore your natural hunger and fullness cues. External factors like stress or the abundance of delicious food on holidays like Thanksgiving often drive overeating.
Overeating significantly impacts the digestive system. When you eat too much food quickly, your digestive system must work overtime to process everything. This can lead to a range of uncomfortable symptoms, including bloating, gas, acid reflux, and stomach pain. The digestive process becomes less efficient when you overeat, and it can take longer for your body to break down the excess food.
Overeating can also lead to the release of excessive stomach acid, which can contribute to heartburn and dyspepsia, also known as indigestion. It can also stretch the stomach beyond its comfortable capacity, causing discomfort and that all-too-familiar "stuffed" feeling.
Causes of Overeating
Overeating can be triggered by many things, both physical and psychological. Some of the most common causes include:
Many people turn to food to cope with stress, sadness, or other emotions. The holiday season can be a particularly difficult time for many people, so Thanksgiving can be a prime time for emotional eating.
Social and Cultural Influences
The social nature of Thanksgiving often encourages large feasts, decadent dishes, and multiple servings, making it easy to overindulge in the spirit of the holiday.
Eating without paying attention to portion sizes or the sensation of fullness can lead to overeating. Thanksgiving often involves buffets and family-style meals, making it easier to consume more food than intended.
Food Variety & Availability of Food
There is no shortage of delicious food during the holiday, and this can be a cause of overeating in itself. When food is readily available and accessible, it's easy to continue eating beyond satiety.
Pressure to Finish Food
Social pressure to finish what's on your plate can lead to overeating, particularly if you're a guest at someone else's Thanksgiving celebration. Well-meaning family members pushing you to eat more can result in a sense of obligation, causing you to guiltily eat well past the point of comfortable fullness.
Several eating disorders can lead to overeating or episodes of excessive food consumption. Some of the most common eating disorders that involve overeating are binge eating disorder (BED), night eating syndrome (NES), bulimia nervosa (BN), and compulsive overeating/binge eating as a response to emotional distress.1,2
Eating a supersized meal can cause many uncomfortable symptoms, which may include:
Overeating causes the stomach to expand, leading to a feeling of fullness and tightness in the abdomen. Bloating can be accompanied by visible swelling and discomfort.
Eating too much can result in increased gas production in the digestive system. This can lead to belching, flatulence, and abdominal discomfort.
Overeating can trigger the release of excess stomach acid, leading to a burning sensation in the chest and throat, often referred to as heartburn. Over time, continued overeating can lead to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
- Upset stomach
The stretching of the stomach and delayed gastric emptying can lead to stomach pain, cramping, and discomfort.
The energy required to digest excess food can make you tired and lethargic. After a large Thanksgiving meal, many people experience a post-feast slump due to overeating.
How to Relieve Stomach Pain and Help Digestion: 8 Tips
- Practice self-compassion
The first thing you need to do after overeating is challenge any negative thoughts of guilt or shame you may be having. Beating yourself up isn’t going to make you feel any better, and it’s not going to improve your digestion. If anything, it will make your physical discomfort worse.
- Change into comfortable clothing
If you’re wearing clothing that is too tight, time for a wardrobe change. Put on some loose, comfy clothing that doesn’t feel constricting. The more physically restricted you feel, the more uncomfortable and less relaxed you’ll feel, which means your GI system will end up feeling even more stressed.
- Move your body with a walk
Taking a gentle walk after eating can help stimulate digestion. It encourages the movement of food through the digestive tract, reducing the sensation of fullness, bloating, and discomfort. Walking after eating also helps to reduce blood sugar.4
- Avoid lying down
Even though you’re feeling post-feast fatigue, resist the urge to lie down immediately after a big meal. This can put added pressure on the stomach and make heartburn and indigestion worse. Instead, stay upright or sit in a comfortable, supportive chair.
- Sip on some tea
You may think drinking water will help digestion, but drinking too much water when you’re already miserably full will make you feel more bloated. Instead, sip on some herbal tea.
Peppermint, chamomile, cinnamon, and ginger tea can help soothe digestive discomfort. They have natural anti-inflammatory and calming properties that aid digestion.5
- Use Digestive Enzyme Supplements
Over-the-counter digestive enzyme supplements can provide temporary relief. These enzymes assist in breaking down food, making it easier for your body to digest.
The above tips are safe and effective ways to relieve bloating. Avoid using over-the-counter (OTC) laxatives or other drastic measures to promote weight loss and reduce bloating.
How to Avoid Overeating
Preventing overeating during the Thanksgiving holiday can help you enjoy the feast without the discomfort that often follows. Here are some tips to help you maintain control over your eating:
- Don’t skip meals
Many people skip breakfast and lunch to leave room for a huge Thanksgiving dinner, but waiting all day to eat just increases the likelihood that you will eat too quickly and too much. Eat a small breakfast and small lunch, and don’t arrive at the dinner table completely ravenous.
- Control your portions
Opt for a smaller plate to help control portion sizes. A fuller plate with smaller servings can give the illusion of a substantial meal without overeating.
Serve yourself smaller portions initially and wait a while before getting seconds. This allows time for your body to register fullness.
- Drink water
Drinking water before and during your meal can help you feel full and satisfied, reducing the temptation to overindulge in high-calorie dishes.
- Choose veggies
Load your plate with nonstarchy vegetables, leaving less room for heavier dishes. Nonstarchy vegetables are lower in calories, high in fiber, and can help curb your appetite.
- Limit alcohol
Alcohol can lower inhibitions and lead to overeating. Limit your alcohol intake, and consider alternating with water to stay hydrated and in control. Choose lighter, lower-calorie alcoholic beverages if you decide to drink.
- Pace yourself
Savor each bite and chew your food thoroughly. Eating slowly allows your body to signal fullness more effectively, reducing the chances of overeating.
- Choose your favorites
Choose your favorite dishes and skip the ones you don’t. Instead of sampling everything, focus on what you truly love.
- Practice gratitude
Remember the true spirit of Thanksgiving, which is about gratitude and spending time with loved ones. Take moments to reflect on what you're thankful for and savor the experience.
Can you gain weight from overeating?
One day of overeating isn’t likely to cause true weight gain. You may be a little heavier on the scale the next day due to increased sodium and carbohydrate intake, which causes water retention. The likelihood of gaining body fat from one day of overeating is slim.
When overeating becomes a chronic habit, it can lead to weight gain. Consuming an excess of calories regularly will result in an increase in body fat over time. A long-term pattern of overeating poses a risk to your weight and overall health.3
How long do overeating symptoms last?
The duration of overeating symptoms can vary from person to person and depends on the severity of overindulgence. Mild symptoms like bloating and discomfort may subside within a few hours to a day as the body processes the excess food.
More severe symptoms such as indigestion, heartburn, or abdominal pain may last longer, potentially a day or more. Taking steps to aid digestion and alleviate discomfort, as mentioned earlier in this article, can help shorten the duration of these symptoms.
Can overeating cause vomiting?
Overeating can potentially lead to vomiting, particularly if the stomach becomes overly distended or if you've consumed an excessive amount of food. If you feel nauseated after overeating, listen to your body and rest to alleviate discomfort without forcing yourself to vomit.
Can overeating lead to serious health issues?
While occasional overeating during events like Thanksgiving is unlikely to cause severe health issues, chronic overeating can have long-term consequences.
Repeated overindulgence can contribute to weight gain, obesity, and related health problems such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure. It can also strain your digestive system, potentially leading to gastrointestinal issues like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and constipation.3
Aim to find a balance between enjoying special occasions and maintaining a healthy, balanced diet to prevent these serious health concerns.
Learn More About Healthy Nutrition and Digestion with Signos’ Expert Advice
Good eating habits can reduce the risk of gastrointestinal problems and help maintain a healthy gut microbiome, which is crucial for digestion and overall well-being.
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Topics discussed in this article:
- Iqbal, A., & Rehman, A. (2022). Binge Eating Disorder. In StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing.
- Balasundaram, P., & Santhanam, P. (2023). Eating Disorders. In StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing.
- Prentice A. M. (2001). Overeating: the health risks. Obesity research, 9 Suppl 4, 234S–238S. https://doi.org/10.1038/oby.2001.124
- Engeroff, T., Groneberg, D. A., & Wilke, J. (2023). After Dinner Rest a While, After Supper Walk a Mile? A Systematic Review with Meta-analysis on the Acute Postprandial Glycemic Response to Exercise Before and After Meal Ingestion in Healthy Subjects and Patients with Impaired Glucose Tolerance. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 53(4), 849–869. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-022-01808-7
- McKay, D. L., & Blumberg, J. B. (2006). A review of the bioactivity and potential health benefits of peppermint tea (Mentha piperita L.). Phytotherapy research : PTR, 20(8), 619–633. https://doi.org/10.1002/ptr.1936