There are a few temporary side effects of occasional overindulging, including abdominal bloating, a feeling of fullness in the stomach, acid reflux, and sometimes feelings of guilt, deprecating self-talk, or other negative thoughts and/or behaviours. Since all individuals are different, some may experience more adverse digestive and mental-emotional symptoms, whereas others may experience no after-effects whatsoever.
But what happens to the body when overindulgence occurs on a regular basis?
First, there often is a shift in hormonal signaling. Excess overeating may in fact trigger changes in the brain, disrupting the dopamine reward system pathway. Since dopamine is released during pleasurable activities, such as eating, overeating may rewire the brain’s reward circuitry, requiring more and more food to achieve the same levels of pleasure.(1)
Other hormones play key roles during eating and can potentially lead to overindulgence. Ghrelin, a hormone produced by the stomach otherwise known as the “hunger hormone,” drives the feeling of ravenous hunger. In the case of overindulgence, ghrelin and/or its partner leptin – the hormone responsible for satiety – may be imbalanced, causing a constant feeling of hunger despite eating adequate amounts of food.(2)
Factors other than hormones influence overindulgence.
Chronic lack of sleep, lifestyle habits such as sedentarism and lack of exercise, and food choice can all contribute to excessive over-eating.
Psychological triggers such as stress, anxiety, or depression can be triggers for chronic overindulging.
Alcoholic influence may be another trigger for reaching for extra portions or sweets.
Regardless of the type of food involved in the overindulgence, there is a commonality among them: they are a compensatory behaviour for dealing with negative emotions that are not rational or healthy.
Try mindfulness exercises. When overindulgence is related to compulsive behaviour, it’s important to develop a better understanding of the feelings that lead to these behaviours. Mindfulness meditation and journaling are two great exercises that may help uncover the automatic thoughts involved in precipitating overindulgence.
Create and follow a healthy meal plan. Establishing a regular pattern of eating can help curb cravings and may reduce the need to overindulge when, say, you have been working all day and forgot to eat.
Clean out your cupboards. Not only is it important to identify food temptations, it is also equally important to rid of them from your house.
Exercise. Physical activity releases powerful feel-good neurochemicals like endorphins. Endorphins can affect the reward system pathway, altering mood, and potentially mitigate some of the negative self-talk and feelings that lead to overindulgence (3).
Anxiety frequently co-occurs with chronic overeating and overindulgence. For individuals who struggle with anxiety, nervousness, and insomnia, Passiflora is an excellent herbal tincture that helps reduce anxiety, nervousness, and irritability.
Since the liver and gallbladder play integral roles in digestion, including bile production and detoxification, supporting these organs during times of overindulgence can aid digestion and absorption. Boldocynara contains herbs that encourage liver and gallbladder function to gently increase bile secretion and improve fat absorption needed for digestion of heavy meals.
When it comes to overindulgence, it is important to work with your primary healthcare practitioner to find a treatment plan that enables you to maintain a healthy relationship with food and a balanced lifestyle.