Your Body on a Binge
Everyone, at one point or another, falls victim to binge eating or overeating. Whether it's at a tailgate, a friend's party, or just a random Friday night binge eating can lead to a number of dangerous physiological changes within your body. Often, you feel the acute affects of overeating long after the meal is done. Knowing what happens, and how to avoid it, may help you avoid taking that third (or fourth) serving next time you find yourself in that situation.
Whenever you eat, your body releases insulin from the pancreas. Insulin is a hormone designed to help shuttle carbohydrates into muscle and liver cells and fat into fat cells. Normally this occurs smoothly, with the carbohydrates in your food being metabolized or stored as necessary to provide energy and maintain healthy blood sugar levels.
However, when you overeat your pancreas responds in-kind, producing extreme levels of insulin. The hyperactive pancreas is then unable to dial-down the insulin properly once the food has been metabolized. Extra insulin continues to shuttle glucose out of the blood stream even after blood sugar levels have returned to level. This leads to a hypo-glycemia, or low blood sugar. As a result, you'll begin to feel lethargic, tired, and (worst of all) hungry.
The Insulin Rollercoaster
The Spin Cycle
Dreaming of Food
Once your blood sugar bottoms out, your body naturally responds by sending signals of hunger to your brain. The quickest way to raise blood sugar is through simple sugars, and as a result we often turn to high-sugar junk food. Like the initial binge, this quick-fix of simple sugars triggers a release of more insulin and starts the cycle over again. Furthermore, this feeling of hunger is not true hunger - your body is not in need of calories. As such, whatever you consume as a result of this cycle will be stored as excess fat only adding to the extra calories you consumed in the initial binge.
Along with sugar and fat, a lot of binge eating involves extremely high levels of salt. Research suggests that over-consuming salt in a meal leads to a near-immediate hardening of arterial walls. This response decreases your body's ability to vasodilate, leading to higher blood pressure. If you are one of the millions of Americans already battling hypertension, diabetes, or heart disease this response will put you even further at risk of an acute attack (i.e. heart attack).
Overeating high-fat meals has also been shown to decrease sleep quality later that night. The body struggles to process the binge meal for hours after consumption, which can cause people to wake up periodically during the night craving more food. Not only does this disrupt your night, but poor sleep can contribute to overeating in the morning as well continuing the cycle.
We have all experienced the feeling of satiety and comfort after eating a good meal. This feeling is primarily caused by the release of the hormone dopamine. The majority of the time, dopamine is a harmless chemical that boosts our mood and helps us get through the day. However, dopamine is also the hormone commonly associated with drug addiction. The addictive properties of dopamine highs can be seen in chronic binge-eating. In a sense, the dopamine response triggered by a large meal in your stomach can cause your body to react the same as a drug addict reacts to a dose of hard drugs.
What may be even more troubling, however, is that some studies show chronic overeating can lead to a decrease in your body's number of dopamine receptors. This means that you will feel less happy in general as your body loses its capacity to sense dopamine and in order to feel more pleasure, you will have to consume even more of your trigger (in this case food).
Your Gut on Drugs
As you can see, overeating can lead to a slew of health problems. The five listed above are just the beginning. Binge eating has been linked to many other things, including depression, dizziness, and nausea. The take-away? Keep your portion sizes in mind whenever you find yourself in a situation where overeating is possible. Let your hunger and your energy dictate your meals - not the size of the spread at the party.