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What Happens to Your Body When You Binge?
Plus tips on how to prevent future binges.

The binge starts...
The binge starts...

Overeating is a common holiday theme. All too often we fill ourselves with extra treats and special foods while rationalizing the indulgence because, "it's a special occasion." Birthdays, anniversaries and holidays all become justifications. Is it really that bad? Here's what a binge does to your body.

The first effect is the stretching of your stomach. The stomach of a typical adult can hold about one liter of chewed up food. But if you eat fast, it can take a while for your brain to acknowledge you're full. In that case, if you keep going, your stomach is capable of expanding up to four times larger over the course of a single meal.

Overeating once or twice a year generally won't make much of a difference. But if it becomes a habit, eventually your stomach stretches out permanently. As it expands, it takes even more food to make you feel full. Over time it becomes a vicious cycle of overeating just so you're not hungry.

Hormones spin out of control. Too much food causes blood sugar levels to fluctuate, triggering a sharp rise in insulin. Your body is trying to convert all the excess sugar into fat. That causes spikes in your energy and leads to long-term fatigue. Constant fluctuations in energy tell your brain to eat more, increasing the likelihood of greater weight gain.

Heartburn strikes when a full stomach puts pressure on the ring of muscle that keeps stomach acids from going the wrong way. If the meal is heavy in fat, it takes longer to digest, producing even more stomach acid. That increases the chances that the contents of your stomach and all that acid can seep back into your throat.

Short-term you experience a burning sensation and it can cause some people to vomit. Long-term and repeated binges can damage the lining of the throat, weaken your teeth and deteriorate your gums from exposure to all the stomach acid.

Depression and other negative emotions typically kick in at this point. You might feel anxious or worried because you're not living up to the standards you've set for yourself. Sad because a binge can stall or even reverse the progress that's been made. Some people get angry and increase other self-destructive behaviors. These feelings also often lead to additional binges.

You can change. To stop a repeat of the binge, try some of these suggestions. 

Don't punish yourself or pile on the guilt. Slip-ups happen and feeling bad about it won't solve the problem. Accept what you did and make a verbal pledge to move forward. Repeat this out loud. "I accept that I just had a binge. That's now in the past. I am moving forward with healthier choices."

Once you've binged, go back to regular mealtimes. Prepare fruits and vegetables for snacks. You may be tempted to skip meals or starve yourself after a binge, but that doesn't work. You just end up hungry again in a few hours and it's easy to fall right back into another binge.

Concentrate on something other than food. Get out of the house for a bike ride. Walk a dog. Take a class. Go sledding or head to the beach. Step away from your refrigerator and get out of the kitchen so you're not still obsessing about the food inside.

Drink plenty of water. Even if you're full, it can fight the bloat caused by gas and it helps aid your digestion.

Look at your behavior and ask if you've got a pattern of repeatedly bingeing. If you do, consider talking to a mental health professional about underlying physical or emotional issues that may be causing the problem.

You don't have to deal with this alone. Reach out to friends and family. Talk about what you're going through. Problems can seem insurmountable when hidden, but often become much more manageable when exposed to the light. Take steps today to feel better tomorrow.

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CAUTION: Check with your doctor before
beginning any diet or exercise program.