Overeating, or eating even after you’re full, is fairly common. We overeat at parties, family gatherings and holidays. But overeating can also contribute to obesity and the development of eating disorders.


What is overeating?

Overeating is eating past the point of fullness. When we overeat, we eat even though we aren’t hungry. If it becomes a habit, overeating can lead to weight gain and eating disorders. But overeating isn’t binge eating disorder.

Overeating is very common, and it’s biological. When you’re stressed, your body makes more of a hormone called cortisol. Increased cortisol is a fight-or-flight response that, among other things, tells you it’s time to find food. It can make you crave foods high in sugar, fat or salt.

There are other factors at play here, too. How fast you eat, what you eat, when you eat and what you’re doing while you eat can all contribute to overeating.

Occasional overeating can cause stomach pain and indigestion, alter how your body regulates hunger and contribute to weight gain.


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Symptoms and Causes

What are the symptoms of overeating?

When you overeat, you may feel:

You may also have these symptoms for other reasons, not just overeating. If these symptoms last more than a day or so, they may not be related to overeating. If they get worse or last for a week, contact a healthcare provider.

How long will the symptoms last?

The discomfort from overeating should start to get better a few hours later. Getting some exercise and drinking water may help you feel better faster.

How do you know when you’ve overeaten?

Overeating is eating past the point of fullness. But while you’re eating, it can be hard to tell when to stop, especially if you eat quickly or are busy with other things.

Typically, your body regulates hunger with hormonal signals. If it’s been a while since you last ate, your levels of a hormone called ghrelin rise, which makes you hungry. After you eat, the hormone leptin tells you you’re full.

Overeating overrides these signals. This disrupts the balance of the hormones that regulate our hunger and makes us more likely to eat for pleasure instead of energy.

You might not notice you’ve been overeating for about 20 minutes or so after you stop eating. Then, you may feel tired or have an upset stomach.

What causes overeating?

There are many causes of overeating, some related to the foods themselves, and others related to why or when we’re eating. Causes of overeating include:

  • Emotional eating. You’re more likely to eat in times of stress, or if you’re in a bad mood, tired, bored or sad. Eating causes your brain to release endorphins, which are feel-good hormones. So, eating feels good for a lot of people. It’s something we can do when we feel overwhelmed or burnt out. When we eat because it feels good, and not necessarily because we’re hungry, we’re more likely to overeat.
  • Preferred foods. It can be hard to stop eating foods you love. Foods like French fries, pizza, chocolate and ice cream are common foods to overeat.
  • Highly processed foods. Processing and added flavors encourage you to eat for pleasure and to keep eating even when you’re not hungry.
  • Time of day. Overeating is common in the evenings when you’re more likely to eat because it feels good and not just because your body needs the energy.
  • Social situations. We gather around food a lot — on holidays, for sporting events and to connect with family and friends. In social situations, you may be more distracted, nervous or feel pressure to eat while everyone else is eating, even if you’re no longer hungry.
  • Large portions. When you’re at a restaurant or eating buffet- or family-style, you’re more likely to eat larger portions.
  • Certain medications can make you less likely to know when you’re full. Talk with your healthcare provider if you notice overeating after a medication change.
  • Medical conditions. Some medical conditions can contribute to overeating, including premenstrual syndrome, atypical depression, anxiety, Prader-Willi syndrome (PWS) and Kleine-Levin syndrome.


Management and Treatment

What should I do after overeating?

If you overeat, feeling shame or blaming yourself won’t help you feel better. Remember that overeating is common. You might feel bad for a few hours and it’s important to be kind to yourself while your digestive system works. There are some things you can do to help your body digest your meal and get you back on track. For example:

  • Take a walk. Getting moderate exercise can help reduce gas and regulate your blood sugar.
  • Stay hydrated. Your digestive system will need more water to process the extra load.
  • Herbal teas, like peppermint, chamomile and ginger can help with digestion and reduce gas.
  • Taking an over-the-counter antacid may help relieve heartburn or indigestion.

Complications/side effects of antacids

Possible side effects of antacids include:

  • Constipation.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Changes in the color of your poop.
  • Stomach cramps.


How can I avoid overeating?

Although occasional overeating is common, it can change how your body regulates hunger and lead to unwanted weight gain. One of the main reasons we overeat is because it feels good. So, doing more things that make you feel good that aren’t eating may help. Practice good self-care: Move your body, get enough (but not too much) sleep and limit social media.

Other things that may help you stop overeating include:

  • Limit alcohol consumption. We eat more when we’re drinking. Cutting back may help.
  • Avoid salty foods, which can increase your desire for sweets.
  • Fill your plate with vegetables, which contain more fiber and will slow down your eating.
  • Manage your stress levels. Stress hormones can override hunger and fullness hormones.
  • Eat slowly. If you take your time, you may notice you’re full before you finish your plate.
  • Eat mindfully. Know your triggers and motives for eating.
  • Get regular exercise. Exercise is an alternative source of endorphins.
  • Plan your holiday celebrations earlier in the day,when you’re less likely to overeat.


Additional Common Questions

Can overeating make you sick?

Yes, overeating can lead to nausea and vomiting.

Will overeating cause weight gain?

Overeating once or twice a year shouldn’t cause lasting weight gain. But if overeating becomes a pattern, then it will. When you feel discomfort from overeating, be gentle with yourself. Get some light exercise and drink some water. And don’t drastically reduce your caloric intake the next day. Eat — mindfully — when you’re hungry.

Why does overeating make you feel tired?

Overeating makes your body work harder and redirects blood flow away from other organs to your busy digestive system. This can make you feel tired or sluggish. The foods we’re more likely to overeat also tend to be higher in carbohydrates, which can cause a sugar rush followed by a sugar crash.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

If you find yourself overeating more than once per week for a few months, it might help to discuss your symptoms and eating behaviors with a healthcare provider.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Everyone overeats from time to time. Be kind to yourself. It may help to understand why you eat and what happens in your body when you eat (and overeat). Getting some exercise and drinking water should help relieve the discomfort. While occasional overeating is OK, if you overeat more often, you may gain weight or develop chronic conditions. If you find yourself overeating regularly, reach out to a healthcare provider.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 02/07/2023.

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