Mercy's Dr. Susan Besser Discusses What Happens To Your Body When You Overeat

December 1, 2017
Mercy Personal Physicians at Overlea - Overlea, MD

Dr. Susan Besser, responding to a query from, responded to questions for a story concerning what happens to your body when you eat too much. Dr. Besser is a primary care provider specializing in Family Medicine and sees patients at Mercy Personal Physicians at Overlea.

What happens to your body when you've eaten too much?

Overeating is uncomfortable- we all know that. But why? On a purely mechanical level, your stomach is distended (swollen) when you over eat. There is a limited amount of room in there and it doesn’t like being stretched beyond its normal capacity. In order to correct that problem, the stomach tries to move the food out- as quickly as possible. It may try to move the food back up where it came from- especially in people with reflux issues. Or the stomach may try to “dump” the food down into the intestine quickly- even before the usual digestive process is complete. 

Let me explain a bit about these two statements. Starting from the top- literally- when you eat, food goes down the esophagus (swallowing tube) into the stomach.  Where the esophagus and stomach connect there is a “door(valve)”. It’s supposed to be one-way food goes down but not back up. If, however, you overeat that valve gets stretched a little and food can go back up. In addition to food going back up, some of the digestive juices made in the stomach go with the food into the esophagus.  These digestive juices are acidic- so they burn! (The esophagus lining isn’t protected like the inside of the stomach so it “feels the burn”). That’s what causes the heartburn after a big meal. 

On the bottom end of the stomach is another doorway leading to the small intestines. Once again, too much food in there has to go somewhere so down it goes. Unfortunately, if the food gets into the small intestines before the digestive process going on in the stomach is completed, the small intestine can’t handle it well and just moves the food and stomach acids rapidly through. That leads to dumping also known as diarrhea (and usually with some cramping too). 

What should you do next? Lie down, exercise, drink water, something else?

What to do next? Don’t lie down- that will make the heartburn worse (gravity is helping keep food from going “uphill” into the esophagus, but if you lie down- no gravity assist). You can recline somewhat but not completely flat. No vigorous exercise either- exercise signals the body to focus on the muscles not on the intestines, so the intestinal activity will slow down leaving all that food sitting in there causing cramping. On the other hand, a nice walk would help- it increases the metabolism (slightly) and aids digestion. No water or other food or drink either- it just swells the stomach more. You can try an over the counter antacid if you are feeling burning or pain to help counteract the acidity of the stomach contents. There really isn’t any other great medication to counteract the overeating blues. 

What foods should you avoid the rest of that day, or the day after?

Basically, just eat lightly the rest of the day- if at all. You will need to drink water later in the day, so you don’t get dehydrated. But probably you can skip eating for the rest of the day. Next day- stay hydrated and eat moderately but you don’t need to avoid anything (unless a certain food makes you feel ill). 

Are there any safe at-home remedies you can take advantage of to feel better? Or OTC meds?

Unfortunately there aren’t any great “overeating” medications. As I said, you can try an antacid or antigas medication- all over the counter and lots of brands to choose from. Remember, it’s a lot better for you not to overeat in the first place- MODERATION is the key. You can still enjoy your favorites-just understand mostly you are eating for craving, not nutrition. Craving relief only requires a few bites (eat slowly and savor). That’s the best way to eat your cake and enjoy it too!

Susan L Besser, M.D., Mercy Personal Physicians at Overlea


Dan Collins - Senior Director of Media Relations at Mercy Medical Center

Dan Collins, Senior Director of Media Relations

Email: Office: 410-332-9714 Cell: 410-375-7342

About Mercy

Founded in 1874, Mercy Medical Center is a university-affiliated medical facility named one of the top 100 hospitals in the U.S. by Thomson-Reuters with a national reputation for women’s health. Mercy is home to the nationally acclaimed Weinberg Center for Women’s Health and Medicine as well as the $400+ million, 20-story Mary Catherine Bunting Center. For more information visit Mercy online at, Facebook, Twitter or call 1-800-MD-MERCY.

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