If you eat too much occasionally, like on holidays, it shouldn’t affect your overall weight.
To hasten digestion, reduce fat storage, and avoid heartburn after eating too much, go for a walk or sip 4 to 8 oz. of water — but don’t overdo it.
A psychological trick that may make you feel better is to plan your next meal — when it will be, and what foods it will include.
This article was medically reviewed by Melissa Rifkin, MS, RD, CDN, owner of Melissa Rifkin Nutrition LLC.
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Most of us have had the experience of sitting down to a big meal and realizing after we finish that we’ve overdone it. While there’s no way to go back in time and eat less, there are some steps you can take to feel better and get back to your normal eating routine.
The occasional large meal won’t hurt
Women with moderately active lifestyles should aim to eat about 2,000 calories per day, according to USDA guidelines. Men generally need more calories – about 2,600 to meet their nutritional needs. Though some factors, including how old you are and how much you exercise, could affect these numbers.
For a 2,000 calorie diet, if you split it up into three meals plus two snacks per day, then breakfast, lunch, and dinner should be about 500 calories each and each snack should be 250 calories.
Even if you keep up a regular meal plan, many of us tend to exceed our calorie limits on holidays like Thanksgiving, where eating a lot is often part of the occasion. For example, the average American reportedly consumes 4,500 calories on Thanksgiving.
If these occasional celebrations are the only time you’re gorging, then there’s no need to worry too much about how much you overeat, says Kristen Smith, a Registered Dietician and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
“A few higher calorie meals a year will not make a difference on your overall weight or health status. Your stomach is an elastic organ,” Smith says, so it can stretch to hold extra food when you eat more than usual. “But you will often experience uncomfortable symptoms when this happens.”
Because your stomach is stretched beyond its usual capacity, some of the most common symptoms you might feel are stomach pain, bloating, indigestion, or nausea, Smith says. You might also experience heartburn when your over-stuffed stomach puts pressure on the sphincter separating the stomach and esophagus, causing it to relax and allowing acidic content from the stomach back into the sensitive tissue of the esophagus.
Try these methods to feel better after a big meal
Take a walk. Walking makes your stomach empty more quickly, though it may not help you feel less bloated and full. However, when your stomach empties more quickly, you are less likely to have heartburn or acid reflux symptoms.
“Don’t expect to burn all of the calories from the food you recently ate, but the physical activity may help aid with digestion,” Smith says. Smith recommends at least 5 to 10 minutes of walking, adding that this can also help balance your blood sugar, which can spike after a large meal.
When your blood sugar spikes, a hormone called insulin is released and removes excess sugar from your bloodstream allowing it to be stored in your muscle or liver, burned as fuel or stored as fat. Walking after eating may help you avoid storing a lot of extra fat.
Sip water or a low-calorie drink. When you eat a huge meal, you can take in a lot of sodium without realizing it, which may cause you to retain water and feel bloated. Drinking water can help flush out some of the sodium from the food you ate, Smith says.
But be careful not to drink a lot right after eating, as this can expand your stomach further and give you a stomachache, Smith says. “Stick with four to eight ounces and then rehydrate periodically throughout the day.”
Don’t lie down. Though you may feel tired after a big meal, try to resist the urge to lie down or go to sleep. Your stomach empties more quickly when you are sitting upright, according to recent research.
Lying down after eating can also make you more likely to have acid reflux since it puts pressure on the muscle that normally keeps stomach acid where it belongs.
Plan what to eat for your next meal or snack. A meal may be the last thing on your mind when you are overly full, but planning ahead can help you bounce back to normal more quickly. “Many people feel like once they have already overeaten at one meal, they have blown it for the day and should go ahead and continue that habit for the rest of the day,” Smith says.
For your next meal, Smith recommends choosing a healthy option like lean protein, fruits and vegetables, and whole-grain options. This can help stop you from continuing an unhealthy, overeating cycle.
Lastly, don’t panic. Try not to stress out if you overeat, especially if it’s a rare occurrence. You’re unlikely to gain weight or have any health issues just from one large meal.
“Try to avoid any possible feelings of guilt after eating too much,” Smith advises, adding that feeling guilty about overeating can lead to unhealthy or disordered eating habits over time.
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