What happens when you eat too much? (Plus 10 Ways to Naturally Improve Digestion)

Written By


Expert Reviewed By

Dr. Lauryn Lax, OTD, MS

Dr. Lauryn, OTD, MS is a doctor of occupational therapy, clinical nutritionists and functional medicine expert with 25 years of clinical and personal experience in healing from complex chronic health issues and helping others do the same.



Round two of the holiday festivities has come and gone, meaning:


Quality time spent with family, gift giving, and holiday meals that come but once per year.


While Christmas food fare is not as much the spotlight as Thanksgiving, there’s no denying that “it’s the holidays” and feasting is a part of American tradition.


Stuffing our faces has become a societal ‘norm’ from turkey day to December 25th:

  • Holiday party cheese balls, sausage balls, spinach dip and lemon bars;
  • Snickerdoodles and cheesecake in the office breakroom;
  • Gifting fruit cake, pumpkin bread, kettlecorn and peanut brittle;
  • Christmas brunch of cheesy egg casseroles, cinnamon rolls, orange juice and pancakes;
  • Snacking on mixed nuts, Christmas candies, and cookies throughout the days;
  • Christmas dinner fit for a king—the turkey spread with mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans in a blanket, stuffing, cranberry sauce, bread and, of course, pie;
  • Water that turns into wine



Half of those polled in a recent survey (52%) admitted to eating twice what they typically eat over the holiday – greatly because of the increased booze consumption.


And for Christmas Day alone, the daily average intake triples.


For some reason, around the holidays, we become completely disconnected with our bodies and our food.


This is not the end of the world on occasion, but if we make a habit of just eating to eat, the body is not always in compliance (and I am not just talking about weight or body fat here). Think:


  • Gas
  • Frequent belching after meals
  • Bloating
  • Indigestion
  • Abdominal pain
  • GERD/acid reflux
  • Constipation
  • Feeling of over-fullness
  • Diarrhea
  • Undigested food in stools


Not so fun.


Regardless if overindulging or feasting was part of your holiday or not, ever wonder what happens inside your body to cause these symptoms when you eat too much?


How the body handles that ham-stuffing-pumpkin pie- assault?


Hello Stomach Acid.

As food enters the stomach, your body releases hydrochloric acid to aid in digestion.


Hydrochloric acid (HCl) is an important stomach secretion that enables the body to break down proteins, activate important enzymes and hormones, and protect against bacterial overgrowth in the gut.


Unfortunately, a vast majority of us are low in stomach acid—[thanks to the stressful lives we lead, coupled with gut-irritating foods (gluten, grains, processed foods, sugar, dairy) and poor digestive practices (i.e. eating on the go, low water intake, not chewing our food)].


When this is the case, your stomach cannot break down your food properly, and does what it can, before sending it down south (much of it undigested) to the small intestine—the place where 90% of your total digestion occurs.


Meet Leaky Gut.

 Once in the small intestine, your digestive enzymes come out to play, attempting to further break it down.


The small intestine has its work cut out for it when…

  • We eat foods that are, by default, already difficult to digest (grains, dairy, sugar, legumes) OR;
  • We eat more food than our guts can handle at once, OR;
  • We consume other substances that disrupt the natural digestive and metabolic processes of your body (alcohol, NSAIDS, antibiotics, toxins in our food and environment).


Hence: Instead of breaking down and digesting appropriately, these foods and substances feed the bad bacteria in your gut and encourage them to MULTIPLY, as well as disrupt digestion via increased intestinal permeability (eventually leading to leaky gut if repeated time and time again).


Undigested Food Particles

 Eight to 12 hours later, after the food has worked its way through your small intestine the best it can, the last point of entry is the large intestine. By this time, if your body has already struggled to break down food in your stomach or small intestine, chances are you have quite a few undigested food particles in your gut (i.e. whole food). Hello: constipation or loose stools and diarrhea (depending on what you ate and how much water you have in your system).


Once more: not fun.


Phew. How’s that for a science lesson?


We will all fall victim to the occasional bout of overindulgence (eating too much for our body to handle at once), and eating is NOT a game of perfect.


If you find yourself feeling the effects of a food coma in your stomach, here are a handful of ways to enhance and improve your digestion naturally:


  • Drink up. As unsexy as this one is, water—and lots of it—does a body good. Half your body weight in ounces. If you find yourself feeling more bloated, constipated or backed-up than usual, ask yourself how much water you’ve had the past 24-hours. This can be a simple solution to easing the flow and digestive process. (Note: Chugging your water is not encouraged. Too much water in one setting, or trying to make up for low water intake. This can leave you feeling bloated and water logged). Other good options: Ginger Tea. I love Yogi’s Ginger Tea–a known remedy for easing digestion post-meal. Add in a cup of ginger tea any time you feel like you over did it a little bit.


  • Chew your food. Chewing is a key player in the process digestion. Your mom was right all along. When you don’t adequately chew your foods the brain doesn’t get the signal to prepare the stomach for the incoming food. Stomach acid is a critical part of our digestion, when we lack it we can’t properly break down and digest foods.


  • Be mindful of your intake of carbohydrates, fiber and sugar/sweeteners in all forms (including artificial), if you tend to feel bloated, gassy or abdominal pain every time you eat them. These all promote dysbiosis (imbalanced gut flora) by feeding the bad bacteria in your gut. [Note: This does not mean NO carbs WHATSOEVER, but experiment by cutting your potato in half, saying ‘NO’ to the Diet Cokes (Splenda!), eating half the banana, or replacing the starchier, raw, or cruciferous veggies (peas, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower) with cooked veggies.


  • Eat beets and leafy greens. Greens should make up 2/3 of your plate. The cellulose in these greens will attach to any toxic bile (waste) and help cleanse your system.


  • Sprinkle on some cinnamon. Have cinnamon with every meal. Cinnamon not onlysupports healthy blood sugar, but also supports healthy bile flow as well.


  • A spoonful of…lemon juice or apple cider vinegar. Try about 1Tbsp in 1oz of water about 10-20 minutes before a meal to help stimulate HCL production.


  • Take digestive bitters. You can find these in liquid form at many health food stores, as well as online. I love this version by Standard Process’ MediHerb line.


  • Eat probiotic-rich foods. Your gut is home to trillions upon trillions of bacteria—some good (fight off foreign invaders; break down toxins) and some bad (ferment in your gut, breed more bacteria). Probiotics are ‘good’ bacteria that help overpower the bad bacteria found in your gut, environmental toxins and your foods. Eating foods rich in probiotics helps to support the healthy gut flora in the large intestine. These foods include fermented veggies like: sauerkraut, beets, and kimchi (check around your local health foods store for pre-prepared versions), kombucha (approx. 2-4 oz. is plenty), and yogurt. You can also take a probiotic supplement.


  • Love your intestines. As silly as it sounds, rubbing your belly in a clockwise motion can help promote better digestion. Start on the right lower side of your torso, half way between your belly button and right hip, and gently press on your stomach, around, from left to right.


  • Don’t Iie down. It may be tempting to pass out post-meal (naps and good food seem to go together), don’t do it! Laying down disrupts your digestive system’s north to south flow, slowing it down and keeping food in your various digestive organs longer than desired. If you must lay down, prop your head up—angled on a pillow.



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