This Is What Happens to Your Body When You Binge on Thanksgiving

Updated: Mar. 16, 2022

Your full stomach and desire for sleep are two signs that your body is under strain. Learn what's really going on inside.

That big meal is no big deal, right?

For the most part yes—you can indulge occasionally with no real consequences, agree most experts. However, with overeating, there are some changes in your body that occur which, if you’re susceptible, could have real health implications. Here’s what experts want you to know about food binges.

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Your stomach literally gets bigger

It’s no exaggeration that you ate more than your stomach wants to hold. When you keep eating once your stomach is full, it will keep expanding to make room for more food—and that’s when you get uncomfortably full. “If it’s stretching larger than its normal size, it can put pressure on your other organs,” says registered dietitian nutritionist Jenna Braddock, RD, founder of Make Healthy Easy. By the time you’ve digested your Thanksgiving feast, though, your stomach size will go back to normal. At least it usually does—crazily enough, some people’s stomachs stay stretched out. One big meal (or even one holiday season) of unhealthy foods shouldn’t do any permanent damage, but if you’re constantly overeating, your stomach might learn not to bounce back, says registered dietitian nutritionist Caroline Passerrello, RDN, spokesperson for the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. That means the next time you eat, you’ll need to eat more to feel full, and the cycle of overeating will continue.

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Your food starts backing up

After overeating, you might start feeling a burning sensation in your chest or throat. That’s because an expanded stomach messes with the ability for the opening between your stomach and throat to stay closed. “Your stomach is so full the food starts backing up,” says Passerrello. Try these 13 natural heartburn remedies to get some relief.

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Your digestive system becomes an energy hog

Don’t blame the tryptophan in turkey for putting you in a Thanksgiving food coma. Protein (there’s plenty in turkey) and fatty foods (basically everything else on your plate) take a long time to digest, so you could spend up to 12 hours feeling the effects of your Thanksgiving dinner, says Braddock. While your body is focused on breaking down that massive feast, it sends more blood to the digestive tract, she says. Your brain and the rest of your body are getting less blood than they’re used to, so you start feeling that familiar post-binge sleepiness. To combat it, resist the urge to nap and go for a walk. “You’ll use some of that food you ate instead of storing it,” says Braddock. “It’s helping the blood flow go through the rest of the body.” Fill your plate with these 10 healthy Thanksgiving foods.

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Your heart is working overtime

While the digestive system begs for more blood, your heart works hard to meet its demands. That strain could be part of the reason a study published in The Egyptian Heart Journal found that eating a heavy meal increases the risk of a heart attack after a fatty meal. Another small study published in the journal Laboratory Investigation found that a single high-fat meal could boost blood fats, stiffen arteries, and increase inflammation over the next four hours in healthy volunteers. “For those at risk for heart disease or who already have heart disease, be careful about what you eat, or manage your portion sizes on that day,” says Braddock. For instance, stay away from these 13 of the worst foods for your heart.

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Your body won’t get the deep sleep it needs

Even though Thanksgiving dinner made you want to sleep for days, you still won’t get restful sleep at night. Your body is still working away to digest all that turkey and pie, so you’re using more energy than you normally would at night. “When you sleep, your energy is still going to digestion, so you can’t complete the shutdown to get restful sleep,” says Passerrello. “The body wants to have a certain amount of energy allocated, and when you throw it off it has a cascade effect.” Here are more of the worst eating habits for sleep.

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Your blood sugar may spike

The more you eat, the higher your blood sugar goes because the carbohydrates get converted to blood sugar while you digest. That spike in blood sugar also means an inevitable crash, which is why you still end up digging out leftover pie after your food coma wears off. “You could be spiking your blood sugar with carbs and crash again, so you eat again to fix that feeling,” says Braddock. Stay away from these 14 foods nutritionists would never eat on Thanksgiving.