Why Do People Get Puffy When They Eat Too Much?

Getting puffy or swollen from eating too much food has numerous causes, some of which may be an indication of a serious health issue. If the puffiness is in your abdomen, then it may be a case of bloating from eating too quickly or too much fructose. If the puffiness is widespread, then it may be from too much salt. Consult your doctor about the potential causes of puffiness, inflammation or edema.

Poor Digestion and Bloating

Eating too much food or consuming it too quickly sometimes leads to a distended or swollen abdomen, because that’s where your stomach and intestines reside. Poor digestion often leads to bloating, which is caused by fermentation of partially digested food by intestinal bacteria. Fermentation produces gas, which inflates the large intestine and pushes out the lower abdomen. According to MedlinePlus, overeating, lactose intolerance -- the inability to properly digest the sugar in milk -- and consuming certain vegetables such Brussels sprouts, cabbage and beans are common causes of bloating.

Too Much Salt

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Eating too much salty food can also cause a certain kind of puffiness called edema, which is characterized by fluid accumulation in the body -- particularly the feet, ankles, hands and face. Edema -- also called water retention -- has many causes, but too much dietary salt leads to an imbalance of electrolytes, which pulls water out of cells and into the spaces between cells. Aside from swollen limbs and facial puffiness, other symptoms of edema include abdominal bloating, shortness of breath and muscle pain. Many prepared foods are high in sodium, especially soups and sauces. Snacks such as pretzels and nuts are also rich sources of salt and should be eaten only in moderation.

Too Much Fructose

Fructose is the primary sugar in fruit and commonly used as a sweetener in other food. It's slowly absorbed in the small intestine, so if you eat too much at a time, the unabsorbed excess travels to the large intestine and gets fermented by bacteria. As noted above, intestinal fermentation leads to bloating and puffiness in the abdomen. Fructose is found in large quantities in honey, jams, apples, pears, honeydew melons, papaya, watermelon, unripe bananas and most dried fruits. To minimize this problem, eat your fruit in smaller portions and avoid drinking large quantities of fruit smoothie.

Other Causes

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Arguably the most serious cause of puffiness following a meal is an allergic reaction. According to MayoClinic.com, food allergy symptoms usually develop within a few minutes -- or up to two hours -- after eating and lead to swelling of the lips, face, tongue and throat. Other symptoms include nasal congestion, hives, abdominal pain and nausea. Foods that commonly trigger allergic reactions include shellfish, nuts and dairy products.

Other causes of puffiness or edema are related to malnourishment, so eating too much food may not be the main problem; rather, it may be caused by not eating the right kinds of food. For example, not eating enough protein can lead to insufficient albumin production -- a blood protein that maintains osmotic pressure -- and edema in the limbs and abdomen.