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5 Symptoms of Unhealthy Eating5 Symptoms of Unhealthy Eating


Symptoms of Unhealthy Eating

It is well known that unhealthy eating can lead to excess calorie intake, weight gain, and chronic disease. What is often overlooked are those bothersome symptoms that make daily life uncomfortable and set you up for more serious issues in the future. These are five of those symptoms, and they can all be improved through healthier eating.


Heartburn is that uncomfortable feeling in the back of the throat that is caused when stomach acid irritates the esophagus. It can be triggered by overeating, and by eating high fat or oily foods, spicy foods, or chocolate. Drinks such as coffee, alcohol, and carbonated beverages are also culprits. Many underestimate the influence of unhealthy eating habits on heartburn. Simple changes such as eating more slowly, avoiding overeating, and limiting your intake of greasy, fried foods can be helpful in reducing symptoms. Keep in mind that if heartburn persists, it could be gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which may require medical treatment.

Bloating and Upset Stomach

Fatty foods often have one of two effects on the digestive tract -- they slow emptying (which worsens constipation) or they speed up emptying (which can contribute to diarrhea). Either condition can leave you with an upset stomach, bloating, and abdominal pain. Reducing fatty, greasy foods can decrease these symptoms. Additionally, dietary fiber promotes a healthy digestive system. The majority of dietary fiber comes from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Unfortunately, these are the same food groups that are often lacking in unhealthy diets. A rapid increase in fiber can lead to more bloating and gas, so be sure to increase it gradually until you reach the 25 to 35 grams per day recommended for health.

Water Retention

Fast food, pre-made frozen meals, packaged snacks, and many canned foods are loaded with sodium. When you consume excess sodium, water is retained until the body can regain fluid balance by excreting the excess through the urinary system. This causes you to feel bloated and uncomfortable. It can also show itself as extra pounds on the scale. Reducing sodium in your diet not only reduces water retention, but it promotes a healthy blood pressure, which can reduce your risk for heart disease.

Lack of Energy

Foods that are high in simple carbohydrates cause blood sugar to spike, which is followed by a blood sugar drop soon after. Often called a sugar crash, this is the reason a high carbohydrate, sugary breakfast or afternoon snack can leave you in an energy slump a few hours later. To help stabilize blood sugar and prevent this crash, choose foods that contain fiber and healthy fats, and include protein at each meal and snack.

According the National Sleep Foundation, carbohydrates also increase the amount of tryptophan available to the brain, which may cause drowsiness.

Poor Sleep

Heartburn caused by greasy foods and overeating is only one of many things that keep you from a restful night’s sleep. While a direct link between vitamins and insomnia is not completely clear, research suggests that some vitamin and mineral deficiencies affect sleep. For example, vitamin B6 aids in the production of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin, and magnesium plays a role in regulating sleep. These nutrients are plentiful in healthy foods such as fish, fruits, vegetables, seeds, and whole grains. A diet lacking in these foods is at risk for deficiencies that may make it harder to sleep. Alcohol intake also disrupts sleep and may prevent you from falling into the deeper stages of sleep necessary for a restful night.


Lori Rice, M.S., is a nutritional scientist and author with a passion for healthy cooking, exercise physiology, and food photography.
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