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girlofscience's avatar

Why can I no longer keep large-ish meals down?

Asked by girlofscience (7567points) January 25th, 2009

Ok, so, up until two months ago, I ate whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. I’ve always been a small girl (5’3’’, 105 pounds), but I could (and would) eat entire pizzas and gigantic buckets of chicken wings without issue. I ate so much, it was ridiculous.

Two months ago, I decided I wanted to stop being so unhealthy, and I made a drastic change in my eating habits. I did not starve myself at all; I still ate plenty of food, but instead of grease and sugar and junk, I started eating fruits and balanced, healthy meals.

So, I did that consistently for all of December and was very pleased with the results. I felt much healthier, my body felt better, and I even looked more fit. I decided I’d like to keep eating healthy in general, but that I would allow myself to indulge whenever I went out to eat.

Well, every time that I’ve gone out to eat this past month, I haven’t been able to keep the meal down! This was never an issue I had before. I feel like my stomach must have shrunk because it went from digesting 4500-calorie dinners on a daily basis to digesting 600-calorie dinners. So now, whenever I eat bigger dinners at restaurants, I feel so insanely full, and I end up throwing up on the way home.

How can I fix this problem? I want to keep eating healthy in general, but I also want to be able to indulge in larger meals at restaurants without feeling horribly full and vomiting on the way home…

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36 Answers

aprilsimnel's avatar

If you are living in the United States, then I’m sure you’re aware that the meals served to one person at most restaurants are enough food for at least two people.

IANAD, but I’m assuming that your body is now used to smaller amounts of food, and at restaurants you’re eating too much too quickly at one sitting. It takes at least 20 minutes for your stomach to signal that you are full. Order less food (or take some home) and slow down your eating.

girlofscience's avatar

@aprilsimnel: Thank you for the very informative answer!

I do realize how the portions served at restaurants in the US are quite large, but it feels strange that I can no longer eat the amounts I used to!

I will definitely try eating slower next time I go out.

Is it normal for eating too much food to cause vomiting? I did not even realize that actually happened until it did to me.

dynamicduo's avatar

I think it’s just a side effect of eating smaller meals. Perhaps you can get used to eating half of your meal, then taking the other half home for tomorrow’s lunch.

It is normal for eating too much food to cause vomiting, but it is not common (nor healthy, but I know you know that) to keep doing so. Especially when combined with moving strenuously or quickly after eating large portions. All that food in your stomach just wants some time to digest, and by getting up and moving around, you disturb it, and raise the chances of your stomach deciding to make itself more comfortable by means of emptying itself out the quickest way possible.

girlofscience's avatar

Ha, I see that my diet-diary question from two months ago is a sibling here! I did use the advice in that thread, and I used SparkPeople to learn about the nutritional values of food. And it turns out that I did exactly what I was hoping to do… I was 110–113 pounds at the time of that post, so I lost exactly 5–8 pounds, as I was hoping! I recommend SparkPeople to others interested in tracking their nutritional intake. :)

girlofscience's avatar

@dynamicduo: Interesting insight. Yeah, I never feel sick until after having gotten up and walked to the car…and then the food just doesn’t want to stay in my tummy anymore. I’ve actually had to have my boyfriend pull over on the way home. Yuck.

Your idea does sound like a good one, and that will be fine for most of our casual-dining outings. However, at fancier restaurants, taking half of the meal home isn’t exactly appropriate. The worst post-meal sickness occurred on my birthday, when my boyfriend took me out to a nice restaurant that involved multiple courses (even though they were all absolutely delicious). I am wondering how to handle this situation on Valentine’s Day. We will surely be going to a high-end restaurant, and I’d like to be able to appreciate the meal without ruining the romance on the ride home.

cdwccrn's avatar

Order a salad and appetizer, which will be a smaller serving. Perhaps drink more fluids as well, not during the meal but through the 24hours before. This might serve to increase the capacity of your stomach.

girlofscience's avatar

@cdwccrn: Great prep idea for V-day dinner, thanks! I’ll drink lots of water the 24 hours before that dinner. The day of Valentine’s Day, would it be better to not eat anything before the dinner in order to have more room, or would that only cause my stomach to be more in shock from the sudden intake?

cdwccrn's avatar

I would eat small meals or snacks at breakfast and lunch, with the fluids. I would definitely not fast prior to a special meal.

wundayatta's avatar

No need to be ashamed of asking for a doggy bag at fine restaurants. You can stick with eating only a small part of what you order, and saving the rest for another time. If the restaurant is fancy enough, they’ll keep the bag in the back until you leave, and then present it to you in a fancy bag with the restaurant’s logo as you leave.

girlofscience's avatar

@daloon: REALLY??? I always thought it was in horribly bad taste to ask for a doggy bag at fine restaurants. I thought that the idea of fine dining was supposed to be the experience of the dining and that to take food home with you diminished that concept. My ex-boyfriend was a chef and drilled that into my head…just like he wouldn’t let me order my steak the way I like it (well done).

nikipedia's avatar

I’ve never gotten shit from my snobby foodie friends or their jerk chef friends for taking food home. I can ask explicitly if you want?

girlofscience's avatar

@nikipedia: Yeah, ask specifically if it’s okay at really classy places.

wundayatta's avatar

Well, if it’s bad form, then I’ve sure insulted an awful lot of restaurants. I know it used to be considered gauche when I was a child (back in the 60s), but after a while, so many people were doing it, that it became de rigeur. Like, if you left food on the plate and didn’t want it, you were insulting the restaurant. You were saying, not even your dog would eat it.

lefteh's avatar

Because of my job, I eat out at fancy restaurants pretty routinely, and (in my experience) it’s perfectly fine to ask for your leftovers to be bagged or boxed. As suggested earlier, some nice restaurants spend a lot of money on their leftover packaging. And, at the very few five-star restaurants I’ve been to, many actually ask if you’d like them to package the remainder of your meal.

Jeruba's avatar

@girlofscience, you don’t have to call it a “doggie bag” or speak of “leftovers.” Much nicer to just ask if they could wrap up the rest. In fact, even at a fine restaurant they may offer before you have to say anything: “Would you like me to wrap this for you?” I have a friend with a tiny appetite who routinely takes home 1 to 2 meals’ worth. In these suddenly frugal days, we don’t want to see them discard a half-full plate. But even that is much less wasteful than (ahem) discarding it all at the roadside a half hour later.

Darwin's avatar


I don’t know if I have offended any restaurants or any chefs, but I often ask for a take-home container to be delivered with the food, and place half the food (or more) in the container before I even dig into it. That allows me to “clean my plate” without overindulging and also means my “leftovers” are nice and hygienic to reheat and eat later. So far, no one has ever said a word to me about it (except in places like I-Hop where they specialize in huge amounts of inexpensive food).

In addition, in my experience, the really fine restaurants don’t serve great whopping amounts of food and they expect you to take several hours to eat what they do serve. It is about appreciating the skill and artistry of the preparation and the quality of the ingredients.

As to why you can’t consume as much as you used to, your body was ramped up to cope with the unnaturally huge amounts of food you were consuming before. Now that you have gone to a more natural way of eating (remember, we were hunter-gatherers and usually snacked on small bits throughout the day, with rare feasts) your body has uttered a sigh of relief and quit producing as much acid and gall to breakdown the food. Thus, in addition to possible “stomach shrinkage” you are probably not making enough gall any longer to deal with the sudden increase in fat that you get from a restaurant meal. Hence, the feeling of nausea and the need to vomit.

La_chica_gomela's avatar

As to the discussion of to-go boxes. I’ve waited tables at several very classy restaurants, and it was seen as part of our high level of service to box the rest of a guest’s meal for him or her if it was his/her preference, not as a positive or negative reflection on them at all.

I preface the rest of my response with the fact that I am not a doctor or a medical professional of any kind, so take this with a grain of salt:

I used to have a friend who threw up if he ate too much, and after going to the doctor, he found out that it was related to heart-burn and acid reflux. This may or may not be the case for you.

It might be that before, you had just trained your stomach the same way a competitive eater does, and when you started a healthier diet, you sort of “de-trained” it, so perhaps you need to either pick one or the other—either eat huge gigantic meals regularly – or always eat smaller, more reasonable meals.

dynamicduo's avatar

You are the customer, you are entitled to whatever you’d like, even if that includes having your meal wrapped up for takeaway later. Some fancy restaurants do phone orders (or if super fancy and desirable, plane orders) so it’s really not uncommon. If you don’t want to pack things up though, you’ll just have to monitor your stomach, eat slowly, and stop feeling the need to eat everything on your plate.

The worst insult to the chef is simply not eating the food on your plate. It’s worse than sending it back to be fixed or talking to the maitre d’. If you ask for a take home package, you’re saying, “the food is so tasty and I enjoyed it while fresh and delicious, and I’m also wanting to eat it reheated tomorrow when it’s not at its peak of deliciousness.” Not to mention, it’s likely not the chef who is packing the plate up, often the servers take care of that, though it may vary. If you want to approach it with the most respect, send your compliments to the chef via your waiter after you’ve had a few bites, that way the chef knows you think the food is delicious and thus mitigates the (very small) chance of anyone being offended at the leftovers. But like I’ve said, a true chef is there to please his or her customers, not to impose their rules and requirements such as your ex-boyfriend did with your steak preference (ridiculous, and this is coming from someone who eats their steak on the total opposite side of you [blue]).

aprilsimnel's avatar

@girlofscience – Thanks for mentioning SparkPeople. The name of the site was at the tip of my frontal lobe, but I just couldn’t recall it.

sdeutsch's avatar

I’ve never been able to eat very much in one sitting (I come from a whole family of small-stomached people!), so I trained myself a long time ago to just savor whatever I can eat, and not feel bad about not eating all of it. I almost always take half of my dinner home from restaurants (even fancy ones) – I see it as a compliment to the chef that I actually want to take it home, rather than leaving half of it on my plate uneaten…

If you’re eating with someone else who doesn’t eat huge amounts of food, you can also try getting a salad or appetizer for each of you and then splitting an entree (since, as @aprilsimnel pointed out, most restaurant entrees are two servings anyway). Most restaurants are happy to let you split things – and the fancy ones will often put it on separate plates in the kitchen, so it’s just like getting a smaller meal…

janbb's avatar

I had a similar problem with diarrhea after eating out for about a year so I can sympathize with your problem. It certainly made eating out tension producing. For me, part of the solution was learning to carry immodium. Maybe there’s an anti-emetic you can have with you for security. Eventually the problem went away. I do usually eat small meals generally so part of it was eating too much but somehow a vicious psychological cycle seemed to exacerbate the situation. Knowing I had a medical solution with me just in case really helped. But I also do think it’s important to keep the meal size smallish when you eat out. I will often have an appetizer as a main dish or take food home. Servers are increasingly used to people doing that – they know the portions are too large.

tonedef's avatar

Any dietary change can cause gastrointestinal unrest, but it is arouns our age (I think we’re the same age, early 20’s) that a lot of digestive issues can surface- including lactose intolerance and gluten intolerance. Keep those in mind if the issues persist.

Judi's avatar

@girlofscience ;
Congrats on your decision to start eating healthy. From experience, the older you get the harder it is to change those habits. Also, most people find that as they age their body doesn’t burn the calories like they used to. I would see this as your body screaming at you “I want to stay thin, abuse me and I will fight you!.” That’s a reflex, or warning sign a lot of us wish our bodies would give us before we slip into obesity. Most of us need to discipline ourselves, it looks like your body is disciplining you on it’s own. Listen! It knows what it’s talking about!

SeventhSense's avatar

How has your stress level been lately? I find that if my stress level is up I will often have a limited capacity for food. And sometimes it even feels like it’s coming up.

mattbrowne's avatar

It could be harmless. Do you have stomach aches often?

Dutchess12's avatar

Your stomach shrunk, that’s all! And yes, eating way, way more food than you can handle will make you sick!

mass_pike4's avatar

4500 calorie dinners? haha I dont think that much! That’s more than double the avg. daily amount the average individual should have each and every day. And even if you have consumed that much in a single setting, if you’ve done it often enough, your stomach will not be able to handle it at some point. You may have reached your limit then.

Your body just started to get use to the healthy foods at smaller amounts. Your stomach does not like to get really full because it has to work harder. Eating large meals and not eating for a while will make you gain more weight too compared to eating smaller meals throughout the day. Your body liked the feeling of eating smaller meals and wants it to stay that way.

My suggestion is eat until you start to feel full when you want to indulge and do not push it any further.

Xilas's avatar

it is possible that you have conditioned yourself to feel bad when you get that “full” or “over satisfied” feeling.

stimulus – full feeling
triggered response – “I feel bad/sick” and/or “maybe I should vomit?”

guilt much?
be careful – it is very easy to fall into the type of thing – Bulimia and anorexia are very serious dangers (a lot of girls fall into this type of behavior while trying to diet)

Jewel's avatar

I didn’t see a suggestion about requesting a meal of smaller portions. I have sometimes asked to be served ½ of the normal amount of food. It was never treated as a terrible thing to ask. Sometimes they ask if I want the other half to take home. Sometimes I ask them to box the remainder for me. Sometimes I have been charged less. Always, I am prepared to pay full price for the comfort of a meal I can handle without stress.

ducky_dnl's avatar

Start eating small, then build up to eating more. Your body is not use to the drastic change from 600–4500. It’s easier to eat less than it is to eat more when your body is now set on healthy small portioned meals.

maudie's avatar

Dramatic changes to your diet can have dramatic consequences for your digestion, for good, ill, or otherwise. It’s worth speaking to a nutritionist or a gastroenterologist about the changes you’ve made and the way your body is feeling now. You could learn, for example, that your feeling of excessive fullness is coming from an insufficiency of stomach acid (extremely common—possibly the most common stomach-related digestion problem), and short-term supplementation of stomach acid could help you regain the ability to eat comfortably. Or you could discover that there’s some stressor in your new diet, such as a sensitivity to a certain whole food you’re eating that you weren’t eating much of before. You could also learn that removing large portions of processed food from your diet has eliminated a chronic source of digestive stress, and as your body adjusts to its new diet you may just not have the ability or compulsion to eat as much any more. Changes in appetite and changes in the desire to eat certain portion sizes can certainly happen after a major dietary change like you’re describing.

If you live in the Bay Area, I highly recommend Anasuya Basil as a nutritionist and holistic healer. She has been helping me through a long and complex healing process related to a food- and stress-related autoimmune dysfunction that only became acute enough in the last couple of years for me to seek professional treatment help. I wish I hadn’t waited as long as I did—lots of damage to my stomach and intestines could have been avoided if I had realized how much food had to do with my seemingly unrelated health problems. I blogged about some of my specific experiences here, but everyone’s health issues are unique, so don’t just do what I did. Seek good advice from good healers.

Auntie_Em's avatar

I think your body is going through “culture shock”. Going cold turkey is hard on a body whether it’s food, lifestyle, even sleep habits. Perhaps you’ll get used to it, in the meantime take it slow. Don’t let it destroy you.

dpworkin's avatar

Stop eating bugs and poop?

seazen_'s avatar

Jew-ish meals, or any?

beaglelove's avatar

My advice is not to indulge too much—it sounds like your stomach is not used to eating too much anymore so don’t push it to. Eat just as much as you can—never too much in one sitting that you can’t hold it down anymore—especially if it’s just for the sake of indulging. The key is always moderation. And I hope you eat more than 600 calories per day (you said dinner so i assume you do) Eating more than three times per day as long as it is in small portions is the best way to go.

1,500–2000 calories per day is reccommended and exercising along with eating healthy is important.

Inspired_2write's avatar

You in effect conditioned your stomach to feel full with less.
If you want to go back to more than it has to be taught to in increments..smaller increases.
Just add a few more ounces a day to each meal, then gradually your body will accept it.

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