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When you eat, you’re probably thinking more about your stomach than your heart. But what you eat, and how much you eat, can have a big impact on your heart health.

Most people will overeat at one time or another, especially around special occasions or holidays. Before you have that second helping of mashed potatoes or another slice of pie, think about this: by overeating, you could gain excess weight, which can raise your risk for heart disease. Find out about the link between weight and heart disease, and what you can to do keep your risks low.

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What Is Overeating?

Overeating is as simple as it sounds: it means eating more than you need to, or taking in more calories than your body can burn off. Overeating doesn’t just mean having a big meal now and then – it can also mean regularly eating foods with more calories than your body needs to promote the maintenance of a healthy weight.

All foods have different amounts of energy, which is measured in calories. When you eat, you take in calories in. Your body uses them for fuel to keep you breathing, circulating blood, and building new cells and to give you energy for your daily activities. The amount of calories you need depends on your age, your gender, and how active you are. For example, a 25-year-old man who runs marathons needs more calories than a 65-year-old woman who plays tennis twice a week.

If you burn off more, or at least as many, calories as you take in, you can maintain your weight. When your body has extra calories that it can’t burn off, it stores them in the form of body fat, which contributes to weight gain. While everyone needs some body fat, too much can lead to serious problems.

How Does Overeating Affect Heart Health?

If you usually eat more calories than you can burn off, you raise your risk of gaining weight and storing more body fat. People who are overweight or obese have a higher risk of metabolic syndrome, a group of conditions linked to heart disease. People with metabolic syndrome have three or more of the following conditions:

  • Too much belly fat; this includes a waist size of more than 35 inches for women and more than 40 inches for men
  • High triglyceride levels, a type of fat in your blood
  • A low level of HDL, or “good” cholesterol, in your blood
  • High blood pressure
  • High fasting blood sugar

Metabolic syndrome isn’t the only risk factor for heart disease, but according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, people with metabolic syndrome are two times more likely to develop heart disease than others. By making healthy food choices, you can take an important step toward controlling your weight and lowering your risks.

Where can I learn more about healthy eating?

Healthy food choices play a big part in helping you manage your weight. If you’re not sure where to start, it’s a good idea to talk to a registered dietitian about your needs. A registered dietitian is a nutrition expert who can help you learn more about making healthy food choices, controlling portion sizes, keeping track of calories, and lowering your risks by eating well.

To learn more, visit the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute or call 1-855-UPMC-HVI (876-2484).

About Heart and Vascular Institute

The UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute has long been a leader in cardiovascular care, with a rich history in clinical research and innovation. As one of the first heart transplant centers in the country and as the developer of one of the first heart-assist devices, UPMC has contributed to advancing the field of cardiovascular medicine. We strive to provide the most advanced, cutting-edge care for our patients, treating both common and complex conditions. We also offer services that seek to improve the health of our communities, including heart screenings, free clinics, and heart health education. Find an expert near you.