“I ate so much I’m going to explode” is a popular phrase around the Thanksgiving table. If your family is like mine, you’ve had a least two giant feasts over the holiday weekend and feel near to bursting. Not that you are going to burst, because that can’t really happen.
Actually it can. The first recorded case of someone eating until they exploded comes from Stockholm in 1891. In that case, the individual’s ability to empty his stomach had been impaired by the massive amount of opium he had ingested. When doctors went to pump his stomach, it overfilled and ruptured.
The chances of your stomach rupturing because you ate too much are slim, but they do exist. Normally, the stomach can hold one to one-and-a-half liters. If you eat up to that point, especially with a heavy meal like Thanksgiving dinner, you will likely feel uncomfortable and nauseous. Doctors suggest that the stomach could potentially hold up to three liters, and is likely to rupture at five.
In most cases your body has a series of reactions to overeating. About the time your stomach sends the message to your brain that you are full, it also will make you burp. By burping, your stomach relaxes and you experience some level of relief. Unfortunately, that’s not always enough. Then you can experience other symptoms of overeating such as vomiting.
Whether you’re stress eating or just enjoying Grandma’s homemade apple pie, it’s not uncommon to eat past the point of being full. I’ll confess to saying I’m never too full for ice cream, even when I am. This kind of overeating certainly isn’t healthy, but it probably won’t kill you.
Stomach ruptures are most likely to happen in people who already suffer from some sort of disordered eating. In fact, Cedar-Sinai lists it as one of the symptoms of bulimia. If the stomach of a healthy person gives way, it may be because of previously unknown thinning of the stomach lining, or the last thing they ate, Alka-Seltzer.
Though the purpose of Alka-Seltzer is to relieve the symptoms of overeating, its key ingredient poses some risk. Bicarbonate of soda, or baking soda, is meant to neutralize stomach acid and create gas. Both of which will give a sense of relief to an overfull stomach. Sounds good right? It is, unless you’ve seen the videos of Alka-Seltzer rockets. Then you have a pretty good idea of what happens when bicarbonate of soda interacts with acid instead of neutralizing it.
The best way to avoid a grisly exploding situation is to simply not overeat. Sure, your Aunt Susan may want you to take three servings of everything, but eating until you burst is surely a worse problem than surly Susan. If you have overeaten, be thankful for the natural processes your body has for solving that problem, and maybe think twice before downing the Alka-Seltzer. Remember, gluttony is indeed a deadly sin, but probably not one that will affect you.