Why do I feel nauseous every time I eat?
Nausea can be a symptom associated with several different types of eating disorder behaviors.
Binge eating disorder is characterized by recurrent episodes of consuming a large quantity of food in a short period of time, accompanied by a feeling of loss of control and resulting in significant distress. (6) Some, though not all, people with binge eating disorder or who engage in binging behaviors experience a cycle of restricting and binging. Here is an example of what this cycle can look like:
- Something happens and it triggers a binge. This could be something that is difficult to deal with emotionally or something that happens physiologically in the body, such as low blood sugar from not eating for a while.
- Right after the binge, there may be distressing feelings of shame and guilt. These feelings can be so overwhelming that there is a desperate need to avoid triggering them again.
- A commitment is made to stop binging.
- The vow may add a lot of pressure and create the urge to restrict food to “compensate” for the binge.
- After a period of restriction, another emotional or physiological trigger can result in another binge, regardless of previous intentions not to binge again.
In the binge-restrict cycle, nausea can occur during the binge, after the binge, and even during meals which are not binges.
In anorexia nervosa (AN), avoidant restrictive food intake disorder, or other restrictive eating disorders, a medical issue known as gastroparesis can occur. Because digestion takes energy, when the body is experiencing malnutrition and does not have adequate energy, the rate of digestion may slow down and the stomach will stop emptying its food at its normal pace. The food sits in the stomach for longer time periods and this can cause nausea during or after eating, as well as the feeling of getting full more quickly than usual.
11 other causes of nausea
Nausea is what is called a “non-specific symptom”, meaning that it occurs in many different conditions. Doctors cannot diagnose any disease knowing only that someone has nausea.
Some of the different conditions connected with nausea include:
Nausea is one of the most common side effects of medication. (1) The medications that are most likely to cause this side effect include:
- Antibiotics, especially erythromycin
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve)
- blood pressure drugs, such as calcium-channel blocker nifedipine (Nifedical, Procardia)
Eating past fullness
Eating past fullness can create an experience of nausea in people with and without eating disorders. As previously discussed, people with eating disorders may be experiencing gastroparesis which may cause them to feel extremely full and/or nauseous after eating even relatively small quantities of food due to slowed digestion.
Foodborne illness commonly has symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. If caused by bacteria or viruses, the bacteria itself or the toxins produced by the bacteria or viruses may cause symptoms of nausea. Foodborne illness also will cause diarrhea, vomiting, cramps in the abdomen, dehydration, and fever. Parasites also may cause foodborne illness and nausea.
Food allergies and food intolerances
It’s common that food allergies cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. This is due to the histamine that is produced in the body. The excess levels of histamine trigger nausea, diarrhea, heart palpitations, and other symptoms. (7)
Acid reflux is when the stomach acids move up into the esophagus. This can cause a variety of symptoms, including a burning sensation, burping, coughing, sore throat, and nausea.
Irritable bowel syndrome
Nausea is commonly reported in those with irritable bowel syndrome. Those who have IBS may also have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and migraine headaches as well as low levels of stomach acid, and any of these may cause nausea. (2)
Nausea and vomiting are common when gallbladder disease is present. (8) That’s because bile gets trapped when the pathway from the gallbladder is blocked. The resultant blockage can irritate the gallbladder.
Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas)
The pancreas produces enzymes that digest food. But if the pancreas is inflamed, this can cause nausea, along with vomiting and fever. (3)
The high blood sugar in diabetes sometimes leads to nausea because the ability to digest food is not functional. This can trigger gastroparesis. (4)
Stress and anxiety
The reason why stress triggers nausea is because it activates the vagus nerve. (9) This causes a response on the nerve that includes not only nausea but also dizziness, sweating, and ringing of the ears.
Anxiety also affects the vagus nerve, especially when the nerve has something called low vagal tone. That’s why vagus nerve stimulation is now used as a therapeutic option in anxiety disorders such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which has often been resistant to treatment with medication. (5)
What should you do when you have nausea?
If you experience nausea occasionally, it is not necessarily a sign of a serious health problem or eating disorder. However, if you regularly experience severe nausea or feel nauseous every time you eat, it is a good idea to visit a doctor to figure out the root cause and get help to treat this debilitating symptom. If you suspect you may have an eating disorder, it is important to share this information with the doctor diagnosing your nausea so that they will be better able to identify what is causing it and how to get relief.