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The intermittent fasting crowd are always banging on about the need for leaving a long gap between dinner and bed, but just how damaging to your gut health is it to overeat in the evenings? 

Dinner is, hands down, the best meal of the day. After hours spent slogging away at work, fitting our workouts around meetings and deadlines, there’s nothing better than sitting down to a hot, delicious meal.

It’s often not until you try to get up to wash your plate or pay the bill, however, that you realise just how much you’ve eaten. Out of nowhere, you’re carrying a food baby around and if you’ve eaten late, you might end up going to bed feeling super full.

If the intermittent fasting brigade are to be believed, that’s like committing a cardinal sin; many believe that you should leave a big old gap between eating and sleeping to avoid elevated cortisol and energy storage. But something we don’t often hear about is the effect that a heavy evening meal can have on our gut health.

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During a Strong Women Instagram takeover, Dr Megan Rossi, aka The Gut Doctor, explains that overeating at dinner simply means that “you’ve got a lot more food to get through and your digestive system will get through it all, it just puts it under that little bit more stress”.

By ‘overeating’, we’re not putting any judgement on how many calories you consume or why; it’s simply a term used to describe eating past the point of comfort. We do it all the time – our eyes can be bigger than our stomachs. We can overeat on brussels sprouts and broccoli just as much as we can with sweet or fast foods.

While late eating has been up for debate for some time, there are plenty of studies that confirm having a good dinner is important. Research suggests that our nighttime basal metabolic rate is actually almost as high as it is during the day, as our bodies need energy during sleep. We also know that some people can experience low blood sugar during the night, which can lead to disturbed sleep (particularly those who live with type I diabetes).

And of course, having a larger meal or a structured pre-bed snack can stop us from grazing, which leads to continuous blood sugar highs and dips (which we don’t want before trying to sleep).

All of this basically means that there’s nothing wrong with feeling full late at night. While temporarily uncomfortable, there’s no need to panic about any long-term digestive impacts, Dr Rossi tells Stylist. Instead, you may want to focus on doing things to help your digestive system out. She recommends: “Things like chewing gum or going for a gentle walk can actually really aid digestion if you have over-consumed.”

That’s certainly welcome news ahead of the festive season. Save those crisp Christmas strolls for after your turkey dinner to help your body start metabolising all the goodness from your meal and rest easy in the knowledge that the gut is stronger than you think.

For more nutrition tips, check out the rest of the Strong Women Training Club library.

Images: Getty

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