Can you stretch your tummy too far?

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belly button lib In celebrity-land, the approved time frame in which someone is expected to 'snap back' (such an unpleasant turn of phrase) seems to be getting ever smaller.

London - Most of us are familiar with that feeling of being utterly full after gorging on a huge meal. But does consistently eating large amounts of food leave our stomach stretched permanently?

The stomach is made of two layers - the lining consists of cells that produce stomach acid, while the outside muscle layer stretches and contracts the organ.

Like an elastic band that will ping back to shape, the muscles in the stomach wall can accommodate some degree of stretching.

Normally it is the size of your fist - then, when you eat or drink, it undergoes a dramatic increase in size, and can easily hold up to a litre when full, says Anton Emmanuel, a gastroenterologist at University College Hospital and medical director of gut health charity CORE.

Overeaters can hold up to three litres in their stomach.

As with all the other muscles in your body, the stomach can be trained to be more or less flexible.

For instance, competitive eaters will often fill their stomach with water a few hours before the competition, enlarging the stomach to provide more space for food.

Over-eating regularly can cause irreversible damage, says Dr Emmanuel.

Consume large amounts of food for six months or more and the muscles won’t shrink back to normal as easily. This is because the muscle fibres irreversibly stretch and break.

And once the stomach has become permanently stretched, a person will need to eat more food to feel full.

Normally an increase in stomach size triggers nerves to send satiety signals to the brain, prompting that full sensation - but if the stomach has enlarged, the amount you need to consume to send this signal increases.

Conversely, people who starve or limit themselves have smaller stomachs and therefore risk severe complications if they suddenly eat a large meal - the most dangerous of which is gastric rupture.

To keep your stomach a normal size, Dr Emmanuel cautions against yo-yo dieting, and recommends a regular eating habit that will allow your stomach to follow a steady routine of stretching and relaxing. - Daily Mail

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