Eat At Least 3 Hours Before Going to Sleep

by updated 2012/12/16

Recently I wrote about assigning changes you want to make to their own day of the week in order to make them easier to remember. Today I suggest a change to your eating habits that although not assigned to a particular day of the week, is not that hard to remember. It is also a change that can make a big difference in your overall health, quality of sleep, and how happy you are with your weight.

A couple of years ago, I realized that I had fallen into the routine of eating dinner pretty late in the evening. I was usually too busy, or often not even home, to eat dinner early enough to feel comfortable before I went to bed. I found that if I eat dinner less than 3 or 4 hours before going to sleep, not only do I sleep less well, the next morning I have a much more difficult time getting going. There is also a lot of evidence that eating a big dinner too close to going to bed is bad for your health, your sleep, and makes it more likely you will gain weight. Some people disagree with the weight gain claims, but they make sense to me. It is likely missing dinner and thereby missing a few calories helps control your weight. It also makes sense that eating a meal and then going to sleep within a few hours slows your digestion and allows you to absorb more of the calories in the food you ate. I discussed weight gain in relation to type of food and when it is eaten in this post.

Here is how I changed my dinner eating routine. First I set a goal to always eat dinner by 6:30 or 7:00 pm. That worked once in a while, but often was impossible to accomplish. As I usually prefer to prepare and eat my dinner at home, rather than at a restaurant, I can’t decide at 6pm that it is time for dinner and just pull in to the nearest eating establishment and grab something. If I don’t arrive home, or finish working until 6:30 or 7:00, it is too late to prepare and eat dinner in a time frame that meets my objective to not go to sleep on a full stomach.

The next step I took was to skip dinner if it became too late. I was not worried about any ill effects from this as I believe dinner is a much less important meal than breakfast or lunch. At first this was difficult and I let my hunger draw me to the refrigerator to graze on whatever was available. Eventually, I changed another eating routine that made the occasional missed dinner less of a challenge. I just stopped worrying about when I ate lunch. I used to feel it was a problem if I did not get to eat lunch until 2 or 3 pm as this was too close to dinner. Now I view a late lunch as making it easier to eat less at dinner. When I don’t get to dinner at all, the late lunch makes it much easier. Some days, when I know I have a commitment in the early evening that will interfere with dinner I will purposely eat a late lunch. In other words, I plan for and make it easier to miss dinner on those days. Often when I am at a meeting at dinner time, other people will mention the fact that they will be eating dinner when they get home at 8 or 9 pm. This is a big mistake. In a situation like that is better for your sleep, health, and weight to skip dinner and get to bed early.

Some days when I get into bed after no dinner, my stomach will be talking to me, full of complaints about being empty of food. Once asleep there is no feeling of hunger. Upon awakening the next morning I always feel great, ready to get up quickly to start the day. On the other hand if I had eaten dinner the night before, too soon before going to sleep, I will have a very sluggish start to the day.

By detailing all this, I am not recommending that skipping dinner be a regular event. Dinner is an important meal for lots of people, for many different reasons. Rather, what I am saying worked for me was to become more relaxed about having to eat dinner on those nights when it became a rushed, late evening meal. The added bonus is that I sleep better, and expend much less effort maintaining a healthy weight.

Update 2-26-2012: I have noticed this post getting a LOT of increased this week so maybe this topic is recently in the news?  If there has been any new research on this that any of you visitors know about, please post a link in a comment below.  I still believe this is a very important change to make for your health and maintaining or achieving a healthy weight.  Of course I struggle like everyone else with not having enough time in the day and not getting enough sleep and am always looking for ways to help with that problem!

Will Sig
1 JD Thomas

Thats always a tough one for me and my partner.

For me alone it is less of an issue. I have a pretty consistent 8am to 4pm work schedule so I can get home in plenty of time to cook and eat several hours before my normal 11:00pm bed time. Brian on the other hand, works a four day week with very long shifts each day. In addition to the long shifts, his commute is roughly an hour each way. As a result, he often leaves the house at 6:00am and doesn’t arrive home until well after 7:00pm. Because of his long days and early start, he likes to be in bed by 10:30pm. This results in our eating dinner fairly close to our typical bedtimes.

I hadn’t really given the timing of dinner much thought. It might be interesting to make a point creating a larger gap between dinner and bed, at least on the three days Brian does not work and see if I notice a difference in how I sleep and how I wake up the next morning.

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2 jason

here an idea for your partner that works a 12hr shift. I also work a 12hr shift 3-4 days in a week. What I do to stay on top of my eating habits, I prepare breakfast, snack, lunch, snack and dinner the night before. So then on his days off he can have a timely dinner with you..

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3 Will

The other thing a long day and commute does is this: When your dinner is pushed to 7:30 or 8pm on a regular basis AND you ate lunch at 12 or 1pm, you are apt to be very hungry by 7:30. Then not only are you eating close to bedtime, you may be eating a lot!

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4 JD Thomas

Thats very true. It’s one of Brian’s biggest complaints that although he may be working from 7:00am until 7:00pm, the company sends him to lunch at noon.

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5 diet k plan special

i always dinner just a cup of cereal with milk one hour before i go to sleep, cause if not, i feel that my stomach is going to explode! also just after eating, i try to walk a little, and i feel better.

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6 Anonymous

i always dinner just a cup of cereal with milk one hour before i go to sleep, cause if not, i feel that my stomach is going to explode! also just after eating, i try to walk a little, and i feel better.

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7 Anna

Hey Will excellent topic to get me going, lol. I would like to tell my side of the story. Few years ago I sign up for this voluntary weight loss program (like I needed lol), however, they called it a nutritional program. This is how it worked, through out the day I had to eat 6 portions of proteins, 6 portions of carbohydrates, 2 or unlimited veggies (greens, low in sugar), 8-10 glasses of water, and regular exercise 4-5 times a week about 1 hour/day. Portion was measure of my hand, or your hand size. It was point system so to achieve 6+6+2=14 points per day was excellent. We were allowed to break the rule one day of a week with sweets/junk food to satisfy cravings. The program was conducted for 8 weeks, and we had to record food intake into a sheet. So I think this was an excellent system to develop a solid discipline, and I did. I was fortunate to work from home full time at that time so I was able to fit all into my schedule. However, once I had to go out, preparing lunches and planning your food plan for a day was necessary. By the end of the program, my mind was trained so well that the sheet was not necessary. I didn’t loose weight, like I said I had nothing to loose, I actually gain more muscle, which was good. I also got lot of energy too. After that, my husband followed the same system for a while, and he was successful also, by loosing some weight and being. The trick was to write everything down, and he did. Writing it down really opens your eyes of how much unnecessary stuff you consume a day. Its been now few years and we have a system in place that works for us. Unfortunately, we have more work to do at work so sometimes its hard to fit in exercise task, but we make up on the weekends. Packing lunches and being in control help us to maintain our good food schedule, and that includes not eating at least 3 hours before bed. The biggest trick is that you need to be very and I mean very disciplined at the beginning to create this solid foundation, because no matter what happens eventually things get relaxed, like my big mac habit (don’t worry its been about 6 weeks w/o mac now).

So Will to answer your questions posted on my blog last week about me having more than 24 hours in a day. I wish I had more hours because the things I want to do I cannot possibly fit into my lifetime, but I will try. And yeah no kids yet, so will see how that will work out in the future…as always excellent topic.

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8 Will

Hi Anna! Thanks for the story. As usual it is a good one.

As far as the diet goes, I would reduce the 6 portions of protein, or at least make most of them plant proteins. I am not a vegetarian, but do try to limit my animal protein intake. There is more and more evidence that animal protein, in large amounts, can really have some adverse health effects. It’s not just the red meat, but dairy also.

-Will

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9 Anna

I know what you mean about the meat proteins. I am trying to stay away from red meats, but it is hard during family events. When we go over to my parents in law, sometimes they put a steak in my dish a size of my two hands…I am putting stop on it. Fish and chicken now dominate in our house. Unfortunately, I love dairy and eggs, lol. Anna :)

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10 Will

Anna: Staying completely away from red meat is not easy for me either. I really don’t eat any kind of meat with most meals, but when I do, I don’t worry about it. One thing I have done is pay attention to where the meat comes from. Even if it costs more, I will choose humanely raised, hormone free, etc.

By the way Anna, I found your “story blob” and like it!

http://storyblob.blogspot.com/

I did post a comment there several days ago on the dividing bread post, but it has not shown up. Is there moderation or a spam filter that it might have been caught in? Let me know if I need to post it again.

Thanks!

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11 Anna

Thanks Will. You are right, we should be looking into better quality meets, the worst is the supermarkets have sometimes good prices, but then is that good price good for your body. We actually will be looking into smaller butchers around to see if you can get something better, I guess if we don’t have to eat that much, then the price does not matter. The other issue is also fish, the mercury contamination and other contaminants due to farmed fish bother us a lot. Reluctant sometimes to eat salmon which I really like. I also love sushi, it was great when I was in Japan, but here my husband makes me think twice, because I just cannot think twice sometimes when I am hungry and I really like something, lol. But that is a topic for another day.

I am glad that you discovered the blob story, I did not wanted to mix too much of that stuff with photography. I find that there are people who don’t like to read so photo is good, and some like to read so I can offer both seperately. You should read the latest about what kind of food I used to eat when I was young. I am sorry, but something slipped through the crack, and not sure why didn’t go through, but yes if you could repost that will be great, if you wrote too much and don’t want to write again, that is fine with me, all it matters that you read and you enjoyed it. Thanks again, it is appreciated as always. Anna :)

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12 Will

Anna you are right about the fish. Did you see the couple of articles I did a while ago on that? Here is a link to one of them that talks about farmed fish and has a link to another story or two about salmon.

http://willtaft.com/health/tainted-farmed-fish/

I’ll re-read your story on dividing the bread and see if I can re-create my incredibly well written and witty comment! ;-)

-Will

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13 Anna

Will thanks. I will definitely check your story after dinner, I think I know little about that issue, just aware of it. And thanks for the re-write, I feel bad – may be you shoud save it somewhere if it is long, that is what I do when my comments are long, write them in the other local editors and save them temporarily.

On the side note, just heard on the news about viagra causing deafness, and just now that cold and flu syrop may be harmful. I don’t know what people think and manufacturers think. Any medicine is equal to chemical, and that chemical is not like oiling hinges, it spreads over the whole body, and fixes something causing other problems.

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14 Will

Ha! Anna that’s funny. I just could not resist putting up a short post on that very subject. Then I see your comment and you say it better than I did. I think I’ll post a link to your comment here in the post I just did. Viagra and sudden deafness is bound to get a lot of attention. It sure caught my eye!

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15 pelf

I dine with my boyfriend at 8pm, but whenever he’s not around, I dine with my housemate at 7pm, which I think is better. At home, we dine at about 6:30pm.

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16 Will

I think it is a problem for health is you eat too close to bedtime. If you eat at 8:00 pm and go to sleep at 1:00 am, that is OK. But if you eat at 7:00 pm and go to bed at 9:00, that may be a problem.

There is also a lot of new evidence that dining with anybody is a healthy habit in itself and that eating alone can be a problem. I guess that would depend who you eat with and how stressful they made eating!

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17 Wohoofiona

Why not just have a small meal at 7 and go to be at nine? It seems futile to starve yourself because you have a not eating 4 hours before bed… If your body is genuinely hungry, why not feed it?

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18 Mike Touch

I always seem to eat something just before going to bed.

Eating more than 3 hours before bed is good unless you don’t eat enough in which case you’ll be hungry again before you go to bed!

Then you end up eating so much more!

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19 Abhinav Sood

As I usually work late into nights up till the the wee hours of morning, I feel hungry before I go to sleep. But I generally take my dinner at 11 PM maximum, and then drink only water that too after a gap of an hour after the meals.

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20 williamsgoto

I eat six times a day even if it is close to bed time.It works for me.

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21 Jessica

I generally try to eat around 7 o’clock, a few hours after I get off work. It allows me to relax a little before I make anything to eat. After dinner (about 45 mins later) I walk about 1.5 miles.

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22 rachel

I am glad that this works for you, but personally the later I eat, the easier I find it to fall asleep and stay asleep. If I eat dinner at 6pm, when I get in after work (and am starving) I will without a doubt be hungry again by 10pm. I usually go to bed at 11pm, so by then I am starving and can’t sleep.
However if I go to the gym and eat dinner at 8pm, then I won’t need to snack. So for me this is better for my weight managment as well as my sleep.

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23 Sonja

This is an interesting topic. I’m going to have to do some research. Someone in the nutrition field told me that people in general should eat every 3 – 4 hours (5-6 meals a day). He said that boosts your metabolism. I go to bed at 12. It sounds like you are advising me to not eat after 9 pm. However, that is the time that I get off from work. I’m really hungry in the evening even if I eat at 530. When I’m hungry I can’t sleep. Any suggestions?

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24 Misty

I really don’t think it’s a good idea to skip dinner like that and going to sleep hungry, and every endocrine and nutritionist will say that. When you are hungry your body is asking you for fuel, it is a sign meaning that your stomach wants to digest something, so it really is a protest of your body. And if you don’t give your stomach what it wants, your metabolism will slow down and your body will have a tendency to store the calories, because after some time not getting ‘fuel’ when it’s hungry, it will learn to keep the energy so as to have a reserve available in those times when you are not feeding it. And while it is indeed true that ‘once asleep there is no feeling of hunger’, it doesn’t mean that your body doesn’t need food anymore once you fall asleep. Even though most people say that it’s not good to eat right before going to bed, it is a good idea to have diner 2-3 hours before and eat something with no carbs, no sugar, no fat and low in calories, like a low-faw yogurt or an apple before slipping into bed, just to keep your metabolism active. Sonja, in your case it would be a good idea to do that. You can have your dinner at a normal hour, and then have a little healthy snack at 12 or the time you’re going to bed.

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25 Organic Girl

I have my dinner at 12:30am and go to sleep at 2 – 3am.

I must say in the long term it is not healthy for the body. But my work forces me to live such life style. Plus I like working late into the nights.

I did put on a few pounds. You can burn it off though with exercise during the day.

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26 Beth

Too much eating is not good anymore…sometimes i only eat 2 times a day.I never eat to much during dinner not good,food burns slowly at night time due to less movement of your body or you must eat early.

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27 Jo

Hi there,
I just googled this topic and found this post. I totally agree. In the last week I did two things. I quit smoking (for the millionth time!) and I made the move to eat before 8pm. I had found too that I was eating later and later so I knew I had to make a change. The difference is dramatic. I haven’t slept so well in 20 years! It isn’t connected to quitting smoking as that usually causes insomnia. I had totally forgotten how important sleep is to my health. I exercise and I eat healthily but I’d let my sleep get worse and worse over the years. And sleep is free!!! So I urge anyone reading this to eat early in the evening. Have a little snack if you must later on but give your digestive system a break. It’ll change your life!

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28 Will

I agree Jo, sleep is such an important part of being healthy. For many, eating too close to bedtime is a major cause of poor sleep.

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29 jason

I totally agree on how you are going about eating before going to bed. I also took up the habit of eating 3hrs before bedtime and its true, I’ve lost weight, matter of fact I lost 20lbs with minimal exercise and I’m looking 21 again and I’m 32. This happened in a period of 2 months.

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30 Daniel

I always wake up very late into the night,as late as 1am,2am or 3am,feeling so hungry,no matter how much i had to eat earlier or how late i had my dinner. There was this one time i couldnt find any food to eat,i had to chew raw rice,and it was funny to me at all. Any suggestions please?

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31 Will

Chew raw rice!!?? One suggestion would be to cook it first! Make sure it is organic brown rice, though. I remember having an appetite like that when I was in my late teens, early 20’s. How old are you? And are you a healthy weight? Do you fall back to sleep after eating something and sleep until the morning?

And finally, are you sure your name is Daniel and not Dagwood? ;-)

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32 Jan

Daniel I went to a talk by a nutritionist last week and he said if you are feeling hungry then you are not eating enough vegetables. Are you eating meals with protein, vegetables, salads and brown rice or are you eating heaps of junk food? If you are eating junk food your body is going to send out hunger signals because you are not giving it the nutrition it needs. Maybe you need to go and see a nutritionist or a doctor as it is not normal to constantly wake up hungry in the early hours of the morning. And if you had to eat raw rice ewwwwwww!
Jan recently posted..Welcome to Jan’s Weight Loss BlogMy Profile

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33 Jan

We eat at 8 pm but don’t go to bed until 11 pm. I think if you work full time you have to do whatever works for you and not feel guilty about it. If something is effecting your health then of course you need to make every effort to change it. There is a lot of evidence now to suggest that it doesn’t make any difference if you eat your meal late at night and then go to bed, what makes the difference is how much goes into your mouth during the whole day.
Jan recently posted..Welcome to Jan’s Weight Loss BlogMy Profile

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34 Sandy

Hi Will,

This is really true. Sometimes it feels like very uncomfortable to eat before sleep especially when we’re full.

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35 Jan

Interesting timing – I subscribe to “the sleep doctor’s” newsletter, Dr Michael Breus and in his latest email he said to make sure that you eat 2 hours before going to sleep, so that’s probably pretty manageable for most people. I tried to find it in a post on his site at http://www.thesleepdoctor.com/ but couldn’t so maybe the newsletter is a bit different to his blog posts. He has written a couple of books on getting a good night’s sleep and also about losing weight through better sleep which you can obtain through Amazon.com. It’s obviously a huge issue for a doctor to specialise in sleeping!
Jan recently posted..Welcome to Jan’s Weight Loss BlogMy Profile

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36 William

This is so true! I am glad I’m not the only one that has these experiences. Thanks Will

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37 chip

You control your weight by burning the same amount of calories that you take in. Besides eating right when you wake up to jump start your metabolisim, when you eat does not effect your weight. And eating before bed in no way effects your weight. If you’re hungry, eat. Have an apple on those nights your stomach is growing. Why torment yourself? If you wake up in the morning after eating an apple 20 minutes before bedtime and you felt sluggish I would be shocked.

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38 Will

An apple 20 minutes before bed may not have any effect. But more and more evidence is showing that a full meal less than about 3 hours before sleep does.

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39 Ina

This is so true. I actually found this blog after I discovered it myself that eating late is harsh on the body and wanted to see if there is anyone else in the cyber space having similar issues. I am naturally thin like my father, but fond myself munching foods all the time, so my digestive system did not have a break at all and I was feeling bloated with acid reflux at night, tired more than usual, and hungry all the time. When I reduced stress in my life and started eating with conciseness, meals that are spread apart and dinner 5 hours before I go to bed, all my issues disappeared. I feel like I have energy to fly. My digestive system is happy and I feel empowered. Also, I have been eating only organic foods and mostly vegetables, fruits, and fish. I do not consume processed and packed foods, dairy and eggs. I pack my grocery cart with veggies, fruits, and nuts only. When the farmers market opens in early May in my area, I start going there to buy fresh produce. Some of my friends when they came to my house and looked in my refrigerator, they were amazed that could not find anything packed from the store. I cook all three meals at home and we all can find time to do so if plan accordingly. I make green smoothies for breakfast, which is very energizing and healthy.

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40 Mo

There is no question it is much healthier to eat diner at least three hours before bed. Because of my work schedule, I often eat a heavy meal about 1 to 2 hours before bedtime. I often had difficulty sleeping, heartburn and lets not mention the excess weight. Now I have diner about 5 hours before bed. I’ve lost about 20 lbs. I feel better and sleep better. And I haven’t had heartburn in months.

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41 Jen

I used to over-eat a lot and I didn’t feel good or healthy. And when I went to sleep, I’d feel even worst in the morning. I felt sick and gross. But now I control myself and try not to over-eat. I would save the food when I’m hungry later in the day and I try not to eat before I sleep. I feel better about myself and I’m healthier.

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42 Kim

I always have a cup of milk before I go to sleep Is it really that bad?

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43 Vicky

I just began drinking green smoothies two months ago and do exercise 2 or 3 times a week. I noticed my belly began to get small (I love it) but then one day last week and last night I ate and went to bed. My belly is the size of a 6 month pregnant woman. So this made me realized that my crunches and sit ups won’t make any difference in my belly size but how many hours with the empty stomach before going to bed. In my case if I want a flat belly I can’t eat and go to bed right away. It’s like my belly get fill with an air pump overnight. If I want to make it go away I just have to go to bed on an empty stomach and I was cool with it a month ago because I wasn’t feeling hungry at all but during this week I’m starving and thinking about food before going to bed. Then I try reading a book or anything to help me sleep or even turning everything off and doesn’t allow me to fall sleep until I eat something. My question is why my body changed and it is feeling hungry again before going to bed? When I go to bed right after eating I fall sleep fast but I keep moving around and feel short of breath. This, of course doesn’t happen on an empty stomach. That good feeling of being full and a nice night of sleep, I want it back. Never had it but now that I discovered it I want it back. If I eat an apple, rice and beans or drink half of a green smoothie won’t make the difference in my sleep what makes the difference is not eating at all. My skin was looking better and I thought it was the green smoothies but something tells me that it was the nice sleep at had for those two months.

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44 Kristine

Thanks Will, I struggle with eating before bed as well. My problem is that my schedule is way out of whack, I usually only go to bed around 2-3am so I got hooked on the “midnight snack” big time. Although I still only eat 2-3 hours before I sleep, I notice that it has started to add weight where I don’t need it. So, even eating 3 hours earlier, if you don’t do anything to burn some of the intake, it still can be harmful..

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45 Lyn

Hi,
I skipped dinner one night after having lunch at 1pm, but woke up starving at 2 am in the morning and ended up eating around 300 calories.
*sigh*

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