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Question: Is it true I shouldn't eat one hour before bed?

Answer: To be honest, there is no hard and fast rule about the latest time you should eat before going to bed . It's perfectly fine to eat a piece of fruit or drink a glass of soy milk an hour, even 30 minutes, before going to bed. A small snack that is low in fat is digested relatively quickly – usually within an hour – on an empty stomach. (However, if you've eaten a large meal within an hour or two of going to bed, your snack won't be digested quickly because your body is still working to digest your dinner.)

You'll often hear that eating late in the evening before bed will promote weight gain – those calories aren't burned off and are more easily stored as fat. The fact is what matters is the number of calories you eat over the course of the day, not when you eat them. Most experts contend that eating a 600 calorie dinner at 6 p.m. or 9 p.m. won't make a difference to your weight, providing you're not eating more than your daily calorie allowance.

That said, there are a few reasons why it's wise not to eat close to bed time. Even though there isn't scientific evidence to show that eating late makes it more difficult to control weight, I do advise my clients to try to finish theirevening meal by 8:00 p.m. Doing so helps them feel less bloated the next morning and sleep more soundly.

If you have gastrointestinal reflux disease (GERD), a condition that often causes heartburn, eating close to bed is a definite no-no. That's because food distends your stomach and increases the likelihood of it backing up, or refluxing, into your esophagus where it can cause burning pain, nausea, dry cough, or sore throat. If you have GERD or suffer heartburn, you should avoid eating three hours before lying down.

There's another reason it's best to not eat close to bedtime: your appetite in the morning. If you eat a meal or too many snacks too close to bed time, you'll be less likely to wake up with an appetite for breakfast, the meal that revs up your metabolism for the day. In fact, I've worked with a number of clients who said they routinely skipped breakfast because they weren't hungry; eating later in the evening resulted in walking up feeling full.

My advice: don't eat a large meal 2 to 3 hours before bedtime. A healthy, light snack is fine provided dinner was eaten 4 to 5 hours before bedtime.

Send dietitian Leslie Beck your questions at She will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or on the Globe website. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.

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The content provided in The Globe and Mail's Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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