It’s 1:38 in the morning. You’re eyes are wide open, staring into the darkness. A long sigh. You’ve been tossing and turning for the past 15 minutes, unable to get back to sleep. As it so often happens, you finally sit up, swing your legs out of bed, and make your way to the kitchen.
Moments later, you find yourself getting comfortable in the recliner in the living room, cradling a large bag of potato chips and a box of cookies in your arms. Your hand reaches into the bag, and the ritual begins. – Once again, the urge to eat has won.
There are many forms of eating disorders. The particular one described in the above scenario takes place at night. Night Eating Syndrome, or NES – and we’re not talking about the video game system here – is marked by a delayed pattern of food intake during a daily 24-hour cycle. Some of its facets bear a similarity to binge eating, but NES doesn’t necessarily have to include a pattern of overeating or lack of control when eating, though it can.
Sufferers of Night Eating Syndrome may often…
- be overweight or obese.
- have concerns about body image and have frequently tried and failed at dieting.
- chronic problems sleeping well.
- have a lack of hunger in the morning.
- consume more than 25% of their daily calorie intake after dinner.
- wake up at night and have an urge to eat (twice or more per week).
- believe they have to eat to be able to go back to sleep after they’ve woken up.
- lack control over their eating habits (eating in secret or even though they are not hungry).
- feel depressed, distressed, embarrassed, and guilty for what they are doing.
Causes of Night Eating Syndrome include a variety of factors, such as…
- picking up the bad habit of eating at night or in the evening as a college student.
- skipping lunch due to high demands at work.
- overly restricting calorie intake during the day due to dieting – the body will eventually compensate.
- prolonged and increased amounts of stress in one’s life.
- peculiar hormonal patterns that result in their hunger pattern being inverted.
If you find yourself displaying any of the signs of Night Eating Syndrome, you might wonder ‘what’s the harm in a late-night snack?’ After all, you do eat, it’s just at different times than most other people.
While NES might seem like a harmless habit – a personal preference – it can have a big impact on your long-term health. Individuals with this disorder often have high blood pressure and high cholesterol. They are also at higher risk for diabetes, cancer, heart and gallbladder disease.
What can you personally do to cope with Night Eating Syndrome and lessen its negative effects on your health?
The best coping strategy results from a combination of treatments – simultaneous therapy for the emotional aspect and the eating disorder.
- Educate yourself about the condition – start giving yourself control over how to proceed.
- Identify and evaluate your triggers – keep sleep and food journals.
- Submit to a thorough medical examination – get treatment for possible health issues, such as sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome.
- Have a nutritional assessment – begin subsequent nutritional therapy.
- Talk to a therapist – discuss the possible benefits of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT).
- Learn coping skills and stress management – empower yourself to take control of your own healing path, even when you’re not in therapy sessions.
- Incorporate a routine of physical exercise – improve your overall health, mood, and sleep.