Night Eating Syndrome is often overlooked as an eating disorder, but it is rather common, about 1.5% of the population affected, and can lead to poor health outcomes in the long run.
While it may seem similar to Binge Eating Disorder, there are a few key differences. Though they are two different disorders, many people with Night Eating Syndrome suffer from binge eating as well.
The key difference is going to be the time of day where overeating occurs. While binge eaters may experience binge eating at any time during the day, those with Night Eating Syndrome experience overeating at the night time exclusively.
While the conditions may be different, they both have a significant impact on people’s lives. They often lead to a feeling of guilt, shame and disappointment, especially after an episode.
If you have been suffering with night eating, just know there are plenty of studies and strategies that are very promising. This condition does not need to follow you for the rest of your life, I promise!
So, what is Night Eating Syndrome and how is it treated?
What is Night Eating Syndrome?
As described before, those with Night Eating Syndrome experience consuming a large amount of food during the night time. Along with this, those with the condition tend to not eat much throughout the day, leaving them hungry and vulnerable at night.
This condition is often caused by a “dysregulation” of the internal body clock. This leads to a large portion of calories for the day being eaten at night.
To be specific, more than 25% of daily calories are eaten between dinner and bedtime for those struggling with night eating. Other common symptoms include having trouble falling asleep, feeling as though you need to eat before bed and feeling unpleasant emotions at night.
Often those with Night Eating Syndrome also experience mood disorders such as depression and anxiety. This connection seems to make sense considering food is commonly used as a coping mechanism to displace negative emotions.
A common cycle for those with Night Eating Syndrome may look like this:
- Wake up in the morning, don’t eat until the afternoon
- May only eat a small meal or skip lunch completely
- Feels stressed and tired after getting back home
- Feels unsatisfied after eating dinner
- Continues to eat in between dinner and bed
- Feelings of guilt and shame for eating so much
- Need more food before bed to fall asleep
- And repeat…
This is one of the reasons why chronic dieters tend to experience night eating, since they are not eating enough throughout the day.
This cycle may continue on for years. While you may think you just need more willpower to overcome night eating, there is so much more to it.
How to treat Night Eating Syndrome
So, we know what Night Eating Syndrome is, but how is it treated? Well, it is important to get to the root of the issue when it comes to this condition.
You may think lack of willpower is the reason you are eating at night, but it is more complicated than that. As for all eating disorders, willpower does not play a factor.
Let’s think, what are the root causes of night eating?
- Not eating enough throughout the day (and being extra hungry at night).
- Unpleasant emotions such as stress and anxiety.
Using these root causes, we can develop a plan to help relieve eating at night. While there are several ways to help this condition, these strategies have been shown to be helpful and effective:
- Slowly shifting meals to earlier in the day, so that you are less hungry at night.
- Implementing relaxing night time routines such as muscle relaxation to relieve stress and anxiety.
- Bright light therapy to help reduce depressive symptoms, therefore leading to a reduction in night eating. Learn more about this here.
By implementing these strategies and focusing on resolving the root causes of Night Eating Syndrome, you will likely see big improvements.
If self help is not working for you, it could be beneficial to seek a professional to get individualized assistance. This website is a great place to start: NEDA
It also may be beneficial to speak to your primary care provider to see if they can refer you out to a more appropriate professional.
While Night Eating Syndrome may seem impossible to overcome, there is plenty of research to show that you are able to overcome it with the proper guidance and strategies.
If you are struggling with this condition, try out the strategies mentioned above and see how the condition improves. And always remember, this is not an issue of willpower, there are so many underlying factors that lead to Night Eating Syndrome.