Understanding and Coping with Night Eating Syndrome
What is night eating syndrome?
Night eating syndrome (NES) is not very well known, even among people who have it! Many therapists and dietitians have patients come to them, describing NES symptoms, without knowing that NES is an eating disorder.
Patients speak about how hard it is to lose weight, how they never feel hungry in the morning, and how they wake up in the night to go eat something at least three times a week. The individual may not actually feel hungry, but cannot fall back to sleep unless she has something to eat. In fact, at least 25 percent of daily caloric intake happens after supper, for those suffering from NES.
NES is different from SRED (Sleep-related eating disorder), which causes sufferers to eat while sleepwalking and have no memory of eating at all, even if they wake up with dirty dishes in their bed. SRED is sometimes a side effect of prescription sleeping aids, but NES sufferers are awake, and usually have no trouble remembering their nighttime eating. Quite the opposite: Individuals with NES frequently experience shame for their inability to control their eating behaviors.
Is this individual you? What could be causing your Night Eating Syndrome?
You do not need to feel ashamed about your NES. NES is no more shameful than getting the flu. But you should be aware of what causes it, what other problems it might indicate, and learn some tips to make you feel better as you cope with it. Because just like the flu, there are things we can do to prevent it, as well as things we can do to help ourselves feel better and eventually be well again!
Many people with night eating syndrome report that their night-eating pattern began during a period of stress. For most, food has a calming, comforting effect that can help to deal momentarily with stress and anxiety. Don’t exacerbate your anxiety by feeling ashamed about NES. Seek professional help for stress and anxiety and practice self-compassion, and you’ll soon be on the path to healing.
One to two percent of the population is affected by night eating syndrome, and it does not seem to be particularly prevalent in one sex or another. Stress and inadequate sleep makes college students especially at risk for NES.
People who experience NES are usually sufferers of a kind of depression that manifests itself more strongly during the evening, rather than during the day. They are also more likely to have an addiction problem, and are prone to binge eating, as well.
Restricting calorie intake during the day can significantly contribute to Night Eating Syndrome. Especially if it creates a cycle of not feeling hungry in the morning, or feeling shame of what you’ve eaten in the evening and then vowing to “start over” and reduce calories the next day. This can set you up for a binge again later ultimately leading to a restrict-binge cycle. Be honest with yourself and check in to see if you might be restricting during the day, regardless of your hunger cues. Skipping breakfast because you’re not hungry is still restriction and can perpetuate the cycle.
Coping with Night Eating Syndrome
Awareness is key. When you understand your eating behaviors, you can begin to put yourself back in the driver’s seat. Counseling can help you identify triggers and learn to manage night eating syndrome. Mindfulness meditation can help with self-awareness and gaining independence from NES.
Therapy also helps identify other underlying issues, like depression, to get to the root of the matter. When the hormones in the brain are out of sync, it can also affect your circadian rhythm, and throw off your sleep and appetite cycles.
Since up to 27 percent of people seeking treatment at weight loss clinics suffer from night eating syndrome, learning how to balance healthy meals throughout the day, without feeling hungry, can help improve your health and get those rhythms back in sync. We recommend working with a dietitian in conjunction with therapy to address both the physiological and psychological aspects of the eating disorder. Medication may also be helpful to balance your hormones and improve your overall wellbeing.
Not every solution is the answer for everyone, but understanding your night eating syndrome is the first step toward figuring out how to manage it. Enjoy sleeping and feeling better!
Get Help for Night Eating Syndrome
If you are struggling with night eating syndrome in the Houston area, contact us to find out how we can help. We offer both individual therapy and group therapy for binge eating and night eating syndrome.
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