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The Hazards of Late-Night Snacking

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Just about everyone has experienced late-night hunger at one point or another. Midnight hunger on its own does not constitute an eating disorder, but it can turn into night eating syndrome. A relatively new eating disorder, night eating syndrome occurs when at least 25% of daily calories are consumed after dinner and before breakfast and when a person wakes up at night to eat.

Warning Signs

While doctors don’t currently recognize night eating syndrome as a formal eating disorder, it has recently gained more attention due to increasing research into the subject. People suffering from night eating syndrome generally, but not always, restrict calories throughout the day and binge eat right before bedtime. Unlike other binge eating episodes which are completed in relatively short periods, binging associated with night eating syndrome lasts continually throughout the night. They have little to no appetite for breakfast and delay their first meal until later in the day. This pattern must persist for two months or more to be considered night eating syndrome.

Causes and Concerns

Night eating syndrome can be caused by hormone imbalances, stress, various mood disorders, or other eating disorders. Hormone imbalances disrupt sleep cycles and normal eating patterns and contribute to the desire to eat late at night. Stress and mood disorders can lead to overeating and binge eating in an attempt to cope with negative emotions. Many times emotional eaters turn to “empty calories” which are foods that don’t adequately fill you up but contribute to daily caloric intake. Consuming too many “empty calories” during the day can lead to overcompensation at night as night eaters struggle to fill themselves up. “Empty calories” contribute greatly to weight gain and obesity, which is why night eating syndrome is often equated with unnecessary weight gain.

Treatment Options

Treatment for night eating syndrome can be quite varied depending on the underlying causes. Comprehensive treatment options should include sleep therapy and psychological therapy as well as medications for hormone and mood disorders. Nutrition counseling and exercise plans will also go a long way toward relieving symptoms from night eating syndrome.

Night eating syndrome, while not a formally recognized eating disorder, presents a problem for a growing portion of the population. About 6% of the people seeking treatment for obesity have night eating syndrome (University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine). Further research into this syndrome will yield more information about the specific causes and courses night eating syndrome can take.

Sources: Livestrong.com, Casa Palmera