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Night Eating Syndrome Poised To Be Newly Recognized Eating Disorder


Experts in the field of Eating Disorders are beginning to recognize a new and distinct syndrome of disordered eating behavior termed Night Eating Syndrome (NES).

NES is thought to affect up to 1.5% of the general population, and up to 16% of overweight individuals. In patients who have undergone bariatric surgery, the incidence may be even higher at an estimated 42%.

NES is characterized by a pattern of not eating in the morning but then eating at least 25% of total daily calories after an evening meal in an uncontrollable fashion. People exhibiting NES characteristics generally feel more depressed as the day shifts to night and also experience shame and guilt about their eating.

Unlike Sleeping-Related Eating Disorder (SRED) in which people sleepwalk and cannot recall their binges, people with NES are aware of what they consume. They may use food as a comfort and also as a sleeping aid. People with NES may awaken 2 or more times nightly to snack and feel as though they cannot get back to sleep without eating.

First described in 1955 by Dr. Albert J. Stunkard, NES continues to affect thousands of people who are suffering silently. Most people do not know that their condition may have a name.

An international NES working group has proposed criteria for the inclusion of NES in the next revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of psychological disorders. The critera are as follows:

25% or more of daily calories are consumed after the evening meal

No interest in eating (anorexia) in the morning hours 4 or more days per week

Awakening two or more times weekly to eat

A strong urge to eat compulsively and a belief that to get back to sleep they must eat

Depressed or worsened mood in the evening

Awareness of nightly ingestions

Symptoms persist for 3 or more months and are associated with significant distress or impaired function.