Night Eating Syndrome: The Rarely Recognized Eating Disorder

When it comes to the discussion of eating disorders, night eating syndrome is a rarely recognized and often poorly understood condition. Night eating syndrome differs from more well-known eating disorders in that it does not necessarily involve binge eating or purging behavior, although people with night eating syndrome are at high risk of developing binge eating habits. According to existing research, night eating syndrome is estimated to affect up to 1.5% of the U.S. population.

What is Night Eating Syndrome?

Put simply, people with night eating syndrome typically consume at least a quarter of their daily calories after dinner. Night eating syndrome is broadly characterized by an inability to stop grazing, snacking, or eating in the evening hours between dinner and bedtime. These individuals will also usually wake up at times in the night and eat calorie-dense foods. This kind of behavior is usually exacerbated by a lack of routine food intake throughout the day, resulting in dietary overcompensation in the evening. Another characteristic of people with night eating syndrome is an inability to stop eating despite feeling full or eating despite having no feelings of hunger.

What Causes Night Eating Syndrome?

Although the exact neurological causes for night eating syndrome remain unclear, the condition has been linked to disrupted sleeping habits and erratic sleep or wake times. As a result, night eating syndrome is more common in individuals who are routinely awake at irregular hours, such as night-shift workers or college students. Studies also indicate that night eating syndrome is more likely to occur in overweight individuals, people with an existing eating disorder, and people with anxiety and/or depression. Without treatment, night eating syndrome can also exacerbate existing mental health problems, intensifying body image distortions and promoting feelings of guilt, shame, and insecurity.

Treatment of Night Eating Syndrome

Treatment for night eating syndrome typically requires personalized changes in a person’s physical routine and psychological outlook. In most cases, breaking the major habits underpinning night eating syndrome can be accomplished via a combination of nutritional assessment, exercise physiology, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and stress management. Night eating syndrome education is another important aspect of treatment, helping people to recognize and correct lifestyle triggers that may be worsening their condition.

If someone you know is suffering from night eating syndrome, offering friendship and emotional support may encourage them to seek treatment options. If you are personally struggling with night eating syndrome, please reach out to a doctor or dietary therapist to discuss your options for eating disorder treatment.

Sources: Walden Eating Disorders, Eating Recovery Center, Eating Disorder Hope

Photo: Pexels

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