Do You Have Night Eating Syndrome (NES)?
Also known as “midnight hunger,” NES is primarily characterized as an ongoing, persistent pattern of late-night overeating or binge eating.
Does This Sound Like Your Routine?
- You restrict, deprive yourself or skip meals throughout the day, which leads to thinking about food constantly and grabbing random snacks here or there, not really considering what your body needs or really wants.
- You don’t do any pre-dinner planning, so that you pick up take-out on the ride home and then feel guilty about what you ate, which leads to even more eating. Or you eat a ton of cheese and crackers while you try to cook a “real dinner,” then don’t feel hungry for the dinner. Later, you are hungry again, but just snack more.
- You have a post-dinner ritual that’s all about overeating and zoning out. You change into loose, comfortable clothes, plop on the couch with your e-reader, book, or laptop nearby and fire up the TV. Then it’s off to the kitchen for snacks during commercial breaks. You alternate between sweet and salty, so once you’re bored with one flavor, you switch to the other. You don’t pay much attention to what you’re eating or how full you’re feeling.
Effects of Nighttime Overeating
Nightly routines such as this are a cause of weight gain for many women. It’s not just about the food that’s eaten, either. Overeating at night can disrupt our sleep, leading to imbalances of hunger and satiety hormones, making it harder for us to recognize when we’re truly hungry or satisfied. Human growth hormone, which plays an important role in weight management, is also suppressed by late night carbohydrate consumption.
What can you do if nighttime eating feels out-of-control? Identify the reason(s) you overeat at night and change the trigger.
Top 5 Ways to Stop Eating at Night
Tip #1: Eat enough during the day. Not eating enough “sets the table” for overeating at night. Eat more regularly and eat well-balanced meals earlier in the day to prevent overeating at night.
Tip #2: Explore what’s really going on. What purpose is the food serving for you? Is it helping with stress, loneliness, boredom, or procrastination? Determine the need it’s fulfilling and make a point of meeting that need in different ways EARLIER in the day. For example:
- Add stress management techniques like yoga or meditation to your regular routine.
- Plan entertaining activities that involve friends/family for the evening to target loneliness and boredom.
- Work a reward such as a trip to the bookstore into the time frame between finishing work and starting household work back at home.
Tip #3: Add more fun to your life. Is eating at night your favorite way to relax and wind down? Is it the highlight of your day or your primary source of joy/entertainment/fun? If so, look at what is missing in your life that might give you a sense of joy, self nurture, comfort, etc… and add that in. You may then find you’re less likely to fulfill that need with food.
Tip #4: Shake up your routine. We all have routines around eating that involve time of day, location, or activity. Changing those routines can help break the habit of eating at night. Example: If you’ve developed the habit of eating while working on your laptop at the kitchen table, move to your office. If TV is the cue to begin snacking, consider whether it’s essential to watch TV at night. If it is, pair TV watching with a new activity. Remember that it will take practice, practice, practice before that new habit feels comfortable, so don’t give up if it doesn’t feel great at first.
Tip #5: Get plenty of ZZZs. Develop a consistent evening routine and follow our tips to avoid sleep deprivation and weight gain. When waking can’t be prevented and hunger strikes, have a small collection of go-to foods that are easy to eat and brush out of your teeth quickly so you can get right back to bed, such as a glass of milk, small yogurt or a banana.
Eliminate Your Top Cue for Eating
Sometimes, it can be as easy as changing just one thing to break the habit of nighttime eating. Better managing the top reason you overeat at night may take care of the whole problem.