People suffering from NES often eat a significant part of their daily calories between dinner and bedtime or wake up in the middle of the night craving sugars or carbohydrates. They might feel the need to have a full belly to fall asleep. Often, individuals experience weight gain from excessive calory intake as well as shame and guilt after night eating episodes. I am going to share what helped me and my clients to overcome night eating syndrome.
My Journey With Night Eating
To be honest, I did not know that Night Eating Syndrome or NES was even a ‘thing’ until I personally experienced it for 2 years. I had no idea what it was, let alone what to do about it. At first, I thought it was just me being hungry. But it really affected me because I became so exhausted from constantly getting up in the middle of the night! Also, I literally felt like I could not get back to sleep unless I ate and had a full belly. Consequently, I began looking into NES and realised so many people suffer as well.
What is Night Eating Syndrome?
The scientific world is still in conflict about NES and what the cause might be. Some theories relate to anxiety. Others suggest a disruption of circadian rhythms. Some say NES is caused by an underlying dysregulation of our biological rhythm that alter hunger cues, sleep and wake times as well as overall energy levels. Essentially, it is considered a disarray of mood, eating and sleeping.
How we experience NES?
People might have varying experiences of NES. For some, they can not go to sleep until they eat huge amounts of carbohydrates or sugars. Others can not stay asleep and need to get up and the only thing that will calm them is carbohydrates or sugars. For me, it was the second one. I would wake up feeling so stressed with my chest full of anxiety. I would wake up repeatedly. At midnight, then 1am, 2am, 3am, 4am – thinking my goodness, I really need to eat because I want to sleep. This affected me and my life profoundly!
Root Causes of Night Eating
Once I reached my pain threshold of this pattern, I began my research. Thankfully now it is gone. Most importantly, I managed to treat the root causes of the issue, which I will share with you now.
Causes of Night Eating Syndrome
Stress can be a huge cause of Night Eating. If you have too much stress in your life, or go to bed worried or anxious, it might trigger NES. This is when it is important to locate the stress in your life and where it might be manifesting. Ask yourself: What are the major stressors? Where are they coming from? Work? Family? Friends? Relationships?
Lacking Nutrient Dense Foods
NES can also be triggered by a lack of nutrient-rich foods. This might be the case if you are constantly on a diet or not eating enough calories (under-eating). Therefore it is important to ensure you have enough healthy snacks throughout the day. Further, make sure you eat enough healthy protein, fats and carbohydrates (this will also keep your blood sugar balanced). If you do not have enough carbohydrates this can affect you. You will stay fuller for longer in the evening. For example starchy veges like pumpkin is a good one!
Strategies to Stop Night Eating
Mindfulness meditation significantly helped me on my journey. It helped me find calmness within myself and I subsequently found falling asleep much easier. Search in google “Half an hour mindfulness meditation” or “30 minutes sleeping mediation”. Here is one you could try out first: Sleep meditation: 30 minute Sleep Music .
Stop intense work-outs
I realise this might sound counter-intuitive. I actually stopped going to the gym and doing high-intensity exercise. Even though I enjoy this style, it caused too much stress on my body. I changed to yoga, pilates, and gentle walks. I found moving my body in a different way, a more gentle and subtle way helped immensely with stress and consequently night eating.
Stress is a huge topic and there are so many ways to release stress throughout the day. Here is a process related to emotions and unpacking feelings.
1. First, acknowledge your feelings
2. Next, label the feeling you are experiencing. Saying out loud: I am feeling…
3. Then, notice where in your body you are feeling that feeling.
4. What shape, colour, texture does that have.
5. Take a few deep breathes into that space (up to 6 full rounds of breath) and watch that shape in your body changing.
6. Finally, ask yourself questions that will provide you solutions to move forward (solution-based questions)
I understand that NES carries with it guilt and shame, but know that this is common and you can move beyond it with the right support. If you experience symptoms don’t wait until it gets worse. NES can affect all aspects of our lives. For example, it can deteriorate our sleep patterns, relationships, as well as our psychological well being. Reach out HERE. I will be able to help you to identify sources of stress, triggers and unpack your relationship with food.
Night Eating Summary
Night Eating Syndrome is really awful to live with. I hear you because I have been there! Ultimately what helped me was to focus on where stress was coming from and reduce these sources. For me, one way of reducing stress was no more morning boot camps. Additionally, I changed to a more gentle exercise regime. I also ensured I ate enough nutrient-dense foods (carbs, protein, and fats). Essentially, I went back to the basics of a good balanced diet. I also stopped dieting and restricting food!
If you have any further questions about NES, how I treat it and how I can support you, message me at firstname.lastname@example.org