Nighttime Eating

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Q & A: Nighttime Eating

Q: I binge at all hours of the night. Sometimes I don’t even remember that I ate until I wake up to find crumbs or wrappers by my bed. I’ve gained 16 pounds since this started about two years ago. Where do I even begin to get help?

A: First of all, you are not alone. Night eating syndrome (NES) affects approximately four million people in the U.S. The first step is to look at is how much you are restricting during the day. You cannot stop overeating until you stop undereating so make sure you are eating satisfying, non-diet meals every day. Too often, people who binge at night will skip breakfast and/or restrict all day only to start the binge cycle again that night. If you eat lovingly (i.e., delicious, nutritious and moderate meals) during the day, you have less to rebel from at night. Ask yourself: Do I binge on foods that I allow myself to eat in the light of day? One client with NES found herself consistently eating carbohydrates in the middle of the night, yet during the day she only ate salad, fruit, and low-fat protein. She found that by incorporating carbs into her daily meals, she was much more satisfied and her nighttime binges eventually began to decrease.

Another practical suggestion is to do something to wake yourself up before you get to the food. One client put a table in front of her bedroom door each night before she went to sleep. On the table, she put a journal and pen, a meditation CD, a list of how badly her binges made her feel, and a few phone numbers of friends who told her she could call anytime. Just the idea of moving the table, let alone seeing all the options was enough to interrupt the pattern and she was able to decrease her binges significantly and eventually stop altogether.

Next, I would take a look at caffeine intake. If you can cut out caffeine completely, you’ll be more in tune with your natural hunger and fullness. If that feels too daunting, eliminating caffeine past 2 or 3 in the afternoon.

I’d also consider any psychiatric medications you may be taking. Certain sleeping pills, sedatives, anti-anxiety pills and medications used to treat bipolar illness and other major psychiatric disorders have been associated with nighttime eating. Check with you physician.

Finally, I suggest you take a look at what is eating at you emotionally. Are you struggling with depression, anxiety, or high stressors in your life? Whatever is haunting you can be dealt with and healed if you have the willingness and the right help. This means finding a safe person or several people you can be honest with about your feelings. You can also keep a journal and let the nighttime eater what it’s hungry for and what it needs and feels. Your nighttime binges are a cry for help. If you bring your unresolved, unexpressed feelings into the light of day, they will not have to sneak out at night.

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT
Reprinted with permission from Eating Disorders Recovery Today
Spring 2007 Volume 5, Number 2
©2007 Gürze Books

About the Author

Andrea Wachter, LMFT, is a therapist in private practice in Northern CA. Send questions toandrea@got.net with the subject line: EDT Question. Your name will be kept confidential.

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