There’s a form of eating disorder that’s less well known called night eating syndrome. People with night eating syndrome are night eaters who eat more than 25% of their daily calories after their evening meal. Night eaters usually have difficulty sleeping and often skip breakfast in the morning, so they’ll feel less guilty about overeating later in the day. What causes night eaters to eat at night?
Night Eaters Are More Likely to Be Depressed
According to research carried out at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, night eaters are more depressed than the general population, and many have self-esteem issues that motivate them to overeat. They discovered that night eaters experienced an improvement in their night eating symptoms when they took the anti-depressant Zoloft. In fact, almost a third were cured of their need to eat at night with this medication. The anti-depressant also improved their ability to fall and stay sleep.
Other Causes of Night Eating Syndrome
According to other studies, night eaters have biorhythm disturbances that affect both their sleep and eating patterns. They have abnormal production of melatonin at night, increased levels of cortisol, low levels of leptin, as well as abnormal levels of neurotransmitters such as serotonin that affect mood and appetite.
The Consequences of Being a Night Eater
Not surprisingly, night eaters are more likely to be obese. Although they eat little during the day, their nighttime binges usually center around foods high in carbohydrates and low in nutritional value. Some experts believe that night eaters are self-medicating when they eat high carbohydrate foods. These foods increase serotonin levels in the brain and help to elevate mood and promote sleep. It may be the body’s way of dealing with their underlying depression.
Helping Night Eaters Get Back on Track
Helping night eaters control their nighttime eating requires dealing with their self-esteem issues and underlying depression. Although anti-depressants such as Zoloft seem to be effective, they also have side-effects. Short-term mental health and nutritional counseling may be the best approach. Taking a melatonin supplement and using light therapy are two treatment options that may work for some people with night eating syndrome. Regular exercise and meditation can also help reduce depression and normalize hormone imbalances.
Night Eaters: The Bottom Line?
Many night eaters are suffering from depression and self-esteem problems, so it’s important to deal with this issue to help normalize their eating habits.
Fitness Prescription. Februrary 2004. page 20.