In night eating syndrome (NES), night eaters get up during the night to eat. Sleeping is disrupted – night eaters typically have little or no appetite in the morning.
Night eating is a pathway to obesity – in research studies, night eating predicted major weight gain among female night eaters who were already overweight.
While the causes of night eating are unknown, what is known is that night eating is often accompanied by anxiety, depression and fatigue due to poor sleep.
To stop night eating, try these strategies:
1. To stop night eating, treat the anxiety that you are feeling. Even small amounts of anxiety and stress can increase night eating. The more you worry, the more you will have the urge to eat to decrease the feeling of anxiety.
You may not even know that you are anxious. If you know that you feel anxious, you may not connect the night eating with your anxiety and stress.
You must treat the anxiety first before you can stop night eating. One of the best ways to feel less anxious is to use a simple tapping technique, such as Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT). EFT is a psychological form of acupuncture – it is a simple tapping technique that relaxes the energy system.
2. Reduce your overall commitments. We all have stress, but some of it is of our own making. When your time is your own, you don’t have as much need for late night eating.
3. Throw out the rules – don’t make a lot of rules around night eating. You will only break them. Don’t make a lot of promises to yourself. Instead, reduce stress and anxiety gradually and night eating will decrease too.
4. Teach yourself how to sleep. Many things can disrupt sleep, including hormone imbalances, anxiety and depression. Get a good physical check-up and work on improving these areas.
5. Don’t worry if you aren’t sleeping! Most people can go with less than the optimal amounts of sleep, but we make it worse by fretting about it! If you aren’t sleeping, just accept that you may not get as much sleep as you would like and decide just to “rest” instead – this strategy takes the pressure off!
6. Find something fun to do in the evening. Fun counteracts anxiety – if you are too tired to do anything but sit on the couch and watch TV, then make it a fun family activity. Don’t eat at night in front of the TV. If you are hungry, go into the kitchen, fix a light snack and eat it at the kitchen table.
7. Exercise early in the day – even if it’s only taking a walk. Exercise reduces tension and anxiety, and helps your body release endorphins, the “feel good” chemicals in your body. You will have more energy and feel better for the entire day. You’ll also have much more energy to ward off night eating.
8. Stop obsessing! Obsessive thoughts can drive people to increase night eating. This is a symptom of anxiety. Night eating does not reduce the anxiety. It only masks it. So when the effect of the night eating wears off, the anxiety and the urge to eat quickly return.
9. Find other ways to calm down. Eating late at night is more than a bad habit. It’s a way to soothe anxiety and stress. EFT CDs, Meditation tapes, and EFT can all be very simple tools to break the night eating pattern.
10. Learn to stop food cravings. Food cravings can be easily managed and controlled with tools like tapping. Food cravings are psychological – the act of eating comfort foods helps you calm down and feel good, reinforcing the pattern of night eating behavior.
If you try to stop eating these foods, then you feel deprived (this is withdrawal – the same as in any addiction.) What you are really doing when you eat to satisfy cravings is reducing anxiety. Anxiety and food cravings can both be managed quite nicely with EFT.