You may have heard the old wives tale about eating after 8 pm: Don't do it or else the food will be stored as fat. Although that's not true, nighttime eating is a real problem for millions of people who just can't seem to stop bingeing before bedtime.
People who suffer from night-eating syndrome (NES) feel especially compelled to eat a lot of high-carb, high-fat foods at night. They might even eat more food after dinner than during dinner. Many eat very sparingly throughout the day, but stuff themselves at night.
Some sufferers find themselves unable to sleep because they cannot stop thinking about food. Afterward, they may feel guilty and disgusted, fearful that another binge will soon occur.
NES was studied in 2009 by a team at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center. Their findings, published in the January 2009 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, linked this newly designated eating disorder to stress, low levels of melatonin, and elevated levels of cortisol throughout the night.
Sufferers were also more likely to have other eating disorders, as well as sleep disorders and mood disorders such as depression.
If you suspect that you might be suffering from Night-Eating Disorder, speak to your doctor about available treatments. In the meantime, here are four effective steps you can take to get your nighttime eating under control.
Step 1: Eat a late dinner
Sometimes real hunger exacerbates the symptoms of NES. Make sure you never go more than three hours without a small meal or snack. This might require you to move your dinner to a later time, especially if you tend to stay up late at night.
If you eat dinner at 6 pm but don't go to bed until midnight, you've gone six hours without eating anything. This long stretch without food can make you more susceptible to bingeing.
Step 2: Get rid of temptation
People who binge at night almost exclusively crave foods that are high in sugar and fat. These comfort foods cause the brain to release serotonin, a chemical which improves mood and makes it easier to fall asleep. This is especially tempting for those who struggle with insomnia resulting from obsessive thoughts of food.
To reduce temptation, get rid of all the foods you commonly binge on: cookies, baked goods, ice cream or any other foods you feel compelled to eat at night. Don't keep these foods in your house. You're far more likely to binge on readily accessible foods than to drive to the store and purchase them.
Step 3: Exercise at night
Some people avoid exercising at night because it makes them feel too energetic before bed. But if you time it right, you can reap the appetite-suppressing effect of exercise and still get a good night's sleep.
When we exercise, our bodies produce endorphins, which give us a general sense of contentment and well-being. Try ending your workout one hour before bedtime, and follow it up with a warm, relaxing shower. This could leave you feeling too content to succumb to a nighttime binge.
Step 4: Trick your body into feeling full
There are other ways to trick your body into forgetting about food. Sometimes a warm drink will leave your stomach full and satisfied. Try drinking low-fat hot chocolate before bed. Hot herbal teas are another good choice. If you must snack, choose high-fiber foods such as raw fruits or vegetables.
Other night time eaters brush their teeth when they feel a binge coming on.
Try brushing your teeth with a strong, minty toothpaste. Then follow it up with some equally strong mouthwash. Your teeth will feel so clean that you won't want to dirty them again by taking a bite.
If you've ever tried to drink orange juice after brushing your teeth, you're familiar with this effect.
Note that some over-the-counter sleep aids, such as diphenhydramine, have been linked to increased hunger and cravings. If your nighttime eating is interfering with your sleep, let your doctor know.