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Midnight Muncher – Is Night Eating Disorder Devouring You?

By Kristina Diener
April 6, 2012
File under: Health Concerns, Healthy Eating, Weight Control

Binge Benefits

Lorraine, a forty-five year old accountant in Los Angeles had hit the big ‘4-0’ like a lead brick and her metabolism had crashed. “Gone are the days when I was svelte and soignée.”

“I used to be able to eat a bag of Doritos and ranch dip at any hour. Then all of a sudden I began to eat late at night, sometimes midnight, or even one or two in the morning. I couldn’t seem to control myself.”

Midnight Snack Attack or Psychological Warfare?

Night Eating Syndrome (NES) is a rarely recognized and a generally misunderstood disorder. Once delegated to the realm of general eating disorders, this very real problem is now commanding the consideration it deserves.

There may be as many as six million Americans who suffer from this newly identified disorder.

People who suffer with binge eating disorder and/or bulimia have very large and infrequent binges. Some classic psychological issues involving NES:

People with NES obsessively consume more than half of their daily caloric intake after eight o’clock in the evening. More significant is the further finding that more than 33 percent of morbidly obese individuals (persons who are 100 or more pounds overweight) are affected by this disorder. Night Eating Syndrome is characterized by a lack of appetite in the morning and overeating at night, with agitation and insomnia a prevalent factor[i].

Although NES is an eating disorder, it is also considered one of mood and sleep as well, according to study author Albert Stunkard, MD, of the University of Pennsylvania’s Weight and Eating Disorders Program[ii].

Is NES different from Binge Eating and Bulimia?

Night Eating Syndrome is very different from binge eating and bulimia. Those who suffer with NES consume relatively small snacks but with high calorie content at night and much more frequently.

People who suffer with binge eating disorder and/or bulimia have very large and infrequent binges. Some classic psychological issues involving NES:

  • Binge eating before bed or continually eating during the night
  • Feeling guilty, anxious or upset while eating
  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • Uncontrollable desire to eat during the night
  • Eating over half your daily calories after dinner
  • Little or no appetite in the morning
  • Feeling nauseous in the morning
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Excessive weight gain
  • Feeling out of control and unable to stop

After several rounds of therapy, her counselor helped her to understand that she suffered from NES and needed to see a registered dietician.  A dietitian can help structure a sensible eating plan, including supplements.

“The thought never occurred to me, my counselor helped me to understand what I needed to stabilize my blood sugar and keep me relatively sane.”

Mood Meds vs Holistic Approaches to NES

Although many choose to treat an eating disorder with psychotropic prescription drugs, one alternative method is through holistic channels. A licensed professional can help you get your life back on track. Exploring such avenues with someone you trust is the first place to start[iii].

Kristina Diener, PsyD is a clinical psychologist in Los Angeles with specialties in addictions and eating disorders.


[i] retrieved April 2, 2012.


[ii]Stunkard AJ, Allison KC, Lundgren JD, O’Reardon JP. A biobehavioural model of the night eating syndrome. Obes Rev. 2009; (10), Suppl 2:69-77.


[iii] Stunkard, A. J., Allison, K. C., Geliebter, A., Lundgren, J. D., Gluck, M. E., & O’Reardon, J. P. Development of criteria for a diagnosis: lessons from the night eating syndrome. Compr Psychiatry. 2009; 50(5):391-9.


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