Do you feel like not having breakfast quite often? Do you often keep up late at night and binge on snacks? You might be suffering from an emerging eating disorder, which is characterized by a loss of appetite in the morning and compensating for it during night hours. The disorder is usually accompanied with anxiety as well as insomnia. So, night eating syndrome or NES can also be listed under the category of mood and sleep disorder. Although the diagnosis of this disease is controversial and its validity and clinical utility remains to be established, several research studies show that this is not simply a bad indulgence but a clinical illness of a sort which leads to changes in hormonal levels. It has been well demonstrated that people with NES have decreased nocturnal levels of hormones such as melatonin and leptin along with higher bouts of depression. Affecting about 1 to 2 percent of the population, it is mostly prevalent among young women. This article deals with the symptoms and causes of this unique disease.
Causes Of Night Eating Syndrome
At times, school and college goers, who reside in hostels specifically, cultivate the habit of remaining awake and eating. This habit sticks to them even when they become working adults. It is also observed among those high achievers who work through their entire lunch time and then compensate by eating more during the night hours.
Response To Dieting
This eating disorder may ironically be a response to dieting. When one religiously follows the dieting norms, he restricts his calorie consumption during the day. But when night descends, his brain gets busy signaling that his body requires food. It is then that the person typically overcompensates for the energy deficiency by eating after the conventional dinner time.
Stress & Strain
People suffering from NES are seen to experience hormonal imbalance. Excessive stress often results in such a state. Persistent stress leads to production of cortisol, a hormone that signals the body that stress is present. According to one theory, night eating syndrome is the body’s way of tackling the excess levels of cortisol. Studies indicate that people with NES produce large amounts of cortisol in comparison to others. Eating is just one way opted by the body to neutralize the cortisol level or slacken its rate of production.
Reaction To Drugs
Night eating syndrome is seen to be a response to the antidepressant medication. This clearly suggests that there is a chemical component to the disorder. Researchers have also studied that night eaters prefer carbohydrates over other categories of food. Carbohydrates are a food-type that triggers the brain to produce “feel-good” neuro-chemicals. Thus, night eating syndrome may be an unconscious attempt by the body to self-medicate mood disorders and reduce the stress level as well. Carbohydrates help adjust the chemical balance in the brain by increasing serotonin levels. Though increased serotonin secretion induces sleep, the excessive consumption of food during the night results in guilt, which in turn leads to skipping of breakfast. And thus, the cycle of events seem to continue.
Symptoms Of Night Eating Syndrome
A person suffering from NES has little or no appetite for breakfast. The first meal of the day is delayed for several hours even after waking up.
There is a tendency to have high calorie content food after the dinner, instead of eating during the prescribed time slot. It is seen that more than half of the daily food intake is usually after dinner. The person often leaves his bed to indulge in frequent midnight snacking.
While eating, the person is not in a relaxed state of mind but usually feels tense and anxious. It can also be accompanied with nervousness and depression. Besides, he/she has this perpetual feeling of guilt about consuming excess food during night time. Such thoughts, however, don’t stop the person from further indulgence and he/she continues eating despite of it.
The person suffering from night eating syndrome has difficulty in both falling off to sleep and sleeping for long duration. He/she is generally quite restless during the night hours, has a very light sleep and frequently wakes up to eat.
Even the food that the person consumes is of a fixed category. High calorie food, rich in fat and carbohydrate content, which are sugary or contain starch is what the person normally indulges in.
Night eating syndrome should not be confused with binge eating, which is quite prevalent especially among youngsters. While the latter is not a continual activity and is seen over relatively short episodes, NES involves continuous intake of food throughout evening hours. To be considered a bona fide disorder, this pattern should be persistently observed for at least a time period of two months.