The Link Between Night Eating Syndrome and Obesity

It’s the middle of the night. Everyone else in the house is asleep but you’re wide awake, with nothing to do but watch bad late-night TV. The refrigerator lurks, only a few feet away, filled with leftovers, junk food, and sugary sodas. What else is there to do but eat?

Night Eating Syndrome (NES) is a recognized eating disorder that impacts an estimated 1.5 percent of the population. As with disorders like anorexia and bulimia, young women are said to be the largest group impacted by NES, with self-image playing a part in many of the cases. With an identified connection between obesity and NES has led many to assume that eating late at night is connected to weight gain, but the time of day isn’t as much a factor as the types of food someone consumes late at night. The high-calorie, starchy foods often chosen as “snacks” are more likely the culprit than the time of day a person eats.

 While NES sometimes manifests as a result of sleepwalking, this is only a small percentage of NES cases. But sleep disorders like insomnia are a factor, along with psychological conditions that keep someone awake at night, like depression, stress, and anxiety. Often treatment for NES involves treating the cause of the underlying cause keeping the person awake, but NES is often tied to a person’s body image.

As with other eating disorders, treatment for NES should be handled by a professional, licensed counselor trained in working with body image issues. Nutritional counseling can also help a person learn to make better food choices, whether that food is being consumed early in the morning or late at night.