Night Eating Syndrome (NES) is not just a nutritional disorder, but also a mood and sleep disorder. The affected individuals most often do not eat breakfast and consume less than average amount of calories during the day. However, as the day goes by, their need for food becomes greater and greater, so they consume over one-third of their entire daily calorie intake after dinner or even wake up in the middle of the night in order to grab something to eat.
The food that the individuals affected by NES most often consume is rich in carbohydrates (especially sugars) and fats and, even though small amounts of calories are consumed during the nightly visits to the fridge – only 200 to 300 kcal, such practice can lead to weight gain and chronic diseases in the long run.
The night eaters constitute around 1.5 percent of the total population and 2 percent of Europeans are affected by this syndrome. Persons of any age can be affected, but it most frequently affects women between the ages of 25 and 40, although men are not immune to this disorder. The causes of the disorder are not completely clear, but it seems that the genetic factors in the combination with the improper dietary habits and emotional dissatisfaction play a great role in its inception.
How to recognize the night eating syndrome?
Some people truly suffer from this syndrome, while others are only walking along its edge, especially when they are exposed to extreme stress or great life challenges. If your behavioral pattern includes some of the below-specified symptoms, it is possible that you suffer from NES:
- You are never hungry in the morning and you skip breakfast on regular basis
- You eat insignificant amounts of food during the day
- You feel extreme hunger in the evening and most of your food intake happens exactly in the evening hours
- The quality of your sleep is poor and you wake up often during the night
- If you wake up during the night, you go straight into the kitchen and cannot fall asleep until you have eaten something.
A quality breakfast as the first step towards recovery
The scientists connect NES with stress and emptiness in our lives, but the studies that have established the most frequent appearance of this syndrome in persons who do not eat breakfast and who are more prone to bad dietary habits should not be ignored. That is why, besides psychotherapy and relaxation, the adoption of the proper eating habits is recommended, especially having a regular breakfast as the most important meal of the day.
It would be desirable that this breakfast consists of the whole grains (i.e. cereal) as the source of the complex carbohydrates, milk, dairy, and eggs as the source of complete proteins, as well as fruit or fruit juice as a source of the beneficial dietary fibers, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. Breakfast should satisfy approximately 25 % of our daily energy needs.
The key is in regular meals
Planning a menu beforehand and regular meals during the day can be useful, even if you don’t feel the hunger. An evening meal should contain protein (poultry, eggs, fish, and dairy products) and complex carbohydrates (integral pasta, potato, integral rice…). This combination helps you to avoid the sudden oscillations of sugar levels in the blood and hunger attacks, and it is also a good idea to drink a cup of warm cocoa sweetened with honey or, for example, agave syrup before going to sleep. Milk and cocoa encourage the excretion of serotonin – the good mood hormone and, at the same time, they provide our body with calcium and magnesium, the two minerals that have calming effects.
It is generally used to increase the magnesium intake because of its anti-stress effects, and the individuals affected by this syndrome will also profit from the increased intake of the green, leafy vegetables, nuts, pulses, integral cereals, and wheat germs.
Also, the intake of the additional amounts of vitamin C and vitamin B complexes can be useful (especially folic acid and vitamin B6), as well as the minerals zinc and copper, all in the form of food supplements, because they play a role in the production of a calming and relaxing serotonin.
It is good to keep in mind that everything that has a negative effect on sleep hinders the fight against the night eating syndrome, and it is therefore recommended to avoid alcohol, caffeine beverages, and large and spicy meals in the evening hours.
After the eating pattern is changed, the improvement of the energy levels and mood during the day, as well as the better quality of sleep can be observed. However, if the person is depressive or anxious, it is best to seek professional help. Without solving the accumulated problems, it is hard to overcome the source of the night eating syndrome