Night-Eating Syndrome

Amongst the general population, there is a growing awareness of the most commonly occurring eating disorders: anorexia, bulimia and compulsive overeating disorder. Despite this increased familiarity with the names and even the symptoms of these disorders, most people lack a genuine understanding of what it means to be an eating disordered individual. Whether it is the erroneous notion that anorexia…

Night Eating Syndrome - Eating Disorder StatisticsAmongst the general population, there is a growing awareness of the most commonly occurring eating disorders: anorexia, bulimia and compulsive overeating disorder.  Despite this increased familiarity with the names and even the symptoms of these disorders, most people lack a genuine understanding of what it means to be an eating disordered individual.  Whether it is the erroneous notion that anorexia only affects teenage girls or the mistaken notion that compulsive overeaters are merely obese individuals, there is plenty of misinformation out there.  Compounding the problem of incorrect information about eating disorders; who they affect and their causes, is the fact that researchers are regularly classifying different behavioral traits with specific clinical definitions.

What is Night-Eating Syndrome?

A relatively new term, initially described nearly 50 years ago, is Night-Eating Syndrome.  As Night-Eating Syndrome becomes more publicized, like with other eating disorders, there’s bound to be a lot of faulty suppositions on the part of the public at large.  In very simple terms, the syndrome is defined as a phenomenon where a least 25 percent of an individual’s daily calories are consumed after the evening meal.  Generally, those struggling with Night-Eating Syndrome compulsively graze and eat in the hours following dinner up to bedtime and, in some cases, rise from bed in the middle of the night to consume more food.  Currently, a number of experts are campaigning to have this syndrome recognized as a distinct eating disorder.

How is Night Eating Different Than Compulsive or Binge Eating?

What distinguishes Night Eating from other grazing or snacking behavior is the complete lack of interest in consuming food until the dinner hour and a subsequent inability to stop once they have begun.  Individuals afflicted with this syndrome experience an intense compulsion to eat until they retire for bed.  Night Eaters will often wake up many times during the night and feel an excessive need to eat so as to return to sleep.  As with compulsive overeaters, they often fell great guilt and shame and can grow anxious and depressed the following morning.  Researchers indicate that Night Eaters eat marginally less than a typical binge but that they are emotionally unable to stop eating in the manner to which they have become accustomed through habit.

Night Eating Syndrome Statistics

Experts studying Night-Eating Syndrome estimate that 1.5 percent of the general population is affected and that the disorder affects men and women equally.   As with other eating disorders, a number of factors come into play regarding causality.  Researched suspect a genetic vulnerability combined with the other typical psychological, cultural, and environmental stressors contribute to the manifestation of the syndrome.

Clearly, more research needs to be done to determine all aspects of this syndrome and the most efficacious approaches to treatment.  In the meantime, individuals who suspect they are Night Eaters should seek care from an eating disorder treatment facility that offers a multi-disciplinary, individualized course of treatment.

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