There are many people who crave a late night snack. They might want something to eat either right before bed or wake up and crave food in the middle of the night. For most people with these eating habits, there’s nothing to worry about. However, when a person eats food late at night at that food accounts for more than 25% of his or her calorie intake, then there might be an illness present.
Night Eating Syndrome, as it’s called, is a form of an eating disorder. It is within the same category as Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia. Although some teens might binge late at night or right before bed, Night Eating Syndrome is not necessarily Bulimia. Also, unlike Bulimia, this disorder does not include the inability to stop eating, like other eating disorders. Instead, this illness is characterized by eating late at night, even if a teen is not hungry. And, as mentioned above, the calorie intake of the late night eating needs to account for 25% or more of the total diet. Often, a teen will feel that he or she cannot go to sleep unless they’ve eaten.
Interestingly, Night Eating Syndrome is more prevalent than Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia. The typical age of onset is late adolescence, making teens more vulnerable to the disorder as well as other eating disorders which also have an adolescent onset. Many female teens, for instance, often feel the pressure of needing to have a particular physical appearance and weight. Although men are not immune to eating disorders, it is more common among female adolescents. Furthermore, it is very common for this illness to be accompanied by other disorders, such as obesity, insomnia, depression, and/or anxiety. For instance, a teen who is eating late at night could be unknowingly inducing a tranquilizing effect by loading up with high amounts of sugar right before bed. Late night eating and other binge eating experiences might be the way a teen is managing his or her anxiety.
Furthermore, a teen who is addicted to substances or who is using substances on a regular basis will tend to have trouble with malnutrition, and this might also contribute to the need to eat late at night and possibly the development of this disorder.
Any teen who experiences Night Eating Syndrome or any other form of an eating disorder should contact a mental health provider.¬† A therapist or psychologist will be able to identify the underlying issues contributing to Night Eating Syndrome. A mental health provider can also assess whether other accompanying mental illnesses are present.
Typically, the treatment for eating disorders includes psychotherapy and medication. If extreme, it might include hospitalization. In this case, the goal is to first medically stabilize a teen who has gone without eating for a long period of time. However, when the illness is not as severe, the goal might be getting a teen to eat regularly scheduled meals and take personal responsibility for making the right food choices. Along with this encouragement, psychotherapy can address the underlying issues while medication can ease symptoms of mental illness that might accompany an eating disorder.
If you or a friend are experiencing Night Eating Syndrome or another eating disorder, contact a mental health provider today
Paradigm Malibu is an adolescent mental health and drug treatment center dedicated to identifying, understanding and properly treating the core issues that impact teens and their families.