We’ve all been there – opening the fridge late in the evening or during the night just to enjoy some tasty snack. As long as snacking happens only occasionally, there’s no need to worry. However, scientists have started alarming that more and more people lose control over their eating habits. We’re exhausted, stressed and can’t even find the time to eat at work. Nearly 2% of society has a problem that has recently received its official name – NES or the night eating syndrome.Visualize this situation – you didn’t have time to eat at work so right after you get home you run to the fridge and devour almost everything you find there. Then you turn on your computer, open a bottle of wine and fill a bowl with peanuts. After that, for the sole purpose of raising your spirits, you award yourself with a nice portion of ice cream. But when you look at the clock, it turns out it was 2.00 am. Time to go to bed! Suddenly, you wake up a few moments later and your heart starts racing because you’re alarm clock is supposed to go off in 3 hours. The adrenaline level immediately rises in your body, making it impossible to go back to sleep. Which is why you get out of bed and prepare yourself a glass of hot milk and a peanut butter sandwich. You unexpectedly feel calm again and – overwhelmed by this sweet and lazy feeling – fall back to sleep. This story sounds very innocently. However, if a similar situation has been happening at least 3 times a week for the last 3 months, you can have a serious problem. So what is this all about?  

NES – what is it?

Nowadays scientists have significantly expanded their terminology regarding eating disorders. Anorexia, bulimia and compulsive overeating are no longer the only terms mentioned in the public debate. We start hearing about SRED or NES. But what is it? The first abbreviation stands for “sleep-related eating disorder”, while the second is a “night eating syndrome”. What’s more interesting, scientists have studied this particular problem for as little time as 63 years. The results of their studies show NES to be a popular occurrence, because 10-60% of obese people admit to having this problem. But how can night eating syndrome be diagnosed? You would have to consume half of your daily intake after 19.00 o’clock. In practice – we often don’t have time to eat at work, which is why we tend to stuff ourselves with food as soon as we get home.

What’s interesting – we don’t really need to devour some enormous amounts of food. It’s enough if we just eat three or four 300-calorie meals. It’s not that difficult after all. Let’s count: a handful of peanuts (300 kcal), two sandwiches (300 kcal), a bowl of ice cream (300 kcal) and we’re in trouble because we sure are going to gain a few pounds. The worst thing is that the evening is precisely when we most desire to eat the products we refused to eat during the day – high in carbs and fat. If you’re observing similar tendencies in your eating habits, don’t panic. To diagnose full-blown NES you’d have to repeat this routine at least 3 times a week. Additionally, you would wake up in the morning feeling full, run to work and skip breakfast. You’d also feel like you can’t go to sleep if you don’t fill your stomach first. Patients suffering from NES have difficulties falling asleep and wake up in the middle of the night (at least 4 nights a week!). They would have to maintain that state for at least 3 months, therefore enabling us to officially call it a night eating disorder.  

Why do we eat at night?

Scientists emphasize that patients suffering from NES admit to a significant drop in their moods, with 70% of them experiencing depressive episodes. Psychologists claim that, for such people, food isn’t just a form of “tasty fuel” that supplies them with energy. Patients with NES eat because the meals soothe their fears and stress, set them free from their own tensions even if they’re not hungry at all. One of the theories says that biting, swallowing and chewing paradoxically allows to drown out unpleasant experiences and silence our worried minds for a short time. Such activities bring back childhood memories and remind us of the time when we were safe and sound in our mother’s arms. Warm milk, its smell, gentle cuddles. Those were the truly calming experiences. And when we were sad or crying because something went wrong, mam or dad invited us for ice cream and grandma started baking our favorite cake. However, patients with NES have created a mechanism: when they feel unhappy or stressed, they consume excessive amounts of sweet snacks to ease the tension. And there wouldn’t be anything weird or wrong about it. After all, we all do it from time to time. The trouble begins when an innocent behaviour becomes a habit.

Call SOS when NES

If you suspect yourself to have NES, you should first direct your steps towards a clinic dealing with sleep disorders. Unfortunately, using tranquilizing or sleep-inducing drugs won’t bring satisfying results. It’s important to obey the sleep hygiene rules – don’t go to bed too late, ideally at a fixed time prior to 22.00, because of a hormone called melanin which is produced at night and helps our body to regenerate. Finding good psychological support and searching for various forms of activity are also a good strategy to reduce evening stress. Physical activity, meditation and yoga all work well. At the end it’s important to remember that everyone should eat dinner three hours before going to bed. There are no miracles. If you forget about it, you’ll simply put on weight.

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