- Binge eating is when a person eats a larger-than-normal amount of food in a sitting, accompanied by feelings of guilt, shame, and a lack of control.
- Binge eating can happen at night due to inadequate nutrition during the day, high stress levels, poor sleep, and hormonal imbalances.
- You can manage evening binge eating by ensuring proper nutrition during the day, learning coping mechanisms for unpleasant emotions, and seeking professional help when necessary.
If you’re stuck in a cycle of overeating in the evenings, you may wonder what is causing this to happen.
Because nighttime overeating can be a sign of binge eating disorder, be sure to talk to your doctor if you experience this frequently.
Continue reading to learn why binge eating happens at night and tips for overcoming this behavior.
Understanding Binge Eating
If you commonly overeat in the evenings, you may be wondering if you’re experiencing binge eating.
Binge eating occurs when a person eats a large amount of food in one sitting, often when not physically hungry.
It’s associated with feeling a lack of control along with guilt and shame. Common characteristics of a binge eating episode include:
- Eating quickly.
- Feeling overly full afterward.
- Eating in private.
- Low mood.
When binge eating happens at least once per week over three months, it may be classified as binge eating disorder (BED), an eating disorder that requires treatment.
Night Eating Syndrome
On the other hand, if you often wake up throughout the night and feel a strong urge to eat in order to help you fall back asleep, you may be dealing with night eating syndrome (NES).
NES is different from binge eating because it doesn’t always involve overeating in one sitting. Instead, night eating often means waking throughout the night to snack.
Night eating syndrome is characterized by the following behaviors:
- Eating over 25% of daily calories overnight.
- Waking at least two times per night to eat.
- Lack of hunger in the morning.
- Depressed mood, especially at night.
Why Do I Binge Eat at Night? Common Causes
Talk to your doctor for support if you have concerns about binge eating or night eating.
In addition, it may be helpful to think about your diet and lifestyle and how they may affect eating behaviors.
1. Restrictive Dieting During the Day
Being on a restrictive diet, commonly skipping meals, or having an irregular eating pattern throughout the day may contribute to evening binge eating.
Skipping meals or eating too few calories can increase your biological drive for food by the end of the day.
Additionally, research shows that the psychological effects of feeling deprived can contribute to overeating.
2. Emotional Eating
Emotional eating, a common symptom of binge eating disorder, is when a person overeats in response to negative emotions.
Eating highly palatable foods can boost dopamine levels in the brain, temporarily improving mood.
Not having proper tools to regulate emotions without food can increase binge eating behaviors and may also contribute to weight fluctuations or mood disorders.
3. Hunger Hormone Imbalance
In some cases, binge eating in the evening is tied to an imbalance of appetite-regulating hormones like leptin and ghrelin.
Ghrelin is a hormone that triggers hunger; leptin helps you feel full.
Research shows that people who binge eat experience higher levels of ghrelin, which increases the drive to eat.
In addition, ghrelin is naturally higher in the evenings, which, in combination with other factors, may encourage overeating.
4. Exhaustion and Stress
Additionally, evening binge eating and night eating are both associated with poor sleep quality and low morning appetite.
A decreased appetite may contribute to a cycle of skipping breakfast, which can result in heightened levels of hunger later in the day often leading to overeating or binge eating at night.
5. Habitual Behavior
Sometimes, evening overeating becomes a nightly ritual after a busy day.
It can be a way to unwind and cope with the stress of the day. Over time, your body may start to expect a lot of food at night.
Working with a therapist or registered dietitian can help you unlearn this habit and build new coping mechanisms for relaxing in the evening.
Tips for Overcoming Evening Binge Eating
With the guidance of your healthcare team, consider the following strategies to address evening binge eating.
Plan Balanced and Satisfying Meals Throughout the Day
The first step in managing evening binge eating is to make sure you are eating enough during the day.
Avoid skipping meals, and plan to have balanced nutrition at each meal to help you feel satisfied.
If you’re accustomed to skipping breakfast and eating the majority of your calories in the evening, this new schedule may take some time to adjust to.
Start with small changes and consider working with a registered dietitian for guidance.
Address Underlying Mental Health Concerns
Binge eating and night eating are complex and can be related to mental health concerns like depression, anxiety, and difficulty regulating emotions.
Working with your doctor and a therapist to manage these conditions and learn alternate coping mechanisms can help reduce evening overeating.
Practice Mindful Eating
Evening eating may take place in front of the television or in social settings.
Eating while distracted makes overeating easier because you aren’t focused on your hunger and fullness signals.
Create a Relaxing Evening Routine
If you use food as a way to unwind from a stressful day, think about other ways to relax in the evening. This may include things like:
- Going for a walk.
- Listening to music.
- Taking a bath.
- Practicing yoga.
- Reading a book.
- Watching a favorite show.
In addition to creating a relaxing evening routine, it can also be helpful to think about ways to build relaxation into your day, like prioritizing a lunch break or doing a five-minute meditation.
Know When To Seek Professional Help
Consider talking to your doctor if you are concerned about binge eating at night.
In some cases, frequent evening overeating can indicate an eating disorder and should be treated.
Your doctor can assess your symptoms and make a proper diagnosis to get you the support you need.
Working with a therapist or registered dietitian can help you overcome evening overeating and improve your relationship with food.
There are also medication options for treating binge eating and night eating syndrome.
You may wonder why you experience binge eating primarily in the evenings.
For many people, this is the result of multiple factors, including inadequate calorie intake during the day, high stress, hormonal imbalances, and difficulty regulating negative emotions.
If you often overeat at night and feel a lack of control while eating, talk to your doctor about binge eating disorder.
Work with your healthcare team to gain strategies for combating this, like prioritizing proper nutrition during the day and learning emotional regulation tools.
Managing Binge Eating with Nourish
Whether you have the occasional overeating episode or you've been diagnosed with binge eating disorder or night eating syndrome, a registered dietitian can help you overcome these behaviors.
Your dietitian will work with you to identify the diet and lifestyle factors contributing to night binge eating and help you create a plan to redistribute your food intake throughout the day and nourish your body.
Frequently Asked Questions
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