Night Eating Syndrome (NES): A Guide to Overcoming Late Night Eating

Do you find yourself eating late at night, even when you’re not hungry? If so, you’re not alone. 

Night eating syndrome (NES) is a common problem and a major cause of weight gain for many people. Eating too much at night can keep you from looking and feeling your best.

It’s a hard habit to break, but it is possible. Here’s what you can do to break free from late night eating.

Identify the Cause

Before you can truly break the habit of late-night eating, it’s important to consider the cause. Some causes of late-night snacking include stress, boredom, depression, loneliness, exhaustion, or hunger.

Your body needs food to thrive, but many people eat even when they’re not hungry. Food becomes a crutch but leads to negative consequences.

What feels good in the moment can become a burden. Weight gain and health issues will result when you eat in excess.

If you’re dealing with NES, ask yourself what purpose the food is serving? Understanding your behavior is the first step toward making a healthy change.

Know Your Triggers

It’s important to understand the cause of your late-night eating. And it’s good to know what sets off your eating behavior.

If you find yourself eating late at night, think about what triggered the event. Often the answer is not hunger.

A helpful tool for identifying food triggers is a food and mood diary. Throughout the day keep a record of what you eat and your feelings each time you eat.

Having a tangible record of what you’re consuming can be a wake-up call. Look at what, when, and why you’re eating.

You may notice patterns of behavior that need to change. Monitoring your eating and emotional triggers can help you break the cycle of late-night eating.

Get Enough Sleep

Getting a good night’s sleep is not only necessary for overall health and wellbeing, it also affects your hunger cues. When your body is tired or stressed, you may experience a hormone imbalance.

This contributes to cravings for carbohydrates and sugary foods. When you stay up late at night, you may find yourself eating when your body should be at rest.

This creates a cycle of late nights, food cravings, and unhealthy eating. For some people, late night eating is related to anxiety, stress, or worry.

Developing a consistent night routine can help. But this won’t happen overnight.

If you experience insomnia regularly, talk to your doctor. One of the first steps to addressing late-night eating habits is giving your body the rest it needs to function at its best.

Don’t Skip Meals

Many people attempt to solve weight issues by skipping meals and depriving themselves of the daily nourishment their body needs. This is a big mistake.

Skipping meals is terrible for your metabolism and can lead to late-night cravings and unhealthy snacking. When you deprive your body of the energy and nutrients it needs, your body compensates with cravings and hunger.

Restricting your intake throughout the day or skipping meals is setting yourself up for failure. And it can lead to hypoglycemia and the urge to eat late at night.

Be sure to eat a healthy breakfast and regular meals to prevent binge eating at night. 

Eat a Balanced Diet

It’s important to eat enough during the day. You want a healthy balance of fat, protein, and carbohydrates to feel full and help prevent cravings.

Protein is satiating and necessary for energy and muscle strength. But many people overlook this important nutrient.

Depriving your body of protein and the other nutrients it needs leads to hunger and mindless snacking at night. Many people find that developing a meal plan helps them make better food choices.

Having a plan helps you know what to shop for, what to cook, and what snacks to have on hand. This can help you make fewer impulsive decisions about food.

The goal is to stick to the plan as much as possible, stave off hunger, and avoid the temptation of late night snacking.

Eat in the Kitchen

When every room in your home is a place you can eat, you tend to eat more. If you find yourself eating in bed, on the couch, or in your car, you may be giving yourself too many options.

Making a simple decision to eat only at the table can make a huge impact on your eating habits. This forces you to slow down, sit down, and think about what you’re eating.

When you can’t eat in bed or while lounging on the sofa, you may be less tempted to snack and be more aware of the food decisions you’re making.

Remove Trigger Foods

If snack foods aren’t in the pantry, you can’t eat them. Make a conscious decision to avoid buying unhealthy snacks. 

If you find yourself rummaging through the fridge or cabinets late at night, remove the temptation.

You may think you can resist or limit your intake of these foods. But long-term eating habits are hard to break.

It’s easy to fall into the same old patterns when you’re stressed, exhausted, or feeling blue.

Removing trigger foods and restocking your kitchen with healthy foods and snacks are your best options for beating late-night cravings.

Break Associations

It’s easy to get into the habit of eating while you watch TV or work on your computer, iPad, or laptop at night. Screen time and snacks may be a regular habit for you.

You may want to try limiting your screen time at night. If that’s not possible, try substituting high-calorie snacks with healthier options like fruits, vegetables, and no-calorie beverages.

It’s easy to consume a day’s worth of calories while you watch TV. For many people, this is the major cause of consuming excess calories and gaining unwanted pounds.

Try to avoid eating while you watch TV. Instead, find something else to occupy your hands.

Try knitting, stretching, or exercising instead. If you have trouble making it through an exercise session, watching TV while you work out can be a big distraction and a great way to burn some extra calories.

The goal is to break unhealthy associations and develop better health choices and habits along the way.

Don’t Drink Your Calories

One of the worst things you can do for your health and your waistline is to drink sugary, high-calorie liquids. This causes your insulin and blood sugar levels to spike, increasing your food cravings.

Choose no-calorie beverages like water, tea, and coffee instead. A glass of water with lemon or berries is refreshing and helps to fill you up before a meal.

Having a glass of wine or cocktail is fine in moderation. But remember that alcohol is high in calories.

A few too many can lead to poor food choices and disrupt your nighttime routine. Instead of alcohol, try a diet soft drink or a festive mocktail.

Monitor Your Stress

Stress and anxiety are major triggers for NES. And many people with stress issues try to compensate with food.

Using food to control your emotions is never a good idea. What calms you for a moment can lead to extra calories and weight gain you don’t need or want.

Stop and assess your stress levels. Ask yourself why you’re reaching for food.

Taking time to breathe, meditate, or exercise can help alleviate anxiety. Reducing your stress levels can help reset your hormones, balance your brain chemistry, and curb your cravings.

Stress is inevitable. But you don’t have to let it control you.

Remember that eating is not a solution to stress. Some gentle exercise, aromatherapy, and a hot bath before bed will calm your nerves and help you steer clear of nighttime cravings.

Get Active

The current health crisis has us indoors more. If you’ve gained weight and started eating more at night, you aren’t alone.

Finding something you enjoy doing is critical to good health. Make a plan to take a walk every evening, take a Yoga class, ride your bike, or do anything you enjoy.

Having a creative outlet like crafts, painting, or pottery can help occupy your mind and keep you busy.

Try to keep in touch with friends and family, even if you can’t see them in person. Don’t let loneliness drive you to poor food choices.

Decide to enjoy yourself and take the power away from food.

You’ll wake up happier and feeling better about yourself once you’ve kicked the habit of late-night eating.

Don’t be hard on yourself. Changing a longstanding habit takes time. If you fall back into old habits, don’t give up.

Put your health and wellbeing first. Staying active and engaged can help you avoid temptation and feel good about yourself and your choices.

Develop a Routine

Some people overeat at night because they deprive themselves during the day. If you don’t consume enough calories during the day, your body overcompensates with intense cravings at night.

These habits can result in a vicious cycle of NES. Developing a healthy routine can help get you on the right track. Scheduling your eating and sleeping times can help you regulate your meals and avoid nighttime cravings.

Poor sleep can wreak havoc on your body and your metabolism. Going to bed at the same time each night can help you develop better sleep habits.

If you’re not tossing or turning or wandering around the house, you’re less likely to consume excess calories. If you find yourself eating while you should be asleep, developing a schedule and sticking to it may be a possible solution for you.

Think About the Future

If you’re binge eating in the middle of the night, you’re thinking about your immediate needs. You’re not thinking about the future or the negative effects of your eating habits.

Try to replace the thought of immediate gratification with thoughts of what you hope for the future. Whether you want to be in great shape, fit into your wedding dress, hike in the mountains, or anything else, keep reminding yourself of your goal.

Positive thoughts of the future can be a powerful tool to control your cravings and end the cycle of NES. Remember to forgive yourself.

No one is perfect, and you may slip into old habits sometimes. Keep trying.

Replacing negative thoughts with powerful, positive ones can help you break the habit of overeating late at night. Remember you’re not alone. With hard work and determination, you can overcome destructive eating habits.

Seek Help

Some people can modify their eating habits on their own. But many people will need help to accomplish their goals. 

There’s no shame in reaching out for help. In fact, it’s a sign of determination and strength to admit you can’t do it alone.

An expert in eating disorders can help you identify the cause and triggers of your eating habits. They can develop a treatment plan to put you on the road to better health.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) may be a good option for you. This type of therapy may help you identify new ways to manage negative thoughts and emotions that lead you to overindulge.

If you’re struggling with late-night eating, seeking professional help and support may be the best decision for you.

Ending Night Eating Syndrome

Eating late at night on occasion isn’t a problem. Eating too much every night is a real problem many people face.

It’s important to take an honest look at your habits and identify the reason for late night eating syndrome. When you know what’s triggering your destructive eating habits, you can begin the work to correct it.

Changing your eating habits isn’t easy, and it won’t happen overnight. We’re here to support you. Be sure to take a look at our website and helpful information on eating disorders.