Have you ever waked up in the middle of the night and eaten a large amount of food?
Do you sometimes feel that you have lost control over your eating?
Is your sleep disturbed by your eating habits?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you may be struggling with night eating syndrome (NES), a disorder in which you consume more than 25 percent of your daily calories after your evening meal. Athletes can be particularly vulnerable to NES if they’re not getting enough calories during the day.
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NES is characterized by appetite suppression during morning hours and appetite increase during evening hours. Eating patterns include a strong urge to eat between dinner and sleep and/or waking up in the middle of the night to eat, followed by loss of appetite and the absence of eating at the morning meal. It also corresponds with mood, stress and sleep disorder features.
NES behaviors/risk factors athletes should watch out for:
- Not fueling properly during the day/not getting enough calories
- Purposely cutting back on calories for weight management, which can lead to hunger at night
- Not having time or desire to eat breakfast in the morning due to low appetite or being in a hurry
- Added stress, especially leading up to a game or performance
- Inability to get enough rest or get to sleep on time
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NES can cause stress and guilt, affect athletic performance and overall health and cause problems with blood sugar (from eating too much at night and not enough in the morning).
Strategies to combat NES include:
- Balancing your meals with protein, carbohydrates and fat so you remain full and have stable blood sugars throughout the day
- Not skipping meals. If you aren’t hungry at breakfast, try making a smoothie, since sometimes it’s easier to drink than to eat if you’re feeling this way.
- Fitting in fun foods throughout the day to prevent cravings at night.
- Fueling properly before and after workouts.
- Practicing self-care. Make sure to take time for yourself each day to de-stress and recharge.
- Seeking help from professionals, if needed, such as a therapist, sleep specialist or registered dietitian.