Heading to the fridge for a late-night snack is something we all engage in from time to time. But, if you're finding that you're making nighttime trips to the kitchen regularly or that binge eating is becoming an issue, it might be time to seek out some help from professionals.
We've rounded up helpful ways to target binge eating, banish late-night snacking and change the way you approach food.
What is binge eating?
Binge eating happens when you consume large amounts of food in a short space of time and often it can feel like you have no control over the amount of food you're eating . Binge eating disorder is a serious mental health disorder and accounts for almost half of all eating disorders in Australia .
Research shows that binge eating disorder affects men and women in equal percentages with over one-third of men experiencing an eating disorder. However, researchers believe that this number could be higher for men given the stigma surrounding eating disorders in men.
During a binge eating episode, a person may not even feel hungry but continues to eat until they are extremely full. Oftentimes, people binge eat secretly and alone and following a binge eating episode, they may feel guilty, shameful and disgusted with themselves .
What classifies as binge eating?
Often people get confused between overeating and binge eating. While overeating is a normal part of life, a binge eating disorder is very different and considered a serious mental health condition.
Lots of people overeat from time to time and this can often happen in social settings — like getting an extra serving of food at a party — or when you're alone — like eating too much takeaway. Overeating can happen by accident or by choice but you are still consuming more food even though you're comfortably full .
Overeating can also occur because you're distracted while eating and watching TV, or you find the food really pleasurable. Or, it can happen when you're bored or having a bad day so you turn to comfort food — this is often referred to as emotional eating.
Binge eating, on the other hand, is compulsive eating where you're driven by intense urges and occurs frequently. Binge eating can be highly distressing and affects the individual's life in various settings like work, school and socialising .
Let's take a look at some of the symptoms of a binge eating disorder:
- Eating large amounts of food in a short time frame
- Feeling out of control when eating
- Eating quickly during a binge eating episode
- Eating until feeling discomfort
- Eating to handle emotional distress
- Hoarding food
- Feeling ashamed, embarrassed and guilty after a binge-eating episode
- Withdrawing from usual daily activities and from family and friends .
Why do I binge eat at night?
Eating at night is a common experience for many people. Sometimes, when you're trying to lose weight you 'eat really well' during the day and then the cravings for snacks start at nighttime.
Eating late at night could also be caused by skipping meals during the day and feeling hungrier at night.
Research also suggests that the time of day can impact hunger levels because of a hormone called ghrelin, which increases appetite and is sometimes called 'the hunger hormone.' One study showed that ghrelin increases at night and the feeling of fullness also decreases in the evening .
In the same study, stress was also a big influence on participants, where cortisol and ghrelin increased at night and also in the morning . Cortisol (the stress hormone) can significantly impact your hunger levels because it raises blood sugar and insulin .
The type of food you eat throughout the day also impacts how hungry you feel at night. Leptin is another hormone that your body releases to help control a normal long-term weight and your body's leptin levels are related to how much body fat you have .
Leptin resistance can cause increased hunger, which makes you eat more. When your food intake consists of sugary and processed foods, leptin can't do its job and properly let your body know you're full .
Some people may also experience night eating syndrome, which is an eating disorder that is often linked with interrupted sleep and insomnia. Night eating syndrome occurs when an individual wakes up during the night to eat and sometimes it can happen a few times in one night .
People with nighttime eating syndrome have lower levels of leptin at night and experience changes to other hormones like ghrelin, cortisol and melatonin, which are all involved in regulating sleep-wake cycles, stress levels and hunger .
Common triggers for binge eating
Triggers for binge eating are often external factors or events that can impact your mood or produce uncomfortable emotions, which can cause disordered eating or nighttime overeating.
Getting to the root cause of your triggers can be really helpful for binge eaters to manage and overcome binge eating whether that's understanding external influences or internal triggers.
Some common triggers that cause binge eating include:
Body image-related triggers
- Negative emotions about your body image and 'feeling fat'
- Shopping for new clothes
- Seeing reflections or photos of yourself
- Intrusive thoughts about your weight
- Feeling like your clothes are too tight or too small
Food and eating triggers
- Dieting, undereating or intentionally not eating
- Feeling hungry and unsatisfied with your meals
- Feeling like you can't enjoy the food you like
- Breaking diet rules or eating foods you set as 'off limits.'
- Intrusive thoughts about food
Mood and emotional triggers
- Feeling stressed
- Feelings of boredom
- Feeling depressed and anxious
- Feeling tired
- Feeling lonely .
Effects of binge eating
There are various long-term physical and mental health effects of binge eating that can impact weight gain, body image, clinical obesity and stigma surrounding weight. The effects of binge eating and binge eating disorders include:
- Type 2 diabetes
- Heart disease
- Weight gain
- High blood pressure and high cholesterol
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Sleep-related breathing disorders
- Depression and anxiety
- Social isolation and loneliness
- Poor quality of life
- Problems functioning in daily activities like work, social situations and relationships .
What support is available to combat binge eating?
If you're struggling with any eating disorders like binge eating or nighttime eating syndrome, the best thing you can do is seek professional help and treatment with your healthcare provider.
There are also specialised eating disorder organisations that can support you or provide you with information about binge eating disorders, including Butterfly Foundation, National Eating Disorders Collaboration and Eating Disorders Victoria.
What are the best ways to stop binge eating?
Mental health treatment
For people with binge eating disorders, the negative effects aren't just the physical consequences but the mental impacts. To reduce binge eating episodes, mental health treatment can be really beneficial to change eating patterns, poor body image, shame, guilt and other negative emotions.
Mental health treatments can include cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), interpersonal psychotherapy and dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT). Sometimes, anti-depressants can help reduce binge eating and other associated symptoms like depression and anxiety.
Alongside seeking professional mental health help, medication can be helpful to reduce binge eating. Pilot's Metabolic Reset Program takes a holistic approach to weight loss through a combination of medical science and targeted weight loss.
Pilot's Metabolic Reset Program uses breakthrough medication that introduces naturally produced hormones from your gut to decrease appetite.
In combination with prescription weight loss medication, we provide support from our medical team, practitioners and coaches, plus, a supportive community of like-minded men who are on the journey with you to help take out the stigma of getting help for men.
We also use health coaching and personal goal-setting to help you make all the lifestyle changes needed to lose weight, stop eating late at night and reduce cravings throughout the day.
Changing your relationship with food
The assistance of a mental health professional and a registered dietitian can help you change your relationship with food. A lot of the time, binge eaters restrict their eating throughout the day by skipping meals as a method of weight gain management or labelling foods as 'off limits.'
With the help of a professional, changing your relationship with food to eating regular meals throughout the day, consuming healthy snacks and eating high-protein meals and unprocessed foods can curb cravings, keep you fuller for a longer time and have a stack of other health benefits too.
Changing your relationship with food also means not relying on food for emotional needs or comfort, but, rather for nutritional needs.
Practice intuitive eating
Intuitive or mindful eating is all about eating when you're hungry and stopping when you're full . Practising intuitive eating allows you to shift your relationship with food and give yourself permission to eat when you're hungry and trust in your body to make positive food choices.
There are 10 principles of intuitive eating including:
- Rejecting the diet mentality
- Honour your hunger
- Challenging the food police
- Discover the satisfaction factor
- Using kindness to cope with your emotions
- Feel your fullness
- Respect your body
- Honour your health .
Research shows that intuitive eating decreases the chance of depressive symptoms, low self-esteem, body image issues, unhealthy weight control patterns and binge eating. The likelihood of developing binge eating was decreased by 74% for those who practice intuitive eating .
Stop skipping meals
Skipping meals can leave your body with no nutrients and increases your appetite at the end of the day, which, in turn, increases your chance of binging at the end of the night.
Try to consume at least 3 meals a day, as research shows that regular eating patterns throughout the day can decrease the chance of binge eating at night . If you don't have time to eat a proper meal, try to meal prep a healthy snack like fresh fruit, vegetables and fibre-rich foods.
Ultimately, there's nothing wrong with overeating from time to time — it happens to the best of us. But, getting into a pattern of binge eating can have some serious health consequences and even lead to a binge eating disorder. But, there are plenty of evidence-based ways you can take control over your disordered eating habits and food intake that improve your well-being.
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