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08/25/2009 07:23 PM

My Story & What has worked/not worked

Posts: 16
New Member

Hey all! I originally posted this in response to someone else's post in the "support" forum, but would like to share with all. Here is my personal story and what has worked and not worked through my recovery with NES.


I'm currently a graduate student and recovering from night eating syndrome (NES). I had a similar developmental course as some of you...

I started exhibiting eating disorder symptoms my senior year in high school, around 12/01 (restriction, increased exercise). I was then diagnosed w/ AN 4/02. I went off to college that summer 8/02 and continued to participate in therapy and was "recovering." Though I continued to restrict, I focused more on exercising and became a compulsive exerciser. However, I monitored my weight and would not let it drop below a certain threshold, as I thought that if I maintained a certain weight (i.e., what was determined to be just above "underweight" by my physician), I was physically and psychologically healthy.[ NOTE: this is not the case. Weight is a poor criterion for determining whether or not one has recovered from AN or any eating disorder for that matter!!!!] I started to lose some weight again my sophomore year in college, at which point I was confronted by my roommate. I got scared and made the conscious decision to eat more. I woke up hungry two nights later and decided that I should listen to my body cues and eat I did. This then started the process of my nocturnal eating (waking up from sleep and eating). From my junior year of college 12/2004 to last month, 7/09, I would wake up and eat 2-7 days/week. At my worst, this would happen every day, up to 6 times in one night. After the first 6 months of the onset of NES, I engaged in more compulsive behaviors, in attempt to "purge" out the excess calories consumed at night. I later qualified for a diagnosis of BN as well, which lasted about 3 months. Currently, the nocturnal eating hasn't happened for 2 weeks and it only occurs, on average, 1x every other week or so. I finally feel I am "eating disorder" free.

Like all of you, this caused A LOT of distress!!!!!!! I constantly felt guilty, sad, hopeless, and gross. I (like all of you) tried everything I could to try to stop, but was consistently unsuccessful in all my attempts. I was frustrated b/c so few people knew about this disorder (even health professionals), that I felt very alone and hopeless. I gained 15 pounds as a result of the night eating. I would eat peanut butter out of the jar, sweets, carbs, and all the kinds of foods that I could resist during the day. Like some of you had stated, I was was very self-disciplined during the day and able to resist any cravings. The night eating prevented any attempts at weight loss and made me feel completely "out of contol."

To make matters worse, since I wasn't typically fond of these foods (still the disordered thinking back then), I didn't purchase them, so I would be eating my roommates foods when I woke up. This made me feel even more guilty for my behavior and I had to think of new ways to explain the missing food to them. I eventually (after much deliberation) told them about my disorder - yes, it was very hard. To also rid of the guilt, I started exercising more and not eating during the day. Although, I rarely had an appetite upon awaking in the morning, I would purposely try not to eat until late in the day - obviously, this started a vicious cycle, in which I would eat more throughout the night, including waking up and eating even more. I would wake up tired, groggy, and with a feeling of "disgust."

I tried various tactics to help decrease the nocturnal ingestions, some of which were helpful. Here are the various steps and specific techniques I have tried:

(1) Went to an eating disorder specialist - that was a bit disappointing b/c I was more informed than her on NES and she didn't appear to do her research on the disorder. However, I would definitely recommend finding a specialist who works in the eating disorder field for help and support through recovery!!! Make sure you ask at the outset about his/her knowledge about NES.

(2) Bought the book, "Overcoming Night Eating Syndrome," by Dr. Allison at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and read about different treatment techniques.

(3) Asked my boyfriend to try to stop me when I woke up - that didn't work, as he was a heavy sleeper and I would only get pissed at him if he tried to stop me! I could easily find a way to get food in my mouth...chaining myself to his leg did not help either.

(4) Made an obstacle course in between my room and the kitchen, with the hopes that this would help increase my awareness at night and, thus, ability to resist eating. Again, this did not work.

(4) TRied taking melatonin before bed - melatonin levels are found to be decreased in patients with NES (though, I have read numerous research articles on this, I am not providing references. I would be happy to send some if you are interested). Melatonin did did help me fall asleep, but did not help me stay asleep.

(5) I also tried Ambien, but this had the same effect as melatonin. These medications did not prevent me from waking up and eating.

(6) I also tried taking Leptin. Leptin is a hormone that is also found to be related to NES. Research indicates that people with NES do not have the normal rise in leptin at night, which helps regulate eating and appetite. Taking the hormone did not help. Although, i was not consistent with this and did not consult a health care professional. I DO NOT recommend trying these medications/hormones on your own w/o consulting a professional!!!!

(7) Tried taking 5-HTP, which is the precursor to serotonin. It, thus, increases serotonin levels, which are found to be decreased in patients with NES. Research also finds high rates of depression in people who suffer from NES (serotonin is also decreased in people with depression). I didn't consistently take this, so I can't really comment on its efficacy in treating NES. Though, I did...

(8) ...see a psychiatrist and was prescribed Zoloft, an SSRI, which also increases serotonin levels. (This was to help treat my depression, though, there are some studies that show that SSRIs may help in treating NES as well). The SSRI did decrease the frequency to which I was waking up and eating, but it also made me more tired during the day, which I didn't like. I only stayed on it for 3-4 months and then stopped b/c of the fatigue. Note: all medications affect people differently, so this definitely could be a great option for someone else. Also, if you think you may be depressed, then I would definitely recommend being evaluated by a mental health professional discussing behavioral and psychotropic medication treatment options.

(9) Threw away all those foods which I tended to eat when I woke up. This wasn't a viable option until after I left undergrad b/c I always lived with a roommate. So, I would eat their food when I woke up, which made matters worse.

(10) Tried various behavioral and nutritional changes, which (I think) have worked best:


-Eat breakfast every morning (even if you woke up and ate the night before).

I know this is hard b/c you are likely afraid that you will gain weight, but I promise that you will not. Even if there is a small initial weight gain, you will slowly find that you will normalize in your weight and likely lose weight.

-Eat consistent meals (3 meals/day) & snacks (2-3 per day). Do NOT have more than 1-2 snacks after your evening meal and try not to eat 30 minutes before going to bed, as this breaks the pattern of waking up and eating.

-Do NOT exclude foods (which you like) from your diet and/or deny yourself of cravings. Constantly challenge your eating disorder voice. Eat a spoonful of peanut butter for dessert.

-Don't count calories. The times when my night eating was worst, was when I was trying to lose weight and/or was working out more.

-Stay HYDRATED. Sometimes, I think i mistook thirst for hunger. Drink plenty of water during the day.

-Initially, if you need to, throw out any of the tempting foods (those that you typically eat when you awaken). This will increase your awareness upon awakening b/c you will have to search longer for something that sounds appealing...which will give you more time to "think about it."


-Do things you enjoy. Don't engage in compulsive exercise. The more I worked out, the worse my night eating was. I would even recommend taking a break from your workout routine (if you have one) - and maybe just go on walks at night for 20-60 minutes after dinner (this also helps with relaxation). Even if you do this for just 1 week, it can help normalize eating too.

-I used to run A LOT (6-7d/wk). I now work out 3-6 d/w, in the form of a kickboxing class, dance class, walk/run, walking outside at night, rollerblading, hiking w/ friends. I make it enjoyable and for relaxation and sress-release purposes.

*Other things:

-Challenge your thinking. I often thought that I "had to eat in order to get back to sleep." This is simply not true. Though, it is EXTREMELY difficult to break the pattern, part of what helped was challenging this faulty thinking - you WILL get to sleep, regardless if you eat at night. It may take you a little longer, but you will get to sleep.

-Night eating is found to be associated w/ stress. I definitely noticed that my night eating would get worse during high periods of stress (papers due, finals, etc). I now try, as much as possible, to avoid working late at night. I understand this can be hard for a college student, but I try to wake up earlier to get more work done during the day. I do low stress activities during the night - talking with friends, going to dinners, reading, playing of facebook, listening to music, taking a warm bath.

-Try doing some relaxation techniques before bed: I listen to really calming music while laying in bed. Take deep breathes.

I think one of the the most helpful things for me in my recovery was being around other people at night and sleeping with other people (not in a sexual way). I often planned dinners with friends (which also helped me normalize my eating patterns) and sleep overs. I would recommend confiding in roommates and loved ones and asking them to stay with you some nights. Engaging in social activities at night helped reduce stress and get my mind off eating (so, reduce snacking through the night). In addition, this improved my overall mood. As I menioned earlier, NES is found to be associated w/ depression and stress. If you can target some of these potential contributors, then you may be able to decrease some of the night eating. As you know, a strong social support helps with all these things!

Of primary importance, do NOT put pressure on yourself. It likely will take some time to fully recover. Most of us have been suffering from this from quite some time. I think this is mainly due to the fact that so few people know about this syndrome, including health care professionals. There is little literature out there on how best to treat the disorder (with, i believe only a handful of studies on treatment of NES). Recovery for me has felt like a very slow process and a difficult one...but there is hope for recovery! Whatever your goal is for the day and/or week, make it something you are about 85% certain you can accomplish.

Also, get some help. Confide in friends and talk to a counselor (if you can). You WILL get through this!! Please feel free to write if you have any questions and/or just want some support! MY BEST ADVICE WOULD BE TO SEEK HELP FROM A MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONAL, PARTICULARLY, SOMEONE WHO SPECIALIZES IN EATING DISORDERS. INQUIRE ABOUT THEIR KNOWLEDGE ABOUT NES!!!

**One last are a beautiful person! Your eating disorder does not define you and who you are as a person. You will get through this! Focus on being mindful in the moment, enjoying time spent with loved ones, and doing those things which you love. You deserve to put YOU FIRST.

Post edited by: MaintainHope, at: 08/25/2009 07:34 PM


08/31/2009 05:54 AM
Posts: 4
New Member


a very long article!

I´m suffering from NES for 5 years. I tried a lot, but nothing seems to work. There are some night in which I just don't want to eat. And I don't. But I cannot really say that it was the same reason. For example I don't want to eat because I don't want to have bellyache the next day.

The thing is that I don't know the reason why I want to eat in at night. In the day I don't want to, but at night: I like to! But I don't know why. As long as I don't know the reason I cannot stop it. I'm sure! How can I find the reason?

09/17/2009 06:31 PM
Posts: 68

everythng you say is so true, but for over 10 years i am in the same condition. getting worse every night..

went to al lkinds of ed programs and drs.antidepressents. nothing

09/17/2009 09:47 PM
Posts: 16
New Member

You are right...I think it is extremely difficult to pinpoint the exact reason for why you either want to eat and/or crave to eat at night. For some, I think it might be that they maintain composure and control during the day, despite high levels of stress and/or tight schedules, etc and that they then subconsciously eat to relax and gain some comfort and maybe it is their one outlet where they (even if they dont want to) allow themselves to be out of control - it is permission to let go b/c it isn't REALLY them. Not sure if that makes sense...I'm still trying to make sense of it all myself.

It is odd how, despite feeling such guilt and anger over something we do (e.g., night eating), it is hard to let go. And its difficult to get at the root of the problem, especially when many providers haven't even heard about it. I think a good place to start is just going to talk to someone (i.e., a counselor). They can really help you brainstorm some new ways to try to tackle the night eating, while exploring the potential sources of any stress, painful emotions, etc you may be feeling. It is always helpful to gain some support when we are going through something that difficult to overcome!

I wish you the best!!

09/17/2009 09:50 PM
Posts: 16
New Member

Oliviab99 - I can only imagine how frustrating that must be!! I wish there was something I could say or do to help make it better. On a positive note, there is a lot of research being done on the hopefully we can gain some more insight into what is going on - I will let you know if I learn of anything new....

...hang in there!

09/20/2009 02:56 PM
Posts: 4
New Member

Yes I agree: its the control all day long that break down at night. Its hard to control the eating during the day and than at night you must relax, the control shifts away. You also want to recompense yourself. But because you eat at night you don't allow yourself to eat breakfast and only a few thinks for lunch, you have to repress yourself again the whole day. So the vicious circle is starting again. One has to break through the vicious circle.

The first thing ist to eat breakfast and a healthy lunch. Not to much and no junk food or sugar!

Then you will see, in the evening there ist only a few hunger left. Eat dinner two to three hours before you go to bed.

Second do not store appetising food at home, only healthy ones. Fruit, vegetable and wholemeal things.

Just do that eating for a week and you will see: it works! Be aware: Night eating is a combination of addiction (therefore never store appetising food) and Pavlovian conditioning, that means it takes time, but it is possible to unlearn NES.


09/20/2009 02:57 PM
Posts: 4
New Member

sorry for my misspelling Whistling

09/20/2009 06:36 PM
Posts: 68

god i want to break this cycle.

10/22/2009 08:11 PM
Posts: 1
New Member

i want to thank you for your post about your experiences with this problem. i am actually new to this site and to grappling with my problem of compulsively eating at night and predominantly during high stress moments in my life. this has been going on for the last 2 years and i definitely experience many of the symptoms you described.

i was wondering what some of the physiological effects of your eating were. more specifically, and without getting too personal (i apologize), i was wondering if you had stomach cramping or problems with persistent gas due to your eating. at first, i thought i was having a problem digesting certain foods (a possible food allergy) like nuts, peanut butter, chocolate, and other processed sweets. not surprisingly, these are the types of foods i tend to eat in large quantities at night. but ultimately i think that it might just be the quantity of the food that is producing my intestinal/digestive problems.

this has been a real struggle for me and i appreciate hearing about your experiences with trying to overcome the urge to eat.

thank you!

10/23/2009 06:08 AM
Posts: 68

i have been suffering with this nes for about 15 years.

Yes i do wake up with stomach cramps and nausea some of the time. But unfortunately, this has not deterred me from continuing to follow the same nighttime pattern.

it is so frustrating because after going to so many different so called eating disorder experts, no one can help me get rid of this. sure i tried diversions each night, logging, diaries, etc. nada

i stopped for 3 nights last week. too bad that didnt last. well maybe it will happen again next week.

good luck hope i was of somme help to you.....


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