Dr. Murray Feingold: Nighttime eating might be a disorder

Dr. Murray Feingold

It is possible that you may have an eating disorder and are not even aware of it.

It is called the night eating syndrome and affects approximately 1 percent to 2 percent of the population. Both men and women are affected.

Symptoms of this syndrome consist of consuming 25 percent or more of a person's total food intake after the evening meal. There is an intense desire to eat at this time. Some people even wake up a few times during the night to raid the refrigerator. Others with this condition use food as a sleep aide and believe they need to eat in order for them fall asleep.

People with this condition are aware of this overwhelming need to eat late at night but have a great deal of difficulty controlling this intense urge to consume food.

As a result of this excessive eating, they gain weight.

Also part of this syndrome is morning anorexia, having no desire to eat breakfast.

The specific cause is not known but is associated with a variety of factors.

A person's emotional state is an important factor, such as stress.

When facing a stressful situation, some people eat to help relieve the stress. By the time the stressful period is over, their body has become use to the nighttime eating and they have difficulty breaking this habit.

Depression is another factor. Patients with this syndrome become more depressed as the evening progresses and they then eat to help relieve their depression.

Another factor is a decrease in certain hormones. Some studies have shown a decrease in the hormones melatonin and leptin in these patients. Leptin plays a role in controlling a person's appetite and when it is decreased, the appetite increases.

Treatment at times maybe difficult. It should be determined if any underlying stress and depression are present. If so, they need to be treated.

Medications have been used to treat patients with the Night Eating Syndrome with varying degrees of success. Psychotherapy has also been found to be helpful.

But the first step is to recognize that such a problem exists and then seek medical help.

Massachusetts-based Dr. Murray Feingold is the physician in chief of The Feingold Center for Children and president of the Genesis Fund. The Genesis Fund is a nonprofit organization that funds the care of children born with birth defects, mental retardation and genetic diseases.