“I hear footsteps. They’re still far, but definitely approaching. Slow. Calculated. But not calm. Trying to remain quiet but failing quite miserably at doing so – too overshadowed in the eagerness to reach the goal – to reach me. And finally, the door opens, but no light turned on. What is this madness? I can only imagine what is going on in that head, but imagine is all I can do. More steps, a final approach, and finally, a light – my light. I feel the cold stare of bloodshot eyes for what seems like an eternity, before a decision is finally made. Why would anyone eat so late at night?”
Yes, eating past midnight can have multiple – sometimes quite serious – reasons, so let’s discuss some of the possibilities, and perhaps you might be a step closer to finding out what exactly is wrong with you. If anything at all, of course.
First off, let’s start with some light psychology. I’m sure quite a few people are familiar with Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic personality theory, but here’s a brief overview of it just in case. Put very shortly, Freud believed in the presence of 3 main entities within one’s mind: the Id, Ego and Superego. He claimed that these entities existed in a state of push and pull, often conflicting, but also creating balance in our lives and decisions. The Id is the most instinctive side of the personality; it desires. It’s the part of your psyche that gives you urges and impulses, often related to matters such as sex and food. It is completely within the unconscious mind, as opposed to the Ego, the part often tasked with rationalizing the desires of the Id, and attempting to reach a balance with logic and real life. Lastly, the Superego judges, providing a conscience, and sometimes a feeling of guilt or shame if it deems so necessary.
So what does this all have to with eating at midnight? Well, there exists a little phenomenon known as “Ego Fatigue.” This is a theory that proposes that making decisions and controlling impulses requires a certain amount of mental energy, which would naturally lead you to believe that when said energy is depleted, so too does your ability to control said impulses. Potentially, this could allow the Id some free reign, making you act more hastily than you regularly would, such as, for example, eating at a time that is quite unconventional. In order to try to minimise this effect, there are many things you can attempt to employ, the most important of which include getting sufficient amounts of sleep, exercising regularly, and undergoing a calming activities such as meditation or practicing yoga. Now you might be wondering why these things help maintain your level of self-control, and part of the answer is purely biological.
Sleep deprivation for just a few days has been attributed to increased levels of ghrelin, a hormone which makes you feel hungry. Another factor is the hunger that can be experienced when going through a lot of stress, a state which can be alleviated, even if just slightly, by trying to calm the mind down. These aren’t the only solutions to try out, though. Another – albeit quite unorthodox – one is using light therapy; a technique which, in this case, involves exposure to early morning light upon waking up. This is suggested to help regulate the body’s release of ghrelin, that hunger hormone we just mentioned, causing it to occur at more regular times (like not in the super early AM when you should be sleeping).
And that’s not even all of it. Sometimes we can mistake thirst for hunger, so try grabbing some water before heading for the fridge next time you wake up feeling famished – it might just calm you down. Or perhaps, on a bit of a deeper note, there’s a sense of security that can be found in eating due to the very fact that it is necessary. When you have plenty of things you need to get done and are up all night working on them, stressing in the meantime, there’s just something sacred about taking a brief pause to perform an action that literally sustains your life; it cannot be interrupted and that in itself can be comforting. I’m not too sure about that one, though, maybe it’s just me.
Finally, there is always the possibility that one might eat excessively at night due to emotional eating, using food as the primary coping mechanism to deal with and/or escape one’s emotions, or binge eating disorder (BES), an eating disorder which involves episodes of uncontrollable eating, often followed by feelings of guilt and remorse. Both these cases can be serious, and it is worth seeking help from a medical professional if you believe there’s any chance you might have BES.
So, that about sums it up. I hope this wasn’t too much of an overload of information, and in any case, as long as you’re doing your best to take care of your health in all aspects, it’s quite likely that there isn’t anything wrong with you. Not when it comes to this particular topic at least.