Athlete Has Problem With Nighttime Eating

By February 26, 2013

I really need some help. I am struggling big time with eating at night. Then, out of guilt I am not eating in the morning and barely during the day to be sure not to go over my ‘daily limit’ and to burn enough off during exercise. Then I have to eat like 1,000 calories right before bed to get enough, but then I am eating the house during the night. I am a 5’2″, 31 yr. old triathlete/runner and I burn 1000 calories a day for sure with heart rate monitor. It’s easy for me and I love it but there is definitely a component of ‘must burn enough to eat’ mentality because of my morning tally from the night before. I weigh approximately *** although with constipation, its hard to know for sure, I don’t like to weigh myself. I allow 1200 for daily intake and then whatever I burn I tack on to that so normally I eat 2200 w/ exercise. But the binging has been getting worse and worse even though I often do not feel hungry until night. I did go to inpatient treatment before and what I wondered was, have I shut down my metabolism again? I stopped exercising and starting eating (have my old records) and then slowly started to add and gain. I am terrified to take off a day when I wake up 1000 calories down because then I can only have 200 a day or I’ll gain. If I totally splurge one day and don’t workout am I going to gain? This is what prevents me from getting started on an early morning program of eating. Please help, I’m stuck and so discouraged. I’m in consistent therapy. – Frustrated

Dear Frustrated,

I believe there are several factors affecting your nighttime eating. The body is hard-wired for hunger so if you are not eating all day, the body will do all that it can through hunger and appetite to move you to eat. When people eat throughout the day there is less likelihood of overeating or bingeing at night.

Your body needs a certain number of calories just for the organs to function—and the organs are working 24 hours a day. When you are exercising and not eating enough, you are depriving your organs of the fuel they need to work. “Sorry heart, sorry brain; no fuel for you today.” Also, the body’s hard-wired hunger increases hunger and appetite signals to encourage enough eating to re-nourish the body. Your body weight indicates that you are undernourished. The body pleads “please, provide enough fuel to restore essential body tissue.”

All of the studies on metabolism suggest that metabolism is restored with re-feeding. The likelihood is that when you eat and don’t exercise you are allowing your body to restore muscle glycogen and water. All athletes understand that restoring glycogen is a good thing. Glycogen is energy in the muscle.

I hope you have a complete team to help you. It would be helpful if you can meet with a registered dietitian who specializes in eating disorders so that you can receive accurate information and helpful meal planning advice and support. See “Finding a Nutritionist.”