Weighty Matters

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Sleep Eating

on September 2, 2014

When I was in the worst relapses of my eating disorder or any time that I was feeling stress — or when I wasn’t feeling stress because I ate to smother feeling the actual emotions — I frequently ate in the middle of the night.  It was a form of what I call sleep eating – like sleep walking, although I wasn’t completely asleep.

It is difficult to avoid eating out of compulsion when completely awake and alert.  Much harder to get control and stop the impulse when one is operating on auto pilot.  I would be vaguely aware of walking to the kitchen and opening a cabinet or getting something out of the fridge, but the next morning when my alert and awake self saw the evidence of my behavior (cookie wrappers in bed or on the kitchen counter, a dirty glass in the sink or any empty bottle or plate in the fridge) I really had to think on it to remember.

It’s scary to think of eating when not fully aware.  How easily I could have choked, I often think.

For years after going into therapy and regularly attending OA meetings, I successfully curtailed the sleep eating.  Every great once in a while, I catch myself doing it sometimes.  My dogs often get restless in the middle of the night so I get up and let them out into the yard and then return to bed.  Occasionally, I find that I detour to the kitchen.  What I eat depends on what’s around.  Sometimes it’s a few pistachios.  (I’m somewhat surprised that I can shell pistachios and eat the nuts when barely awake.)  However, I’ve eaten other things too.

A couple of weeks ago, I realized this was becoming more than an occasional thing.  I was stopping in the kitchen before going back to bed almost every night.  Once I got more aware that the pattern was repeating, I began to strategize how not to have it continue.  This isn’t easy.  Staying in recovery and on the plan requires vigilance.   Vigilance is tough to maintain when more than half asleep.

I confess that I couldn’t come up with much of a strategy.  The best I can do is plant the thought in my head when I go to bed that if I get up, I will return to bed without a side-trip to the kitchen.  I’ve tried that a couple of times and it’s worked.  So, perhaps the thought stays with me if I think it shortly before I fall asleep.

More disturbingly is that I don’t know why the incidents began to increase in frequency.  I’m not unhappy or overly stressed.  Things are good.  So, for now, I’m chalking it up to “just because”.  Honestly, I sometimes eat compulsively for no reason other than the fact that I have the disease and sometimes it happens before I can put on the brakes.

While it would be great to identify a root cause, it’s more important for me to not engage — regardless of the reason.

3 responses to “Sleep Eating

  1. hoperoth says:

    D’oh! Putting a chair in the way was going to be my suggestion as well! :p Maybe something a little harder to move? A zip tie on the fridge? Or would that be too extreme?

  2. Mary Stella says:

    I think I would still walk around it or move it. Right now, however, I’m doing pretty good by reminding myself before I go to sleep. If it ever gets really bad, I’ll install barriers if I have to!

  3. Pink pelican says:

    I wonder, before going to bed, could you move something in the way of access to the kitchen? A chair? Something that’s easy to move, not low enough to be a trip hazard, but something that would make you pause and have to move it. Extra steps that might help you wake up a bit more, engage your cognitive thoughts a bit more? Give you an opportunity to think about what you are doing?

    Maybe put the items you are drawn to first in a different place every couple of nights? If the aren’t in automatic reach, if you have to look for those items, again, maybe this could be a way to give your cognitive thinking a chance to wake up a little more and check the automatic behavior?

    Don’t know if those would work, just thoughts off the top of my head. Good luck!

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