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You might be surprised, or maybe not, how many people eat in secret: in their cars, in the bathroom with the door locked, or sneaking treats up to their rooms. I used to do it myself—tiptoeing down the stairs to the kitchen in the house I grew up in to swipe something I was forbidden to eat from the fridge, popping a leftover into my mouth in the kitchen of friends the moment they turned their backs, or barely nibbling at food during a party or dinner I hosted, only to gorge on remains after my guests had left.
When clients bring up secretive or sneak eating, I make sure to tell them about my own experience to let them know a few things. First, they’re not alone. Many dysregulated eaters—high and low weight and in between—choose to eat without prying (aka feared judgmental) gazes. Second, it’s vital that they understand that this behavior can be eliminated. Third, feeling shame about it is something you choose to do. It does not necessarily come with the territory. In fact, one of the best strategies to end secret eating is to refuse to feel shame about whatever you’re eating and, at least, enjoy it.
Have snuck food for decades, I understand the purpose of such secrecy. You’re trying to avoid someone’s judgment, spoken or unspoken, about what you’re doing. But, by trying to evade the shame you fear they’ll cause you to feel (simply by being in their presence), you perpetuate it. You closet yourself to eat food you’re too ashamed to eat in front of others but can’t escape feeling ashamed of what you’re doing (eating food you think is bad for you) and where you’re doing it (somewhere no one can see you). And you enjoy a weird pleasure of feeling you got over on someone. Really? Who?
With couples in which one partner sneak eats, I work with them together, including having the sneak-eater partake in eating in front of the observer. With my coaching, this is a powerful experience for both. I also encourage clients to talk with whomever they fear eating in front of about this dynamic between them. The discussion often breaks the ice. I’ll tell you, there’s little more satisfying for me than having a client eat in front of someone for the first time and the observer giving them permission and a hug after the food has been consumed. It breaks the shame cycle.
You don’t need to eat in secret. It compounds your shame. You’re the one who’s feeling awful about eating something you often know isn’t healthy for you. You could just eat what you want wherever. Or stop being ashamed of eating certain foods and enjoy them. Or, better yet, you could ask yourself why you’re projecting your shame about eating foods onto others. Why else would you be doing it sitting in your car in the dark?
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