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Overcoming Secretive Eating
Finally - you are alone. No one else is around. Maybe you've waited until they are all soundly asleep. You find yourself in the kitchen sneaking food. Sometimes it's cake, sometimes it's ice cream. Other times you're standing in front of the refrigerator eating leftovers without a plate. Once in a while, you plan ahead, stocking up on your favorite goodies on the drive home.
Almost in a trance-like state, you begin eating the foods you don't want anyone to know you eat... in volumes you don't want anyone to know you want. You eat quickly, not wanting to get caught. The irony is that you're not really enjoying the food, you're not really hungry, and you don't know why you are doing it. Initially there is a sense of freedom, exhilaration, and relief. But something odd also occurs. When eating becomes secretive, it becomes both more exciting and more difficult to give up. A devastating cycle begins. The lure of sneak eating progresses, but so does the sense of guilt and failure. Of course, this leads to more sneak eating and on it goes. It becomes a overwhelming cycle that generates a life of it's own.
Sneak eating is about hunger. Hunger that develops because of the deprivation of strict diets, restrictive food plans, and the list of "bad" foods that you "shouldn't" be eating. Sneak eating is also a substitute for emotional comfort. A way to nurture the unaddressed feelings of shame, guilt, low self-esteem and loneliness. These feelings may be with you most of the day. It is only when the pace slows down, that the emotions begin to emerge. Not knowing how to handle these powerful emotions, eating follows. Eating in isolation can be a way of stuffing down emotions that seem overwhelming. Eating alone can provide down time without the interruption of family, work, or other responsibilities.
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These feelings are normal for every human being. We each need to take the time, and learn the skills, to sit with our emotions. Recognize that it is essential to know what is going on within our bodies. Know that you are important enough to take the time to be still and be with who we really are. Every person has wants, needs, and desires. We need time to focus solely on ourselves and satisfy our needs. Many of us were taught that these things were selfish and unimportant. We learned to disconnect and hide, lie and make excuses about our needs. We pretend we don't need or want pleasure. We substitute food for what we really needed in life. We end up with a love/hate relationship with food. We try to force ourselves not to eat, especially not to sneak eat. And we punish and criticize ourselves for not being able to stop.
Recognize that sneak eating is not about your having shameful desires that cannot be controlled. Instead, sneak eating indicates that you have healthy, natural, human longings that you were not taught how to address.
* Where are you when you sneak eat?
* What were you thinking about right before you ate it?
* What were you feeling before you began eating?
* What need is this food filling (or stuffing) in your life?
* What else, other than food, would fill the wants and desires that you have?
* What is it that you really need?
Answering these questions and keeping a journal of your answers for future reference will help you understand what prompts your behavior. Your journal entries will serve as a starting place towards noting ideas. These ideas will help you work towards solutions once you are able to more readily recognize your pattern.
Dr. Annette Colby, RD
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