Why Do You Feel The Need To Eat In Secret?

Many people don't realise how much others struggle with their relationship with food - and that is often because many people engage in less helpful eating behaviours in secret. Usually they won't discuss or share with others the eating habits that they are not happy with or proud of. Secret eating is actually very common. Now for many of my clients, the pandemic has actually provided some relief from secret eating, as living in close-quarters with others has meant that there have been less opportunities to engage in secret eating. However as normal-life appears to be on a near horizon, many have been asking me - what is it about eating in secret that makes it so common? Why might you prefer to eat when you are by yourself?

Here are some of the common reasons why people will find themselves eating in secret or trying to hide their eating behaviours from others:

1. Fearing the judgment or opinions of others

Probably the most common driver for secret eating, is fearing the opinion or judgment of others on your food choices. Many people worry that other people will perceive them in a negative way for wanting to eat or snack on unhealthy foods. In fact many clients tell me that they don't even enjoy eating food in front of others because they are so worried about what other people may think of them when making those less healthy food choices. Of course, often an individual will just be guessing or assuming what someone else might be thinking about them - but this fear of judgment can drive individuals to not want to eat at all in front of others (or just make very light/healthy choices in front of others) and then to eat the foods that they really enjoy when they are by themselves.

2. Wanting to over-eat

Often secret eating occurs when someone wants to eat more than what they would consider a "normal" portion size or wants to binge-eat. Again they may fear what others would think of this kind of behaviour and so would want to conceal the quantities that they were eating. Many may feel comfortable eating one pudding or one chocolate bar in front of others but when they feel like eating more than this, then want to hide their behaviours from others.

3. Not wanting to expose children

Sometimes parents will also eat in secret as they do not want to expose their children to their eating behaviours or role model disordered eating patterns. Children often pick up on and mimic the behaviours of those around them and often parents being of aware of this, will feel the need to eat in secret when they don't want their children to develop the same relationship with food as them.

4. They are using food as a coping mechanism

Secret eating often also shows up when someone is using food to cope with their emotions. When someone is eating because they are stressed, sad, angry, low, anxious or bored - they aren't necessarily eating to satisfy physical hunger or even to really savour and enjoy the taste of their food. Instead food is serving the purpose of soothing emotional pain. In these circumstances, an individual may even associate this use of food for soothing with the "alone-time" that they get from doing this. In fact, often using food in this way is seen as that precious "me-time", "reward-time" or "relaxation-time" that an individual may not be otherwise getting in their life.