Secret eating: Break free with 6 strategies

Do you find yourself eating in secret? It brings up shame, disguist, and wishing you could stop. But you just can’t, right?

In this blog, I let you know how I help my 1-1 clients overcome secret eating.

If you want to know more on secret eating and how you can stop eating in secret then keep reading…

Secret eating is a form of disordered eating. It’s eating alone so that you can hide what you’re eating from others.Most of the time, it means eating “bad” or less healthy foods.

Usually, when you finish eating, you try to hide the evidence.

While you might feel ashamed or embarrassed, secret eating is super common. Most of my clients who binge eat secretly eat too. In fact, around 50% of people who binge eat eat in secret! (1)

Secret eating is often one of the first signs of disordered eating. Many of my clients recall secret eating as children or teenagers (research shows this too (2)) and the habit has kind of stuck throughout their life.

Why does it happen?

There are a few reasons why people start eating in secret. I bet you can probably recall a few reasons why you eat in secret.

Some of the common reasons I see are:

  • Fear of judgment from others:

My clients eat in secret often because they’re worried about what others will think or say. This is understandable if you’ve been bullied or harassed before about what you eat.

You’ve been told the solution is to simply “not care” but it’s not as easy as that. The tricky thing is that the more you do eat in secret, the bigger the secret it becomes.

  • Stress:

When you use food to cope with stress, you probably want to do it alone. It’s a release, and a way for you to comfort yourself.

I usually see clients keeping their stress in all day, and using food to release it at night time. Of course, you need to release stress. But because you also have an unhealthy relationship with food, it can become a difficult cycle to escape.

Perhaps 1-1 therapy might be an option to deal with stress and emotions, and make peace with food?

  • Restriction:

Dieting or restriction can make you feel like you shouldn’t be eating certain foods. The power of desprivation can’t be stopped, which is why you might find yourself eating foods.

Since you maybe feel shame around eating off-limits foods, you eat in secret.

  • Time for yourself

It’s pretty common for parents or people who live with others to eat in secret. It’s almost a relief and way to take time for yourself.

Is this what is happening with you?

Is secret eating ever “normal”?

Secret eating that happens very occasionally is probably normal. We all like having time alone and food might be part of it.

I know for me, sometimes I just need to be alone with nice food and watch a film and tell my husband to GTFO!

It’s all about the intention. I also think if it’s happening on a regular basis (like more than once a week) it’s probably got some disordered eating links to it.

Once you have identified that you are experiencing secret eating, there are a few steps you can take to heal your relationship with food and start creating healthy habits with food. 

6 ways to stop secret eating include:

1. Self-compassion

Secret eating isn’t happening randomly. You’ve developed this habit over time to cope with something. So give yourself compassion.

Remind yourself that it’s ok to eat in secret; that removes some of the shame. Remind yourself that you’re trying to move away from it, and develop a better relationship with food.

Of course this is really difficult, but I’ve seen many people overcome secret eating.

 2. End restriction

This is letting go of the food restrictions you have been following. This includes physical and mental restriction and all the sneaky dieting tools you have had for a long time.

This means letting go of the physical restrictions, so letting yourself eat all foods when you want without any repercussions. It also involves letting go of the mental restriction which is leaving the constant guilt and judgment about eating and giving yourself unconditional permission to eat the food and enjoy it. 

Sounds simple, right? Building unconditional permission to eat is a pillar of Intuitive Eating – a framework designed to bring you food freedom. Check out the book if you want to learn more (*)

Overcoming food rules is a big part of a healthy relationship with food, thus ending secret eating.

3. Overcome your disordered eating

Secret eating can be a root cause of many things such as an eating disorder, depression or anxiety. So you need to start noticing why and when you eat in private to understand what is causing you to secretly eat. 

Not only is disordered eating harmful to your mental and physical health, it’s also something that gets worse with time. You deserve to break free from disordered eating and live a full life.

I recommend checking out my guide “7 steps to overcoming disordered eating” to begin your journey to recovery.

4. Have a rough plan

Do you know when secret eating happens most? Then you can make a plan to combat it.

Remember, this won’t be a solution long-term. But it will help you process the root causes of the secret eating.

Building a routine that prevents secret eating might be an idea. For example, if it happens on certain days or when you get home from work, how can you avoid it?

Again, this is simply a short-term solution. Long term, you need to learn how to be in situations where you usally secretly eat, and not do it.

For example: maybe you come home from work right now ravenous and that’s a trigger. You can plan to have a big snack before leaving work, so that when you come home you’re not so hungry.

Give something a try and see if it helps!

5. Build a self-care routine

I find that my clients who struggle with secret eating also struggle to take care of themselves. Their secret eating is simply a way for their body to give themselves time to decompress.

I have a blog on self-care if that might help you with some ideas. Or perhaps you know how to care for yourself, but you’re not doing it for some reason? it’s worth reflecting on why this might be…

6. Professional help

I know not everyone wants or has access to a 1-1 specialist like me and my team. But if you do, it can really speed up your healing and help you on a much deeper level.

We are specialists in eating disorders and disordered eating, and have helped so many overcome secret eating.

Main takeaways

Secret eating is hiding your eating habits by eating alone to avoid judgment from others or to help you cope with strong emotions. It comes with feelings of shame and guilt when eating the food. 

It can happen for a few reasons such as low self esteem, negative emotions and restriction for example. There are a few ways you can stop secret eating like ending restrictions, understanding why it is happening, and practicing self-compassion. 

Further resources:

  1. My 7 steps to overcoming disordered eating guide available on the shop
  2. The Intuitive Eating book by Evelyn Tribole + Elyse Resch (*)
  3. The Binge Eating Prevention Workbook (*)
  4. Getting Better Bite by Bite book (*)
  5. Listen to my podcast episode about how to stop binge eating at night (night is when people often secret eat!)

References:

  1. Lydecker + Grilo, 2019.
  2. Stice et al. 1999.

(*) Any links with (*) are affiliate links. I may earn affiliate income if you make a purchase using this link.

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