Do you eat small portions in front of others, but over-indulge when you’re alone?
Do you hide certain foods that you eat from others?
While not openly talked about very often, there are many individuals who struggle with closet eating – a type of disordered eating where individuals avoid eating in public or in front of others. This disordered eating may be a result of individuals who are uncomfortable with eating in front of others, because they feel ashamed of their weight, how they look, or feel guilty for their appetite and food choices. I have struggled with closet eating myself, especially when I was uncomfortable with my body and weight. I have found that following strict diets triggers me to eat very strict meals in front of others and then secretly binge on sweets when I’m alone.
Not sure if you’ve experienced closet eating? Here are some tell-tale signs:
· You have hidden food in your house
· You have binged at unconventional times (right after meals, middle of the night, etc)
· You tend to take small portions at meals but eat leftovers or large helpings afterward
· You often overeat or binge when you’re alone
In private, closet eaters secretly binge – whether right after sharing a meal with others or raiding the fridge at midnight. Unfortunately, this pattern of bingeing, overeating and eating erratically may cause weight gain and cause you to feel out of control and helpless.
But there is hope!
Here are some helpful tips to manage and minimize closet eating:
As I mentioned, I find dieting for myself, and many others, a trigger for binge eating. Instead of restricting your food choices, focus on mindful eating. My general rule of thumb is to eat 70-80% foods that I know nourish me, provide me with sustaining energy and nutrients that I need to thrive. The other 20-30% is for foods that I absolutely love and enjoy simply because of their taste. Following this form of eating (versus following a restricted diet) is realistic, sustainable and best of all, empowering!
2. Positive self-talk
If you find you are uncomfortable with eating in front of others because you are self-conscious about your weight, try some positive self-talk! Gently remind yourself that you need to eat and you’re not a bad person if you eat some “junk food”. Also, people may judge you and that’s okay. You have no control over other people’s thoughts or actions. But you DO have control over your own! Repeating positive affirmations right before you eat or while you eat may be helpful in overcoming your fear of eating in front of others.
3. Know Your Trigger Foods
There are certain foods I tend to keep out of the house because I know I will likely binge on them. Instead of having tubs of ice cream, chocolate, chips and cake at home, if I want a treat, I go out for an ice cream with my kids and enjoy the experience. Or I have dessert when I go out for dinner. This way, I am able to enjoy the yummy foods I really like without triggering a binge which may happen if I have a whole tub of ice cream or box of cookies at home.
4. Ask for Help
If you’re still struggling with binge or closet eating after trying the above suggestions, please ask for help! Often there are feelings we need to process and thought patterns and behaviours we need to dive into in order to heal emotional eating. Speaking with a registered psychotherapist can help guide you through this process.
At the root of closet eating is feeling guilt and shame over food and your eating habits. By following these tips, I hope you’re able to eliminate that shame and experience a positive and nourishing relationship with food instead!