Recently my husband had me in fits of laughter as he confessed to me his recent secret eating. Not that it is a laughing matter for anyone who finds themselves doing the same. It was the way he was saying it, in a rapid comedic self-depreciating rant. 'Seriously, I bought two blocks of cheese and hid one behind some other items in the fridge, so you wouldn't find it, and then discover that I had devoured an entire block of cheese in three days! What was I thinking? How pathetic is that? Why do I need to hide it from you?'
The rant went on.
Yet he is not alone. How many of you can relate to this? How many of you have hidden food so that your loved one's would be unaware of what you have secretly eaten? Have you waited for your partner or others to leave the room or go to sleep before you start snacking?
My husband laughed at himself as he concluded his rant, and declared that secret eating is like being a closet alcoholic. He could laugh as he was letting it go, talking about it without judgement, and was able to admit to me what he had done and why he had done it. He said he was able to tell me about his mishap with the cheese, as I would not judge him for his secret eating, but rather help him to see why he'd done it. He knew exactly why!
He had been under pressure at work and was working long hours. He was mentally, emotionally and physically exhausted. Through his awareness of this, he could direct his attention to what he could do to feel less exhausted and give himself more time to do things he enjoyed, rather than sneaking a few chunks of cheese after I had fallen asleep.
Expose your secret eating to yourself
Awareness that you are eating and why you are eating are important considerations to heal your relationship with food, although there is no definitive end of the journey. It is an ongoing journey where you constantly need to be mindful as you experience new challenges and circumstances in life. Just like my husband, with greater awareness and mindfulness, you may be able to catch yourself before your eating spirals out of control or you have created a new habit that is sabotaging your health.
This was the case for my husband approximately eight years ago, before I had fully embraced intuitive eating into my professional practice.
At the time his secret, and not so secret eating, had spiralled out of control. He had been holding onto some emotional stress over a period of six to twelve months and had gained a noticeable amount of weight. Over that time he would say that the sizing of men's pants had changed as he had to buy one or two sizes larger than he had in his entire adult life. He had firmly convinced himself that is was pant sizing that had changed, not his waist line. He believed that his triathlon training was enough to maintain his weight without concerning himself with food.
His weight crept up slowly, and I only started to notice once he had put on quite a bit of weight. I started to drop hints that although he was training hard he didn't need so much food and could possibly limit the family sized chocolate block to the weekends or predetermined week nights. The frequency of chocolate eating increased, until it was becoming a nightly occurrence. To my disbelief he could down an entire family block of chocolate, unassisted, like it was a cheese sandwich, in large bits and rapidly chewing. Furthermore, his love of cheese had spirally out of control to the point where nearly every meal he ate was covered in cheese. He could shred an entire block of cheese over two slices of pizza and was sneaking chunks of cheese without my knowing. It appeared that the eating was a compulsion rather than a joy.
He was in denial that he could possibly be gaining weight because he was so active.
It was then a few months later when visiting my parents, who were living interstate at the time and hadn't seen him for quite a while, that my husband became aware of his weight. He overheard my mother say to me quietly, 'Rob's put on quite a bit of weight, hasn't he?' I think I responded 'yes he has, but he's going through a lot of emotional stress right now, which he is having trouble letting go of'. Overhearing this, Rob went to the bathroom and looked at himself. He saw a man in that mirror that he hadn't noticed before. The man before him had substantial love handles and obvious chubbiness in his face, neck and arms. He realised that he had been drowning out his emotional issues with chocolate, cheese and excessive volumes of food.
Once he was aware of his behaviour and the weight gain he could break the habit. In the following months he lost 20 kilograms and couldn’t believe he had put on so much weight. It had crept on without his awareness.
My husband's story is far from unique. So many of the clients I work with are unaware of how they gained weight or how they formed the eating habits that they have. When we are eating to deal with emotional stress or to combat mental or physical fatigue it can feel like we need food to cope and continue on. It is hard to let go of the pleasure food brings us.
My husband’s story also demonstrates that despite the work we do to heal our relationship with food, new situations and stressors can enter our lives and we can find ourselves reaching for our old friend - food, in his case cheese. However, through being more aware of what, why and how you are eating you are much more likely to catch yourself before you fall back into old habits, and correct course, seek emotional support or nutritional counselling to get back on track, as my husband did with his recent rant to me.