Have you ever hidden food to eat in secret later? Do you feel uncomfortable or nervous eating in front of other people? You may be a closet eater.
Signs of Closet Eating
You can look for a few signs to help you understand if closet eating is at play. First, closet eating does not mean simply eating while in your closet. Closet eating is defined as eating in secret, whether it takes place in your closet, your car, or the kitchen after everyone else is asleep.
People who experience closet eating dislike social situations where food is present. They commonly consume small amounts when around people, then eat more in private later. Closet eating generally involves foods deemed “unhealthy” or “off limits.” These foods are often hidden in odd places so others won’t find them.
Closet eating occurs because people want to avoid judgment or receiving negative comments about their eating habits. They may also feel guilty and ashamed of the way they eat, which drives the urge to eat secretively.1 Closet eating is problematic because it is often related to poor body image and can increase the risk of developing an eating disorder.
The Difference Between Closet Eating and Binge Eating
In many cases, closet eating may meet the criteria for binge eating. In fact, studies show that closet eating is associated with binge eating and other eating disorder behaviors.1, 3
Binge eating is defined as eating a large amount of food within two hours while feeling a lack of control over the eating.
A binge episode also includes three or more of the following characteristics:2
- Eating quickly.
- Eating when not physically hungry.
- Eating in private.
- Feeling overly full afterward.
- Experiencing guilt.
Though similar, closet eating is a behavior that is distinct from binge eating. One study found that 54% of people with binge eating disorder experienced secretive eating outside of their binge eating episodes.1 This shows that closet eating may not always involve eating larger-than-normal amounts of food.
5 Tips to Stop Closet Eating
If you’ve identified that you struggle with hiding food and eating it in secret, there are a few tips you can follow to stop closet eating. These include honoring your hunger, normalizing all food choices, and enlisting support.
1. Try Intuitive Eating
Closet eating can occur as a result of dieting and certain foods being off-limits. You may feel like you need to eat those foods in secret to be able to enjoy them. Intuitive eating is an alternative philosophy that involves honoring your natural hunger and fullness signals and allowing all foods to fit.
With closet eating, it’s common to consume less than what you are hungry for with the intent of eating more later. To begin practicing intuitive eating, try to honor your hunger at meals instead.
Another strategy is to remove the “good” and “bad” labels from foods and allow yourself to eat the foods you want. When foods aren’t off limits anymore, you won’t feel as much of an urge to hide when eating them.
2. Ditch the Guilt
Guilt and shame are heightened after closet eating, which can be caused by negative body image.1 Start by practicing compassion towards yourself. Acknowledge and accept the feelings you have after closet eating, then let them go.
Keep positive mantras about food and body image somewhere you can see them. Refer to these when you are feeling guilty after eating. Here are some examples to get you started:
“All bodies are good bodies.”
“There’s no such thing as a bad food.”
“My worth is not determined by my food choices.”
3. Notice your Triggers
Jot down a list of triggers that you associate with closet eating. For example, do you tend to eat in secret when you are feeling down about your body image? Or does it happen after you get a judgmental comment from a friend about something they saw you eat? Maybe it happens after a stressful day at work.
Once you are aware of your triggers, you can work to find different ways to react to them. For example, when experiencing heightened body image concerns, try listing things you love about your body or things you are grateful for. An example might be, “I’m thankful my body supports my daily activities.”
4. Learn to Enjoy Eating Around Others
The more you practice enjoying food around others, the easier it will be to stop closet eating. Identify a loved one you can trust, and let them know what you are going through. Ask for support around eating. This can look like going out for ice cream together and knowing you won’t get any negative comments or judgments.
It might also involve some boundary setting around people who tend to make negative comments about your food choices. For example, you could say, “I would prefer it if you didn’t comment on what I’m eating.”
5. Get Support
Don’t be afraid to seek help for your closet eating. A non-diet dietitian can be a great person to have on your team. It may also be beneficial to be evaluated for an eating disorder since there is an overlap between binge eating disorder and closet eating.1
Talk to a Dietitian Online
Here at Nourish, we’ll match you with a non-diet registered dietitian who will help you work through the strategies above and help you stop closet eating for good. The visits are all virtual and covered by insurance. Click here to get started today!
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