I was asked recently by a friend and fellow WW member to explain secret eating, the why, the how, the reasoning behind it, what it got me/gets me. She understood emotional eating, but why the secrecy?
You see, she wasn’t a secret eater…isn’t a secret eater and she wanted to understand, so she asked me to tell her more.
I am a secret eater, though I do it much less often today than I did years ago.
Secret eating was and still is a part of my food addiction, a part of how I deal with my emotions. And it is a way to avoid the judgement, you know “that” look from others when we are eating something we “shouldn’t” or in a “greater volume” than they think we “should” (the whole bag of cookies…..).
We talk a lot about eating our emotions in WW Workshops. Something I relate too. I am an emotional eater. Eating emotions is a habit ingrained in us from an early age. Sometimes it is a way of celebrating. Sometimes emotional eating is to fill a void…. giving us comfort, something to do, calmness and a whole list of other “needs” that our emotions are looking for.
Yes, food fills those needs. Though only for a short time. And we continue the habit of eating those emotions because we get something from it, we get that reward we are looking for or the need met. If we got nothing from eating our emotions, well then we would stop.
But we get something.
And then we feel guilty and need to eat that guilt. An unhealthy cycle that is difficult to break.
But it can be broken.
And that is what we work on in the WW Workshops, strategies to change the habit of eating our emotions and to find some other way to feed the hunger we are feeling.
I am an emotional eater.
I am better than I was before my 5th start with Weight Watchers. It was in my workshop that I learned strategies to deal with emotions, other than eating them—ways that fed the needs of my heart and head without food. Journaling became my “go-to” when emotions threatened to bring back old habits. And that journaling, along with other changes got me to my goal weight and gave me a self-worth that I had never known.
I would love to tell you that I am “cured” of emotional eating. But I am not. I am human. I am imperfect. I still fall back into old habits.
But…. I don’t stay there. Now I can get back on track more easily. My emotional eating lasts less time than before WW. My new healthier habits do take charge…. eventually.
But the secret eating is more difficult. It is different……
So, when my friend and co-worker asked me about it, I told her.
Secret eating is about emotional eating, but not about finding comfort, or something to do, or healing a broken heart. For me, Secret eating is about STUFFING those emotions back down. I don’t want to deal with them. I don’t’ want to face the pain. I don’t want to own those emotions. I want to stuff them back down into the hole from which they came. I want to hide them deep inside me and forget they are there. Some things are just too hard to deal with.
So, I ate them. I stuffed the emotions back inside me with that food.
But why in secret, my friend wanted to know?
Because eating in secret meant I could lie to myself. It meant no one would know. It meant I didn’t have to own it or recognize it or acknowledge that that is what I was doing. I could eat those emotions, stuff them back inside and then hide the evidence…. In my purse, in my dresser drawer, deep in the garbage can, in the car, behind the linens in the closet…. anywhere I could hide the evidence.
And then it didn’t happen. If no one knows then I can continue to ignore and not have to admit the shame and guilt. Eating in secret meant I could stay in denial. The shame and guilt I felt was overwhelming and having someone else see what I was doing, what I was eating, would make that shame, that guilt, too heavy to bear and it would bury me. And if no one knows then I could avoid the judgement (I was judging myself harshly, so I didn’t need anyone else to judge me). So, I ate, secretly……
And the cycle continued….
The thing is, it didn’t change what was going on. The emotions were just buried now, under the guilt for eating those cookies and candy bars and hiding them. The guilt was the focus now. And I could just eat that too!
I found that I was fooling myself into thinking that no one knew. My husband knew some of the time, and because he loved me he didn’t say anything. The guilt and shame I would have felt if he had told me would have been much harder to bear. I could let myself down, I could lie to myself and I could disappoint me… but to do that to my husband or my kids, well that would not have been a good thing at all.
And my body showed the effects of my secret eating. It didn’t matter how many times I hid what I was eating, or that I didn’t own it or track it because what I was eating, alone and in secret showed up….. it showed up in how I looked, what happened with my weight and more importantly, how I felt about myself.
It still does.
My secret eating is much less now. I deal with my emotions. I face them. But…. There have been times these past couple of years that were just really hard…. And I struggled. I would pick something up at the store…. candy, cookies, doughnuts, chips, peanut butter… you name it…… and hide it and eat it when I was alone. These extra 26 pounds are proof that sometimes, when life gets hard, old habits can creep back in. And I ate secretly, for all the reasons I have already said.
But, I know what I am doing now. I know that it won’t heal what needs to be healed. IT won’t fix what needs to be fixed. Eating in secret still shows up in public. So, I stop. I stop before it goes too far.
Because of all that has changed in me and all of the healthy habits, I can stop that secret eating before I go too far, before I can’t turn back. I don’t’ have to stuff those emotions any longer. And I don’t have to hide because of the shame and guilt. I can catch it and reach out for accountability. I can tell someone, mainly my husband, and that helps to get rid of the guilt and shame. And I can go to a workshop where I know I am not alone in this.
Will I ever be completely cured? NO. But I have the tools in my pocket that help me to get back on track quickly and strategies that keep me moving forward, learning and growing.
I heard in a meeting a few years ago from a wise leader when the topic was emotional eating….. “if you won’t eat it in front of others, then what is it you are really hungry for… what are you feeding because it isn’t physical hunger that makes you hide what you are eating.”
Those words run through my head and get me to stop and think. And rethink. And deal with things.
I am still striving to be the best version of me that I can be. And that means continuing to learn and grow on this amazing, perfectly imperfect journey.