Are you a woman who lives with a secret shame called Closet Eating? Would you feel mortified if someone caught you eating something fattening? You may be a closet eater.

A closet eater is a person with a complex about eating in full view and in front of others. For a closet eater, the idea of eating food in public creates an unbearably uncomfortable feeling of shame in their body. They may be consumed by thoughts of worry and embarrassment just thinking about people watching them eat.

Let me ask you a question: When you were a kid did you ever sneak eat? I did, lots of times. I remember so many nights when I would wait patiently in bed, listening for sounds telling me that everybody was sleeping and the coast was clear. As soon as I could hear Dad’s snores, I knew it was safe to make my move. Like a thief in the night, I’d peel back the covers, rise up out of bed, and tiptoe toward the kitchen being so careful, trying not to make a sound. Damn those squeaky floor boards!

If I heard a noise, I’d freeze dead in my tracks and wait, holding my breath and listening until it was safe to continue. Once I got to the kitchen, I’d crack open the refrigerator door enough so I could see what I was doing, but nobody would be woken by the light. Then just like a little squirrel gathering nuts, I stuffed as much food as I could in my pajamas and filled both pockets of my fuzzy pink bathrobe.

Quickly and quietly I retraced the steps back to my room. I crawled into bed and, with a flashlight under my covers, emptied my pockets and quietly started the process of peeling, opening, pulling, sucking, chewing, and consuming all my goodies. They were all mine, the cookies, pieces of cheese and meat, canned pudding, frozen donuts, cold Chinese takeout, and all sorts of foods I wasn’t allowed to have on my diet.  

From that experience and many others like it, I believed for the next thirty-five years that I was out of control around food. This belief caused me to be deeply ashamed of myself.

Closet Eating: What’s It Look Like?

Here’s an example of how closet eating might play out in your life:

You make no bones about the fact that you want to lose weight. Even though you’re not officially dieting, you do your best to eat ‘healthy’ but you still crave all those goodies that you feel that you shouldn’t be eating. You tell the family that you’re staying away from fattening foods. While eating dinner with the family, you choose all the right things, take small bites and eat like a lady. Once the fam leaves the room, you cram a secret stash oreo or two in your mouth feeling that mixture of “I got away with it! bliss and shame.

Your Inner Critic At Work

Fat is demonized in our society and if you are a woman struggling with excess weight, frustrated by feelings of discouragement and anxiety around diets, and feeling like a big, fat failure, you know what it’s like to feel the pressure of wanting to be thinner.

But with all that pressure and body shame you feel, your rising stress hormone levels are constantly triggering your body’s urge to eat every time you feel stressed.

During those times you’re not likely to crave celery and carrot sticks. You want to eat a whole cake and polish off a pound of pasta. But you know those foods are not considered conducive to weight loss. And if you’ve been made to feel ashamed of your body in the past, you probably also feel ashamed of eating what you really want in front of other people.

The truth is other people don’t care as much about what you say and do and eat as you assume. They are too concerned with thinking and worrying about themselves. Your biggest critic is really yourself. The same shame you feel about being overweight colors every aspect of your life, making you feel terrible.

There are a lot of ignorant people who will say hurtful things just to make them feel better about themselves. But you can probably spot them a mile away and perhaps their nasty comments don’t bother you at all.

But it’s our loved ones and family members who have the most power to hurt us because we want to be accepted and protected by our tribe. We feel most vulnerable around them.

Science has proven that most people carry on a running dialog in their head every minute of the day or approximately 10,000 times a day. Studies show that the majority of what we tell ourselves is based on criticism and negative input.

If you are a woman who’s unhappy with your body and frustrated with your weight, you most likely are beating up on yourself with critical self talk. Since you are already conditioned to think of yourself in negative terms, you tend to think or believe that others share your negative opinions and judgments.

If you struggle with feeling ashamed when you eat in public, you are most likely replaying memories in your mind of actual events that have occurred in your life of times when you felt uncomfortable eating around people.

For example, I used to be very intimidated by my Uncle Don. On several occasions when my family would get together for holiday meals, and Uncle Don was invited, I dreaded the prospect of seeing him.

His presence was always pretty intimidating. I never felt comfortable with him. I was always very quiet and didn’t attract attention to myself. He must have felt that he was doing me a big favor by criticizing my appearance and commenting on everything I ate.

I remember one Thanksgiving dinner in particular. I had asked someone to pass me the stuffing. As the stuffing was passed to me, he made a snide comment about how I had gained so much weight, and did I really need that much stuffing. I was so mortified. I didn’t know what to say and I can’t remember if I ever said anything to him. I just remember how much his comment hurt.

Later while helping to wash the dishes, he approached me and said, “Andrea, you’re such a pretty girl with a beautiful face but you look like a truck driver from behind. Wow! That left it’s impact.

Has someone ever said something hurtful like that to you? Can you remember times when you’ve been fat shamed? Here’s what your brain does with those memories.

Anchoring: How We Form Associations

Our brains are always busy searching for new connections In my case, I associated Uncle Don’s scathing criticism with the awful feeling of shame that I felt in the pit of my stomach.

In NLP, we call this a kinesthetic anchor. Each time, you are reminded of a strong emotion or feeling like being criticized or judged, your body, sends a signal to your brain that produces a flood of stress chemicals designed to alert you to danger.

Then your brain goes on a search looking for patterns, seeking out examples of other times similar events occurred. When it comes up with a memory, it sends a signal to your body to remember this intense feeling and pairs it with situations involving social dining.

In specific, using my experience as a guideline, here’s how it works: Your ears send a signal to your brain reminding you of all the nasty things that have been said. For example:, I can remember the exact tone and quality of Uncle Don’s voice when he said, “You’re going to get as fat as a house one day if you keep eating that food.” You already look like a truck driver from behind.”

The words you hear replayed in your head are just as powerful as when they were first spoken. When you think about nasty sarcastic remarks that have been told to you, your body feels the impact of those words each time you think about it.

Desperately wanting to get away from this threat and those hurtful memories, you seek to find a way to eat the food you want without being noticed.

Maybe the first time you engaged in closet eating you were successful in stealing a cookie from the cookie jar without your parents’ knowledge. By doing this or something like it, you created a new connection in your brain that eating in secret keeps you safe and in control.

Yet because of the flood of stress chemicals that the negative memories create, and societal pressures to dine with others, you feel awful hiding and eating in secret.

Therefore, instead of being able to sit down and enjoy Thanksgiving Dinner in front of everyone, you feel the need to watch your every move. A closet eater will pick at their meal, often claim that they are not very hungry, and find a way to sneak the food away and eat it in a place where they can be all alone, feeling safe and protected from harm.

My Experience of Living with the Shame of Secret Eating

Until I finally stopped dieting, and learned to trust myself around food and began to honor my feelings as well as my body, and ignore the nasty ravings of people like my uncle Don, I’m sad to say that I wasted a lot of years feeling shameful about my curvy body and eating in secret too.

I used to be very strategic and clever in thinking up so many wonderful hiding places for food. I had stashes of cookies in my coat pockets, candy bars under the bed, wrapped snack cakes behind the toilet. I would eat in public bathrooms, closets, behind locked doors, in laundry rooms, anywhere that I could be assured of being alone.

For years I put on a show for everyone, including my Uncle Don trying to prove that I was doing my best to diet and lose weight. Yet, the moment that I was left alone, I would desperately reach for the food that I felt gave my life comfort and joy. I felt caught in a cycle of self abuse for decades, silenced by the secret shame that I felt I had no control around food.

Today I’ve found a solution that can help you to end your secret shame. I want to share what I’ve learned with you.

As a Professional Coach, I now understand that closet eating is an example of an eating disorder. Unlike the purging behavior associated with bulimia or the purposeful acts of starving connected with anorexia, closet eating is just as insidious in that it undermines the individual and reinforces negative messages to their brain, making them feel shameful and sinful.

Emotional Freedom Technique Offers a Solution

If you’re suffering from this painful and shame filled behavior, there is hope for you. One of the things that I teach my clients to do is a simple stress-relief process called Emotional Freedom Technique or EFT. EFT will break the connection that eating in public is shameful and threatening.

Based on the science of Acupuncture, EFT is often considered to be it’s emotional equivalent without the pain of needles. Anyone can use it any time to feel better and overcome negative emotions and fears in minutes.

How EFT Can Help Create Feelings of Safety For You

When we experience stress and pain, our bodies hold on to the memory of that event. To release the charge on those painful memories, you need to change the energy connected with it. EFT works like magic to do this. As a kid, I was raised in an alcoholic and abusive family, so fear and worry is in my DNA. It’s often my first impulse, but now I recognize that as an illusion or the remnants from my past. I know that by using tapping I can create feelings of safety and confidence out of memories that trigger fear and anxiety. I am always using tapping to relax myself in situations or to release old fears and limiting beliefs.

What I like to do for myself and with my clients is to use tapping to take the intensity of the emotions felt and to transform them to a more desired feeling.

By tapping lightly on acupressure points throughout the face and hands, while thinking about the event, and re-experiencing the emotion and pin-pointing where it is in the body, the feelings completely change. Feelings of shame and sadness can quickly transform to confidence and pride.

Basically if you struggle with shame around being an emotional eater and worry about other people judging what you eat, you’re not alone, and you don’t have to continue to live with those punishing thoughts and emotions.

I can tell you from personal experience that you don’t have to live with the shame of feeling the need to eat in secret or anything else.  I use EFT often and I encourage my clients to do the same. We all have negative experiences from our past. EFT can help you to take the edge and intensity off of those uncomfortable memories. Click below to join my FB group, “30 Days to Lovin’ the Skin You’re In”

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