Sneak Eaters Anonymous

Be honest, we’ve all done it before—it’s called sneak eating. It seems to happen all the time—especially when you’re trying to lose weight—and it can become a big obstacle to weight loss. So, why do we do it? How do we stop it? Read on to find out more… no one has to know!

What is sneak eating?

It's what I call "secret eating." We do it out of guilt, the feeling we should not be eating, and most often from a sense of deprivation in a diet plan. We feel others are judging what we eat and if eaten in private, "no one will know." Of course, the problem here is that we know that it's happening. And, many times, we know we're not even physically hungry when we do it.

What causes sneak eating?

Food is a great reinforcer and can be very soothing. Whether we're bored, stressed, fatigued, or a variety of other reasons, food is a great comfort. Stimulating our senses related to eating—not only taste and smell, but the visual impact of food—is a source of great pleasure.

Food can provide temporary relief from stress. Many of us turn to food at times of emotional stress, which can strike at any time of day or night and create some problematic sneak eating.

The late afternoon is another popular time for sneak eating. That late afternoon lull—several hours since lunch (if it was eaten at all), fatigue of the day winding down, is often another stimulus to sneak eat. Whether it's coworkers or family members around us, we want to avoid being "caught" eating.

Evenings are also a frequent problem for many. The stress of the day is done, obligations taken care of and it's "personal time," which often means food. Here again, with family members and friends around us, we don't want them to see our indulgences, lest they think there is "out of control" eating and "there goes the diet."

What to do?

  1. Give yourself permission to eat—and then it's not sneaking anymore! This is not so easy, because it's the wake-up call to pre-plan some effective eating, both to nourish and soothe.
  2. Keep a food log and identify when you're most likely to sneak eat and what you're most likely to look for. Be specific. For example, don't just write "sweets," but a chocolate bar? Cookies? You get the idea.
  3. Make a list of your favorite sneak foods. Think about some lower-calorie alternatives that will satisfy, but not trigger overeating.
  4. Consider ways to manage stress without food. This is certainly tough and takes a lot of thought and experimentation. Effective strategies range from keeping your hands busy (clean out a drawer, learn to knit) to keeping your mouth busy with nonfood activities (chewing sugarless gum, drinking herbal tea or water).

Managing weight is a constant challenge and we must all be prepared for the barriers that continually face us in the quest for a healthy lifestyle. "Sneak eating" is a symptom of weight-loss woes, which can be managed and resolved, once it is recognized.

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