Have you ever played Hide & Eat?
It looks something like this:
As soon as her co-workers leave the room, Kim snatches a handful of leftover cookies and quickly throws them into her bag. She declined them during the meeting secretly hoping there’d be leftovers she could eat alone at home.
Once everyone is asleep, Janice sneaks into the kitchen, quietly opens the freezer door and grabs a pint of ice cream, which she hurriedly eats while standing in the dark.
When Jack goes to the restroom, Jim stuffs the last slice of pizza into his mouth before the waiter comes to clear the table and his friend returns.
Val keeps a stash of chocolate bars hidden in the back of her sock drawer. She eats them in bed while watching TV, then buries the wrappers in the trashcan so her roommates won’t see them.
Perhaps, like me, you can you relate to these secret-eating stories. During my dieting years, I mastered the game of Hide & Eat!
Why We Play Hide & Eat
There are many reasons why you might play Hide & Eat. Following are just a few. As you'll see, many of them are rooted in shame.
You’ve internalized diet-culture messaging that assigns moral value to food and judges people as good or bad based on their food choices (i.e., if you eat something "bad," you're bad).
You don’t want to tarnish your reputation as a “healthy person," "clean eater” or “dedicated dieter.”
You fear it's unacceptable to eat certain foods (or eat at all) because of the size of your body, what you've already eaten, or your lack of exercise.
You don’t want anyone to witness what you believe is a lack of willpower or self-control.
You’re afraid of the external food police making comments about your food choices, like “Do you really think you should be eating that?” or “I thought you gave up sugar!
You love the thrill of rebelling against a restrictive diet or watchful partner or parent, yet don't want to suffer the consequences of getting caught.
If no one sees you breaking your food rules or eating a forbidden food, it didn't happen or doesn't count.
You’re experiencing an uncomfortable emotion, such as anxiety, sadness, loneliness, and long ago learned to hide your feelings, retreat from the world, and self-soothe with food.
Conditioned to Play
Although it can feel really shameful and embarrassing, your desire to play Hide & Eat is completely understandable.
Most likely, from a very young age, you've been conditioned (like most of us) by our insidious, pervasive diet culture to believe that much of your value and worth is determined by your size, shape and what’s on our plate.
This deeply ingrained, shame-triggering social construct can easily compel you to hide any behavior that could potentially be considered bad and ultimately jeopardize people's perception and acceptance of you.
The risk of being seen feels too great.
Not Your Fault
None of this is your fault. You’re simply trying to protect yourself from painful perceived threats, like judgment, criticism and rejection.
But, as you may know all too well, playing Hide & Eat is not a fun game. It’s a fear- and shame-driven activity that's exhausting, demoralizing and disempowering.
Plus, it’s hard to enjoy whatever it is you’re eating when you’re anxiously consuming it at a fast and furious pace while crouched in a dark corner trying not to make any noise.
The good news is you can come out of hiding whenever you’re ready.
You Can Walk Away
Walking away from the game of Hide & Eat can take a lot of courage and self-compassion, especially if you’ve been playing it for a long time.
It’s best to take small steps, like experimenting with eating a forbidden food out in the open, perhaps with a supportive friend.
Untangling yourself from the grip of our toxic diet culture can be downright challenging.
I encourage you to seek support from a weight-neutral, non-diet practitioner who can help you let go of the beliefs and behaviors (and games) that are no longer serving you. You deserve it.