Do You Sneak-Eat? Why It's Important to Keep Your Food on the Up and Up


This morning as I was getting ready to write today’s post, I was reading through some guest blogs that eating disorders therapist Esther Kane, MSW, sent over for the site. As I read, I was thinking things like, “Oh, yes, I remember how I used to do that” and “Gee, I’m sure glad I don’t suffer that way anymore.” Then I came across a little section she wrote about sneaking food and I thought, “Oh, sh*t, I kinda just did that the other night!”

John and I had eaten dinner much earlier than usual on Saturday night, and at about 10 p.m., as I was finishing watching Julie & Julia, I realized I was hungry again. John had already gone into the bedroom to relax and drift off to sleep, and I found myself going into the kitchen to look for something to nibble on—but feeling like I was sneaking.

Although I was legitimately hungry, I felt the need to be quiet in the kitchen and “sneak.” It was strange—as if I would’ve had to explain myself to John if he’d popped his head in and asked what I was doing. As if I would’ve had to convince him of my physical hunger.

I think there were several things that made me feel weird in that particular situation, and looking at them more closely I know what I can do next time to make things feel cleaner. See, I was watching TV late in the evening—a situation in which I have binged countless times in my life, so it’s no wonder that my subconscious was in sneak mode. I was also eating crackers, which I eat now sometimes, but didn’t eat for years because I used to binge on Saltines. And I also didn’t put my food on a plate—I was just snacking from the package, another thing that’s entirely too reminiscent of binge my days.

I want to remember this feeling so that next time, I can pause and make a couple of different choices, like eating something that’s not an old binge food, perhaps, and definitely serving myself on a plate! Not because I did something wrong on Saturday, but because I want to spare myself those weird sneaky and/or slightly guilty feelings anytime I can.

You’re never too recovered to learn something new about yourself and your relationship with food! Now, I’d like to share the info from Esther Kane that helped me make this realization:

This is a very important area to address, as there is a huge correlation between the phenomenon of sneak-eating and problematic relationships with food and body image.  In the 10+ years that I’ve been working as a therapist specializing in disordered eating, I have not yet met one client who has made peace with food and their body without stopping the “sneak-eating” habit.
Write a list of the ways in which you eat less than what you want because you are in the presence of others.
Write a list of the ways in which you currently sneak food.
Write a list of the specific foods you sneak. Is there a pattern?  What do you notice?
Write a list of the ways in which you hide your eating. Is there a pattern?  What do you notice?
More Homework: Commit to not sneak food at least once this week and eat it in full view of others.  Then write about the experience in your journal.  What was it like to tell the truth about what you eat?

Do you guys ever sneak-eat or even just feel sneaky about your eating the way I did the other night? Share! xo…Sunny

15 Responses to Do You Sneak-Eat? Why It's Important to Keep Your Food on the Up and Up

  1. Angie says:

    This post really hits home. I have been having abnormal / disordered eating for 2 weeks. I know it’s due to stress. I am working on the issues so I don’t have a complete relapse. In the meantime, the homework in this post is so helpful. Thanks for posting. Angie

  2. Kate says:

    I think late night eating always has that air of sneakiness. But I feel like this often when I’m alone during the day, and I am stressed, because I’m working on a project, and I keep snacking, because it gives me an excuse to get up and walk into another room, and procrastinate a little longer. Eating when I’m obviously not hungry makes me feel a little guilty every time.

  3. silverstreams says:

    I agree tat late-night eating does induce sneakiness. I think it’s because eating late at night isn’t the norm for most ppl (or at least tat’s hw we’ve been wired to think since young). And having eaten dinner, if we were to eat again later in the night, it only means we’re eating extra and we don’t wana be caught with tat. Especially if one is struggling with body image and feelg v. sensitive AND eating a whole lot of fd at tat hr of the day. Think: Eating = fat (for eating disorder sufferers)

    The experience of sneak-eating is a thrilling and soothing one. I love eating alone. No..make tat pigging out alone. Mostly, tat’d be in the late nights when everyone else has turned in. There’s sth terribly alluring abt eating late at night. I’d be as quiet as I can whilst I prepare my late night supper in the kitchen, anxiously hoping tat my family wldn’t be awaken by the sounds (eg. blare of the electric inductor) I make. Sometimes, to hide the fact tat I’ve eaten or to minimize the impression of the amt I’ve eaten, I’ll hide the fd wrappers till I dispose them the nxt day when no one’s looking. Or maybe I’ll stuff the wrappers right down at the bottom of the kitchen bin so tat my mum wouldn’t notice them. I jz did not want her to ask me too much.

  4. silverstreams says:

    Btw, I find the self-check homework by Esther Kane rather relevant. I’ll be doing them, thks!

  5. LovesCatsinCA says:

    I do a food log and I do confess I don’t want to sometimes put ALL of what I eat because I think it looks bad so I’ll underreport a little of my walking time so I have the right net energy intake/output to maintain, but I put down that I ate a few less cookies…. which is funky because I’m the only one who sees my food log! I am sneaking from myself. I guess I’ll have to work on that!

    Thanks-food for thought. (no pun intended.)

  6. Heather says:

    I didn’t think I sneak food, and in many ways, I’m still unsure that I do this.

    I know I used to do this when I started binge eating after being anorexic. I remember the first sneak eating of a bag of white chocolate chip cookies - how great they tasted and yet how awful I felt after. At my worst, I’d buy lots of food and eat it all alone. I lived alone at this point, but I’d avoid social eating to then binge alone.

    Now, I don’t think I sneak in this way but something about what Sunny said about feeling like you’re sneaking makes my stomach feel wierd and fluttery. I eat in front of others all the time, but I often have a sense of sneaking it under my own nose. I know I detach from difficult emotions, feelings and experiences and eating is one of these. It’s like I’m pretending to myself I’m not really there. I also know that when I am alone at home, I’m more likely to choose snacky foods (rather than a mean) and feel guilty about it than if I were eating with my boyfriend.

    Do other people class these types of eating a form of sneaking food? Do other people have unusual ways of sneaking or feeling like a snack sneak?

  7. Nadia says:

    Thank you for this post. As soon as I read it, I realised that I had recently done this even though I wasn’t binge eating. It’s made me look carefully at any sneak eating and this week I’ve been making myself in front of others.

  8. Tamara says:

    I got in the habit of sneak-eating when I was very young, because my parents restricted what I could eat because of my “weight problem.” So of course it’s a very difficult pattern to break…though it’s completely useless now because if my Sweetie ever catches me “sneaking,” he just tells me to sit down and eat properly instead.

    • Evelyn says:

      My daughter sneaks food. She is a big girl but so am I and her bio dad is also a big man. She sees me exercising to maintain a healthy weight. We eat healthy family dinners every night but we don’t forbid the junk. We allow desserts but in moderate amounts. I find pop tart and granola bar wrappers hidden in her room. I tell her all the time that we are aware she is sneaking food when we aren’t here and in the middle of the night and if she is hungry to go ahead and have a snack. She just says ok and still sneaks. I don’t want to be remembered as the parent that restricted her cuz of her “weight problem”. Any suggestions?

      • Kylie says:

        For me, being a binge eater began with ‘sneak’ eating whenever my parents were out or at night. I can’t explain exactly why, but I just felt so guilty and disgusting about eating and I enjoyed it way more when I had no one to judge me. ‘Sneak’ eating is a huge problem, and not something you can ignore because it definitely means there are underlying issues with food. But at the same time I feel like if I was confronted about it, this would only increase the guilt (which usually leads to more eating). I think that all you can do is let that person know that you are there if they want to talk about anything, and try to deal with the issues that are leading to these food issues, rather than directly trying to end the bingeing. I feel like if I had had someone to talk to back then when things first started, I might not have turned to food for comfort.

        • Ruth says:

          I completely agree with and relate. My BED began with sneaking food from the kitchen when I was a kid and lying to mom about what I had eaten. I would go as far as rearranging food left in containers and shelves to make it appear like there was nothing missing. My mother naturally confronted me about eating all of the ice cream or all of the pizza. Sometimes she would say “Man you ate the last of the __ I really wanted some.”, and I would spiral into an even worse frenzy of binging on everything and hiding it. The main thing is letting her know she has support without directly confronting the binge or sneaking, she already feels the guilt regardless and doesn’t want attention drawn to it. Try talking instead about what is going on with her life in general, how she is feeling, how are her friends… etc.

  9. Robyn says:

    Thanks for this post. Sneak eating is still one of the biggest issues I deal with and even in situations you wouldn’t necessarily think of. For some reason I always feel judged eating and so much rather eat alone in my room, than with friends. It’s a pattern I’ve really struggled with.

  10. corty says:

    I do this all of the time. I have gained so much weight over the past 8 yrs. I have been seeing a trainer/personal coach and this has helped come to my attention as to why i do it. The problem is i haven’t stopped. I am 100lbs overweight. I was never overweight growing up. I started this probably after my mom died and that was my way to deal with it. I need to get this under control. I am in my mid thirties and don’t want to die young.

  11. javoina says:

    honestly - it is such a relief too find that there are soo many other people facing the same problem……………….well not really relief but kinda of a comfort i guess - sorta like - ‘your not all alone in that sinking boat ‘ feeling ..

    i seem to be the most vulnerable to binch eating when i am watching something on tv or on my laptop or when im depressed or just alone anytime !

    n being quite conscious about my body …i use to throw up after a binge and over exercise
    but recently i put a stop to that phase & now its just down to sneak eating … at night like literally ill be awake till 2.00 at night constantly thinkin about what i cud sneak eat n finally give into temptation n sneak eat …………… but i reallllllllllllllllllly want to stop!!!!!!!!

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Sunny Sea Gold

About the Author

Sunny Sea Gold is a media-savvy advocate and commentator specializing in binge eating disorder, cultural obsessions around food and weight, and raising children who have a healthy body image.