My not-so-secret snacking
Have you ever tried to open and close a plastic tub of peanut butter or a bag of crisps quietly? It’s basically impossible. No matter how hard you try, something clinks, crinkles, rustles and cupboard doors are louder than they should be.
I didn’t want to people to hear me getting a snack, so I would try and disguise all of this. I would boil the kettle, always offering to make tea for everyone, or to make a hot water bottle at bedtime so that I could have a late-night nibble. I would hide little snacks hidden around the house, so I didn’t have to go through the kitchen cupboards all the time, and I’d sneakily refill bags and jars or snacks to take to my room to try and hide how much I had eaten.
This all required so much planning and forethought, often distracting me from being in the moment because I was thinking about how to sneak a little snack to satisfy my intense hunger without anyone knowing that I had “caved” in and eaten something. I thought I was being sneaky, and that no one knew I was eating. In reality, everyone knew. I questioned in my head why they hadn’t mentioned it, and it’s only now I realise that they didn’t mention it because 1) snacking is normal and 2) they were just pleased to hear me eating something.
Whilst snacking is normal, what isn’t normal is how I tried to hide, and pretend I wasn’t doing it, without seeing that trying to hide it was abnormal and driven by my eating disorder.
Snacking is such a normal thing for so many people, but for me, it was filled with guilt and anxiety. Why was I feeling hungry at a time in between a meal, why was I feeling hungry at a time that no one else what feeling hungry? Did this make me greedy, weak, and uncontrollable? I would feel hungry at a time that wasn’t a “mealtime” defined by the eating disorder, and it told me I couldn’t, and shouldn’t, possibly be hungry. And that was when the secrecy snuck back in.
When I started engaging in recovery, I had my defined meals and snacks, and I didn’t want people to know that I was feeling hungry outside of these timeframes. I wanted to uphold the façade that I was doing recovery right, I would hold my head high thinking “Look how perfect I am at recovery, eating my meals when I should”, but in reality, this was just another way for the eating disorder to keep hold of me. Having my defined snack and mealtimes just felt like another rule for the eating disorder to stick to, and we couldn’t possibly shift out of these timings.
Once I had started to notice this secrecy, I started to make peace with my hunger signals and tried to start responding to them appropriately. This was difficult and often filled with anxiety and guilt, but acknowledging my hunger and responding to it appropriately was a massive step in my recovery. Once I started to come to terms with my hunger, I started to notice other things that the eating disorder would keep me hooked in and following the rules, however subtly. At the start, I felt so embarrassed about these subtle but overwhelming rules, but then I learnt that I am here to heal and acknowledging these rules was essential for me to find a life free from the eating disorder.
These behaviours can be so hard to notice, especially if they have persisted for a while, so I encourage you to ask those around you if they have noticed any behaviours that seem to be driven by the eating disorder. If you cannot recognise them yourself, it might be helpful to get others to ask you why you are doing certain behaviours and the purpose they are serving you. Breaking down thoughts and beliefs can really help you to recognise what’s happening. Often, behaviours can be so ingrained that we really need to pause and take a moment to reflect, rather than slaving on continuously without stopping to question “why”?
Be as open and honest as you possibly can. It might feel infuriating, or you might be ashamed when someone calls you out, but this will promote your recovery in the long run. Be the inquisitive 4-year-old that asks questions about every single thing to really challenge both you and your eating disorder.
This is all a journey, and there’s never one set answer. But all I know so far is that being honest, open, and questioning the eating disorder will help me to sit with my family, grab a biscuit, and have no shame in snacking in front of someone else.