What is Secret Eating?
I was talking with a good friend recently and was describing something I call “secret eating”. It’s the name I came up with for when I’m having a food craving and I’m on some type of food plan or diet (which let’s face it has been most of my adult life) and the food I crave is outside of the rules of that diet. I know what I’m supposed to be eating and I know I shouldn’t but I’m craving for sugar or carbohydrates or a combination of both.
My Guilty Little Secret
An example of secret eating is when I am out in my car and I might be stopping to buy a latte and I also buy a chocolate pastry or a peanut slab or jet planes. These are all sweet treats and the sort of thing I crave. I eat it and immediately feel guilty and ashamed about being so out of control because I have failed my commitment to my diet of the moment. I’d normally never confess to this. It’s my guilty little secret. This is the sort of thing I used to do regularly. My friend totally agreed with me and said she buys chocolate bars while at the supermarket and eats them before her kids can see them. It seems that a lot of us are secret eaters.
Secret eating by the way is different from eating dessert when you are out to dinner and everyone is ordering dessert. While it may not be on your diet or food plan this kind of eating is socially acceptable. You can eat the dessert and feel a lot less guilty and talk about it afterwards.
Jane, how can you help?
Because secret eating has plagued me for years, I told Jane the psychologist about my behaviour and how much of a problem this has become for me. I asked her what I could do to help myself stop doing this. I was a bit dubious about how she might help because this is a powerful pull inside my brain.
The World’s Worst Motivational Speaker
Jane suggested we try something called narrative therapy and externalise secret eating. I was intrigued. Jane then asked me to visualize secret eating as a person sitting in another chair and asked me what sex secret eating was. Male I said. She then asked me to give secret eating a name and a personality. After feeling a bit weird about this idea I got into it and I named him, Sleazy Alan the car salesman. Jane asked me to give voice to Sleazy Alan the car salesman. What would he say? This was not hard at all.
Imagine a sleazy ingratiating and persuasive voice saying, You know you want it – you love it Kate. It’ll make you feel good the moment you pop it in your mouth. It will give you such pleasure. Don’t worry about your diet. Enjoy the moment. What does one pastry matter?
I was getting right into the Alan character. Jane explained that in reality Alan was the world’s worst motivational speaker in my mind and that he is a liar and a con man and not to be trusted.
Then Jane got me to think of another character and put them in another chair facing Alan. This character was to be a person whose behaviour aligned with my goals and values which are to make healthy food choices and look after my wellbeing. Now this was easy. Immediately I thought of a wise, calm and elegant woman with positive personal power, one who walks her talk, makes good choices and enjoys the respect of her friends and family. I called her Katherine both because that is my name more formally - which felt good and I was visualizing Katharine Hepburn. She was so elegant and strong I have always admired her. Anyway Katherine it was.
Claiming Back My Power
The next step was for Jane to play Alan and I was to be Katherine. Jane sat in a chair facing me and began to be sleazy Alan the car salesman. Kate, you know you want it. Just one pastry. Go on. It’ll be delicious. And enjoying the power of the role play as Katherine, without turning a hair, I said – Fuck off Alan! Katherine obviously doesn't mince her words and there are moments when only a well targeted expletive will suffice. It felt so empowering to say that and I meant every syllable of it. Ha! Take that Alan.
Rewiring My Brain
This moment was amazing because it was both so powerful and funny. I was suddenly in control with a tool to use anytime sleazy Alan the world’s worst motivational speaker enters my mind. I can’t tell you how many times I have used this technique since, because I have lost count. A lot is my best answer. I have used this to stop myself from buying a lot of sugary treats over the past weeks and it never ceases to amaze and delight me how powerful it is. And the best part is that I have a laugh which changes my state from the craving old me to the light hearted me. The big positive out of this is that I am rewiring my brain by repeatedly taking this action. I love it.
Thank you Jane for this gold!
Great News For You
You can use this technique on any habit that is not serving you. I have shared this tale with a number of friends and they are now texting me to let me know when they have given Sleazy Alan a send off. This makes my day.
- I apologise to all the Alan’s and car salesmen out there and anyone offended by my use of colourful language.
- Image credit to Fiona Hall