It’s late at night when you hear a soft “scrape-scrape” sound. You can’t place it, so you get out of bed to investigate. Carefully, you tiptoe to the kitchen and peek inside. That’s when you see it.
A family member with a spoon is scooping out peanut butter – and eating it right from the jar!
You’ve just entered the world of “sneak eating.”
Sneak eating is what we do when we think no one is watching, and it can be equal parts indulgence and addiction. So with a promise of anonymity, I sat down with a group of friends to shed some light on their darkest snacking secrets.
To get them talking, I loosened their tongues by passing around a big bag of Skittles, Jelly Belly beans and gummy fish. Blame the sugar rush, but they spilled their guts pretty easily after that. At first the confessions were predictable: chocolate, ice cream or a combination of both. “There’s a Klondike bar with only 100 calories. That’s why I can easily eat three,” one woman explained.
Then we got down to the meat of the matter. Literally. Slim Jims, hot dogs, fast-food burgers – if it’s laden with fat and salt, you can bet someone is sneakily eating it.
Sneak eaters often satisfy their cravings at night, but nibblers have been known to partake brazenly in broad daylight, sometimes even in public. One otherwise health-conscious guy sheepishly said, “You can get hamburgers for 49 cents on Wednesdays and Sundays [name of fast-food location omitted to protect the guilty]. Sometimes I get two at the drive-through and eat them right in the car.”
Surprisingly, everyone felt comfortable talking about sweet treats. Maybe that’s because we expect to partake of cakes, cookies and pies at celebrations for birthdays, holidays and special occasions.
The group grew silent. Then someone quietly admitted, “I eat mayonnaise and white bread sandwiches.”
Another woman spoke up. “I eat mashed potato sandwiches.”
“Canned ravioli sandwiches.”
“Chow mein sandwiches.”
“Spaghetti with butter and ketchup.”
“Cabbage, noodles and hot dogs.”
“Hot dogs cut up and fried with eggs.”
Of course, none of these food concoctions are shameful or dangerous. A bit odd, perhaps, but aren’t most culinary combinations really just a matter of personal taste? And isn’t it really our fear of what people will think that makes us hide our habits?
Sneak eating can become problematic when it results from unmanageable stress, or when it leads to an ongoing pattern of poor health choices. Studies show that judging or blaming someone who sneak-eats isn’t helpful, and can reinforce the craving.
And therein lies the paradox: The more we sneak, the worse we feel; the worse we feel, the more we sneak.
One solution? Turn on the lights, invite someone to eat with you, and most of all, enjoy the friends and foods that make life delicious.
Note: For information about managing sneak eating, visit http://blogs.webmd.com/pamela-peeke-md/2010/08/seven-steps-to-stomp-out-sneak-eating.html