Monday, January 18, 2010

Sneaking! Airing My Dirty Laundry

As a successful Lifetime Member, I like to think of myself as the model of absolute propriety and righteous healthy living.  An upstanding member of the prudent life community.  A model Weight Watchers citizen.  A role model for all.

Except when I am secretly not.  A few weeks ago, my wife and I were winding down in the middle of the week after a typically long and busy day.  She announced that she was going upstairs, and I indicated that I would be up in just a little bit.  After I heard her go upstairs, my vision got fuzzy, and I headed over to the freezer in a somewhat frenzied state.  See, I knew there was ice cream in them there hills.  I pulled out a spoon like a trusty six-shooter, and dug deep into the vat of Edy's (the fact that it was "low fat" was hardly the point).  I was a fast and steady gunslinger, as I quickly brought spoon to mouth.  Then my wife walked into the kitchen.  Ooops.

As she put it, I looked remarkably like a seven year old boy caught completely red handed.  Red faced too. Busted!!!

All this has led me to wonder the age old question:  why do I sneak food?  Had I merely had some ice cream in broad daylight under the witness of others, no one would have thought anything about it.  You can certainly do this (in moderation) under the Weight Watchers program.  What is it about sneaking that almost makes the food taste better?  Why do I sneak even when I know that I will self-flagelate later?

Like most aberrant behaviors, I needed to go back to childhood for the answer.  You see, I have always been a sneaker (behaviorally speaking, not a piece of footwear).  When I was growing up, my bedroom was next door to the basement where we kept our deep food storage freezer.  My mother would keep a large inventory of frozen bread (don't ask, she was very frugal!) and other various staples.  As a little boy, I used to sneak into the freezer to sneak a piece of frozen bread (as I write this, it's hard for me to believe that I'm not making it up).  Put aside the fact that I could have gone upstairs and had a thawed piece of bread.  The frozen, stolen variety just tasted better to me.

My mother used to bake tin after tin of Christmas cookies during early December in preparation for the rounds of social events that transpired over the holidays.  She would, of course, put the cookie tins in deep frozen storage, which was conveniently located next to my lair of thieves hangout (i.e., my bedroom).  I would carefully attempt to orchestrate imperceptible cookie removal which required intricate rearrangement of the cookies within the tins so as to avoid loss detection.  Of course, I discovered years later that she knew all along that I was engaged in these nefarious activities.  She just didn't say anything as long as the shrinkage was at manageable levels.

I did the same with ice cream, attempting to employ the technique of perfectly removing 3 millimeters of surface across the area of the cylinder container.  I really thought that no one would notice the difference.  Of course, they always did.

I ultimately outgrew the freezer bread raids, but I never outgrew the habit of wanting to sneak food under the cover of darkness.

I really don't understand why.  I was not an overweight kid.  In fact, I literally could not gain weight until I went to college, and let's just say that my environment changed.  I was rail thin through high school, bordering on emaciated in elementary school (it's a tall guy thing).  Maybe I was insatiable because I was literally insatiable.  I could eat anything and still not gain weight, so perhaps that's why I ate so much.  People didn't eat as many treats back then, so maybe I simply craved what was forbidden.  If I had to guess, I would say it was the latter.

As it is for so many people, forbidden, private eating remains one of my weaknesses.  As it is for so many of us, I prefer to do my dirty food work in private.  Why?  A little dash of forbidden fruit and a little dash of embarrassment.  There is a freedom to being able to self indulge without fear of recrimination and loss of approval by others.  But all of this begs the question:  isn't our approval of our own behaviors the only approval that matters?  Clearly yes.

Isn't there a better way?  Yes.

Step 1:  put out my dirty laundry in a safe environment (this blog and a WW meeting is a good place to start) where others will relate and be supportive.  In 1961, our founder Jean Nidetch did exactly this when she held the first ever Weight Watchers meeting in her apartment in Queens, NY.  It is the whole reason that Weight Watchers exists today.
Step 2:  find ways to care less about what others might think of our indulgences.  I need to make healthy behaviors for myself, not for the approval of others.  Whether someone else sees me indulging or not is completely irrelevant and frankly none of their business.
Step 3:  understanding that it is the cover of night that allows our minor indulgences to blossom into monstrous food disasters.  Just because I can't be seen by someone else, doesn't mean that I can't see myself.
Step 4:  become more mindful of the situations in which I mindlessly head over for a sneaking run, and more carefully think about what I'm doing
Step 5:  plan indulgences explicitly into my routine so I don't feel the need to steal my indulgences

Feel free to share your own frozen bread story.




  1. Wow, David, thanks for sharing! I've also been a food sneaker. It wasn't obvious until I moved in with my then-boyfriend/now-husband. Even now when I've eaten too many sweets or processed carbs, I feel the urge. Reading about cognitive therapy has helped me identify these feelings and cut it down before it gets out of hand!

  2. Wow...I am a sneaker from way back. I can pinpoint several reasons. My mother and stepfather would force me to eat foods I hated, even if it meant eating them cold for breakfast the next day, or eating what I had tried to swallow and gagged up. And it's not like there were a lot of foods I didn't like (I didn't like beans or peas of any kind, mashed potatoes or liver...a texture thing). And so I think I started sneaking foods in order to rebel. Then when I was a little older, say 12, my mother would raise an eyebrow or make a comment if I wanted more than she thought I should have. When I would babysit, I'd raid cabinets and refigerators and hide the evidence. As I write this out I see all the "guilt" around food. It's funny, especially since I've been blogging about it for a year, that I haven't really looked at this exact angle before. Anyway, I said on Twitter, as I read this post I realized that I have no reason to sneak food any more because no one is judging me.

  3. OMG, you are so honest and so funny!! One of mine was after a dinner party. Everyone left and someone helped clean up and threw the extra, dried rolls in the trash can. It didn't look dirty to me? It must have only been 5 seconds (the rule) or 5 hours, anyhow, took it out, looked around and shoved one in my mouth. I've always loved dried bread, croutons, ends of bread, bread with or with out coffee grounds on top. (no not really but close) I have mentioned that story to my WW members and you can see by the reaction who agrees or have been caught. I got away with it but 15 years later I feel caught and have to share it again.

  4. I have always been the sneak who kept my own food hidden. In the car, my office drawer, a dresser. Then I don't have to sneak the food others would/might see and perhaps catch on. It's much easier to be a sneak when you are the grocery shopper for the family.

  5. I am so glad to read such an honest account of food sneaking. I do it as well and am not sure why. I feel like it's a way of escaping, but I'm not sure what I'm escaping from. I do it, and I work hard to be more aware of what I am doing and why I'm making those choices, but I really felt like I was not among friends in this habit. Thanks for helping me rethink that.

  6. David,

    I come from a long line of sneakers. :) We never used the phrase "What happened to the (fill in the blank with ice cream/cookies/etc) that was here last night?" in my childhood home, because my mother ate in her sleep. Well, to be more precise, she ate while WE were sleeping.

    I do the same thing. I have tried many times to break this habit. I remember the first time I sat down in front of my soon-to-be-and-now-ex-husband with a pint of Ben & Jerry's and a spoon. I looked him defiantly in the face, thinking "yeah, this is me, baby!", daring him to comment. He looked away.

    My daughter tells her friends why we don't keep ice cream in the house. It's cause we CAN'T keep ice cream in the house... it mysteriously disappears overnight. Must be the elves.

    Thanks for sharing,

  7. Thanks so much for sharing this. I think for some reason my comfort foods are perceived as bad so I no longer have a bag of Cheetos or Cheesecake lying around to tempt me.

    I plan for my treats and now eat them "in the open" but once in a great while I do try to sneak something on the drive home from the grocery store.

    Phew - now I confessed and got it off my chest :) Thanks!

  8. PB is my 3am. Always at 3 am.

  9. Ok, Ok! I just took the bag of Lindt Lindor Truffles out of the spare bedroom and put them in the candy dish for all to enjoy. They were left over from Christmas gifts so I just left them in there where I had been wrapping.

    Seriously! :-)

  10. So, I like to sneak treats and or fast food in my purse into the house, because my wonderful mother always wants to know what I have and what I've eaten and she usually gives me a guilt trip! Now I'm not blaming her but I have realized that I need to eat with the family and not alone in my room or in the car. Thanks for sharing everyone!

  11. When I was eight years old, I stole a can of sardines out of the cupboard and took it to our vacant rental home next door. I climbed a ladder into the attic and dug right into the sardines. It was well over 100 dgrees in that attic. Even then I remember thinking I must be crazy. The things we do for a food fix! lol. I am better now. I stay out of the attic.(:

  12. one thing I say to my members- cause I also am a food sneaker at times and this helps me is:
    What you eat in private you wear in public!

  13. Geez, I still do the same thing. I'll eat a bite of ice cream with my FINGER, as if that counts less than a spoon. Any food eaten while standing in front of the fridge is calorie free, right?

    Sadly, even though I'm training for a half marathon and am struggling to eat ENOUGH, I still do this out of habit.

  14. my dad was a secret food eater. whenever my mom put him on a diet he would sneek food in the garage or even mcdonalds. and i just thought that was how one dieted. good all the time and then have a splerge with a lot of bad food. and then gradually loose the diet once. it was clear the diet was at fault. faulty dieting

  15. Wow! I never thought about it before, but I guess I'm a food sneaker. When my kids and my husband go to bed. I will head for the fridge to get ice cream, then cookies and then candy while I'm sufing the net. If I hear anyone coming downstairs I will hide it. It actually feels good to write this down. Thanks!

  16. Oh yeah, the late-night-I-deserve-this-snack really slays me. When everyone is asleep, I eat alone here, in front of the computer. Guilt cookies, shame candies. And now that I think about it, I've always been like that, too. My mom used to hide a bag of candy away, and I'd sneak in and eat some of HER stash! On the rare occasions that noone was home when I was growing up, the first thing I'd do was go to the freezer for a HUGE bowl of ice cream. Does it taste better when you don't have to share it?

  17. I come from a long line of sneak-eaters too. My mom told me she used to hide in the closet and eat candy sometimes. I sometimes get up in the middle of the night and eat. I have stopped doing that because I finally started having a snack (out in the open) before I go to bed. I remember standing in the kitchen with my eyes closed, stuffing Lil Debbie Swiss Rolls into my mouth. I used to stop on the way home and get a hamburger & french fries before having my normal dinner. If I was picking up food for me and my husband, I would get an extra meal for me to eat on the way home. I'm alot better now, but I still catch myself thinking that I could have something and nobody would know it.

  18. Donna CM IngegneriJanuary 20, 2010 at 4:09 PM

    Hi Dave! I thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog today. I related to almost every single thing you wrote about. I'm so glad I fell upon this today. Keep on blogging! It was very interesting and entertaining!! God bless!

  19. wow, I have to admit, that I am a sneak-eater too. mine stems from people telling me I shouldn't eat this, or I shouldn't eat that. then when I'm alone I think "oh yea, I can eat what I want" and I do. I guess kind of in spite, when actually, I am spiting myself.
    thank you for bringing this to the forefront.
    no more sneak eating for me, if I want something, I will eat it even when someone says I shouldn't, because in the long run that would be better.

  20. I'm a sneak-eater from 40 years ago. When I started putting on weight and my mom would cut my portions at dinner and not let me have snacks. The sneak-eating continues today because I guess I think if no one sees me eat it, it doesn't count. But just one look at myself in the mirror tells me that it really does count. I think it started out as "I'll show mom - I can eat what I want and it got out of control from there. It is a hard habit to break. Some days are better than others

  21. I sneak because I HATE people telling me what to do. Husband knows I am watching what I eat, and I do not want his comments. I think he phrases comments. He is not being supportive, but critical when he comments. Big difference.

  22. Thanks for giving me a light bulb moment!

  23. When I was 16 in 1964, I worked in the Franklin Restaurant down the street from the Steel Pier in Atlantic City. All of the servers (waiters and waitresses then!) used to sneak ice cream out of the freezer case and eat it with their fingers while staring out the small window into the restaurant making sure that Dottie, the boss, did not see us. At the end of the summer, Dottie told us that she knew exactly what we were doing all along!

  24. sounds like this should be a meeting topic look at all the responses--imagine how members will react!

  25. Christine in LouisvilleJanuary 20, 2010 at 11:29 PM

    This is EXACTLY why I need to be sure to use my FOOD JOURNAL!! As a free lifetime member at goal weight, I still struggle with night time snacking after everyone else goes to bed! If I make myself write it down, it does seem to stop the "spiral" of ONE bite of ice cream, TWO Oreos, THREE pretzel rods... (any of which would be "ok", but not when it starts spiraling out out control!?!?)

    I have been at my goal weight for over 14 months, but still go to my meeting nearly EVERY week! I need the support of "my girls", and that "re-boot" that you get by starting a new week!


  26. very genuine and heartfelt confession.....esp since it had me look back at my eating patterns n where they came from.

    very vividly shared as well, i could visualize David's room and the house and his mum's expression. Good work!

  27. Hi Dave! Many thanks for your inspiration. I caught your appearance on GMA this morning-- BRAVO TO YOU for reinforcing what we've all known from the beginning: We have a REAL program that works for REAL people and have REAL evidence to support it. You've had a rough couple of days-- ask for help if you need it!

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  29. Hi Dave,
    I have been a sneak-eater for a long time. I have been attending WW for 10 months, lost 86 lbs. But, there are times I still find myself wanting to eat after my husband goes to bed. It is totally ridiculous! I am commited to succeed, thank goodness for WW. Thanks for the blog.

  30. When I was a teen ager, I had a sign in my closet that said "what you eat in private shows in public", but that didn't keep me from storing containers of frosting next to it. For me, if I'm hiding my eating from other people I'm really trying to hide it from myself-"other people" are just stand-ins for my own self critical eye. Now when I want to sneak food, I try to ask myself who I'm really hiding this eating from. Thanks for a thought-provoking post.