What is closet eating? How to know you are a closet eater and ways to stop it

Who needs skeletons in their closet when you can have snacks? If this sounds like you and you want to stop closet eating, this article will help you learn how to stop treating snacks like a little secret and cultivate a healthier relationship with food. 

Image of a woman wearing a bath robe in a bath tube eating noodles

Key Takeaways

  • Closet eating is the act of devouring food or snacks in secret, frequently alone and away from others, which can lead to weight gain, low self-worth, and even eating disorders.
  • Signs of closet eating include hiding food or utensils, feeling guilty or ashamed after eating, and eating secretly to cope with stress or emotions.
  • Closet eating is not the same as binge eating disorder, which involves overeating while feeling out of control. You can curb closet eating on your own, but some people may need professional help.
  • Tips to stop closet eating include keeping a food diary, finding healthier ways to cope with stress, practicing mindful eating, getting support, and removing temptation by getting rid of trigger foods.

Do you feel like food is your little secret, something you hide from the world like a hidden treasure? Or maybe you sneak off to indulge in your favorite snacks when nobody's looking, feeling guilty and ashamed afterward. If this sounds familiar, you might be a closet eater.

Closet eating can adversely affect a person's health and self-esteem. But, you don't have to face it alone, as you can get support from family, friends, and health professionals. 

Also, there are ways out of this habit. From practicing mindful eating to finding healthy ways to cope with stress, we'll show you how to break free from the confines of your closet and enjoy food without guilt. Reading further, you will learn how to develop a healthier, happier relationship with food.

What is closet eating?

Closet or compulsive eating is defined as eating in secrecy, whether in your closet, your car, or the kitchen after everyone else is asleep.

People who experience closet eating often dislike social situations where food is present. They would commonly consume small amounts of food around people, then eat more foods deemed "off-limits," "unhealthy," or "junk" in private. Typically, these foods are hidden in odd places so others won't find them. They may also hide the utensils for eating those foods.

Closet eating affects people of all ages and genders, although it is common in overweight children and adolescents, with rates ranging from 27.2% in children and 34% in adolescents.

Usually, this eating disorder is associated with an unhealthy relationship with food and can develop for any number of reasons, including low self-esteem, a desire for food control, or emotional eating.

Is closet eating a bad habit?

Closet eating is a harmful habit because people who eat secretively often lose track, leading to overeating, weight gain, poor body image, and low self-esteem since they commonly choose high-calorie and low-nutrient foods. 

Poor dietary choices, such as eating high-calorie, low-nutrient meals frequently, may contribute to obesity, heart disease, and diabetes, as well as a higher risk of developing eating disorders such as bulimia and binge eating disorder.

Furthermore, closet eating may lead to guilt, shame, and anxiety. The secrecy and shame associated with closet eating can lead to a vicious cycle of binge eating and emotional eating, worsening mental health issues.

Signs that you are a closet eater

Here are some signs of a closet eater:

  1. Hoarding and hiding food in your room or car
  2. Guilt or shame after eating a large quantity of food
  3. Eating when you are not hungry or overeating
  4. Feeling like you need to eat to cope with stress or emotions
  5. Eating quickly and not savoring the food
  6. Feeling out of control when it comes to food
  7. Eating until you're physically unable to continue
  8. Hiding eating habits from friends and family

Closet eating vs. binge eating: the differences

Closet eating and binge eating are both eating disorders and share some similarities, as both involve eating excessively, even without physical hunger. The key is that closet eating is not a health condition. On the other hand, binge eating disorder is a mental health condition.

Closet eating is eating secretly and overeating even when you are not hungry to cope with stress or emotions. It is typically a regular occurrence and may involve smaller amounts of food eaten over a long period of time.

On the other hand, binge eating is a mental health disorder characterized by the constant recurrence of compulsive eating over a short period of time. It's a mental health condition characterized by an uncontrollable urge to eat, often to the point of physical discomfort. Binge eating may be a response to stress or other triggers. 

Closet eating and binge eating can both cause symptoms like emotional distress, physical discomfort, and social embarrassment and, but one key difference is the amount of food consumed. 

Closet eating can be viewed as a symptom of a binge eating disorder, but not every closet eater has a binge eating disorder. 

Additionally, it is important to note that binge eating disorder is recognized as a formal eating disorder, unlike closet eating. However, both behaviors can negatively impact an individual's physical and mental health and may require professional help to overcome them.

Can you stop closet eating on your own?

Most compulsive eaters can stop on their own by making small changes to their eating habits and lifestyle. 

Tips on how to stop closet eating

  1. Keeping a food journal: Keeping a food diary of what you eat, how frequently you eat, and how you feel while eating can help you become more aware of your eating habits and uncover patterns of closet eating.
  2. Find healthy ways to cope with stress: If stress triggers your compulsive eating, try yoga, exercise, meditation, or mindfulness techniques to help minimize the impulse to eat secretly.
  3. Mindful eating: Being present and conscious of your eating habits will help you lessen the temptation to overindulge in private. You're likely not hungry if you ate only a few hours before, so distract yourself and let those cravings pass.
  4. Seek help: If you don't have a healthy support system, you're more likely to succumb to emotional eating. Sharing your struggles with a trustworthy friend, family member, or therapist can make you feel less alone while providing essential support and encouragement.
  5. Eliminate temptation: Remove any triggers or difficult-to-resist comfort foods from your home. It is best to avoid emotional situations that may trigger closet eating.
  6. Fight boredom: Instead of reaching for tempting food when you're bored, redirect your attention by going for a walk, watching a movie, taking a relaxing bath, listening to music, reading, or contacting a friend.
  7. Do not starve yourself: You may find yourself adopting a rigid diet, consuming the same meals repeatedly, or declaring war on treats during your weight loss journey. These are not healthy dietary habits. In fact, they can increase your appetite for the "off-limits" food groups, particularly when stressed. Eat fulfilling portions of healthier foods, remove "good" and "bad" food labels, and allow yourself to enjoy them.
  8. Snack healthily: If you have the urge to munch in between meals, it will be best to go for a low-fat snack such as vegetables with low-fat dip, fresh fruits, almonds, or unbuttered popcorn. Alternatively, experiment with lower-calorie versions of your favorite dishes to see whether they satisfy your appetite.
  9. Learn from setbacks: If you have an emotional eating episode, forgive yourself and begin again the next day. Learn from your mistakes, and appreciate yourself for focusing on the positive changes that will lead to better health.

When to seek professional help about closet eating

If you've tried self-help options but still can't control compulsive eating, consider seeking help from a mental health professional. Therapy can help you better understand your triggers and learn useful coping methods. With therapy, you can also discover if you have an eating disorder, which can be connected to compulsive eating.

Wrap up

Closet eating is eating privately away from the judgment of others, often resulting from a negative relationship with food that can lead to physical and mental health problems. However, there are ways to overcome this habit and cultivate a healthier relationship with food.

Whether through practicing mindful eating, finding healthier ways to cope with stress, or seeking professional help, it is possible to break free from the confines of closet eating and enjoy food without guilt or shame.