Discovering your adolescent is hiding or sneaking food can be shocking and disappointing. You may have noticed food being finished at an alarming speed or found wrappers hidden in your adolescent’s room or amongst his belongings.
There are numerous reasons your adolescent may be sneaking food, and there are things you can do to help them.
Let’s discuss it!
What is sneaking food?
Sneaking food is exactly what is sounds like. It’s taking food on the down-low and eating it in secret.
It may be buying food you don’t approve of and eating in when you don’t know. It may be taking food you have available and eating it alone. Either way, there is an air of deceit about this eating. Many parents have told me they “don’t even care that they’re eating the food, it’s the dishonesty I don’t like.”
Why is it a problem?
The dishonesty and deceit of sneaking and hiding food is a problem because it comes along with adolescent guilt and shame for doing so.
We want to prevent negative emotions associated with eating to be able to create and develop a good relationship with food. Shame and guilt from eating are specifically problematic as they often lead to self recrimination and future restriction to compensate for these negative emotions.
Food is morally neutral, and we want to strengthen and maintain that belief.
Why do adolescents sneak food?
Kids and teens may take food because they’re hungry. I remember doing this when I was a kid. My mom didn’t like when we took snacks between meals, but when I was hungry, I would take cookies to eat in my room. Eating from hunger is a totally legitimate reason for eating. The problem though, and that I experienced, is the shame around eating and guilt for doing so. And these feelings are what we want to avoid.
Besides for hunger, there are other reasons adolescents may sneak and hide food.
If you’ve limited bringing specific foods into the home, saved food for special occasions, or provided limited access to particular food, your adolescent may be feeling restricted.
Included here is having one food contingent on eating another food before hand, such as requiring your adolescent eat more vegetables before getting dessert.
So is emotional restriction– when we mentally prepare to limit our future intake or plan to “make up for it later”.
Judgement from others can lead to eating in secret or sneaking food as your adolescent tries to avoid the judgement they experience around eating.
Examples of what this may sound like include:
“Do you really need another portion?”
“Are you eating again?”
“Have a piece of fruit with that.”
Hearing phrases like this each time they eat can send any adolescent eating alone! It can be uncomfortable being scrutinized for what, when, and how much she’s eating.
Shame is an internal feeling that adolescents may experience for not living up to internal or external rules. This may develop from having food rules in the home or experiencing judgement from others when eating. So they may choose to eat in secret as a way of hiding from these negative feelings.
How parents can help adolescents stop sneaking food
1. Remove restrictions
Bring the food into your home. Serve them frequently and freely. Show that food is allowed! Learn how to incorporate all foods into healthy eating.
And practice it yourself Practice and model eating without physical or mental restrictions.
2. Trust your adolescent to eat the amount they need
Just like no one can tell you when to use the washroom or how much air you need to breathe, we can’t know how much someone else needs to eat at a given time. This is truly an area you need to trust your adolescent to do what they need best.
You can create an environment to support them to learn to trust their body and feel confident they’re doing so.
Related: Hunger fullness scale
3. Create a neutral environment around food
By following the above, you can naturally remove the judgement. And when you have no rules around eating you can support your adolescent to let go of their rules around eating. That can help remove the guilt and shame around food.
When all foods are allowed to be eaten, and bodies are trusted to know how much, and which foods, are required, food no longer needs to be hidden or lied about.
While at first you may notice your adolescent continues eating excessive amounts or sneaks food, as your adolescent gains trust that food is provided in a neutral environment, they’ll feel more confident normalizing their eating. They’ll feel in control of food versus being controlled by food and no longer associate eating with negative emotions or experiences.
If you’re struggling with your adolescent’s eating habits and behaviours, visit my Contact page to schedule a Discovery Call. Learn how you can feel empowered to create an environment to support your adolescent developing a good relationship with food and their body, and who eat free of shame and guilt.