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I have a confession to make: I’ve once again reverted to eating too much sugar. And I’ve been doing it in secret. For several months. Ugh.

Take Tuesday, for example: As my two-year-old daughter was enjoying her healthy, balanced lunch, I was in the kitchen sneaking bite-size Snickers, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Starburst jelly beans (all of which came in our Easter baskets, which is a whole other blog post — has anyone else noticed how this religious holiday has morphed into a combo of Halloween and Christmas?!?). Forget lunch. I ate candy.

In an attempt to make up for my super secret snacking behavior (which I shall refer to as SSSB from hence forth), I decided to make a healthy dinner: Martha Stewart’s Kale and White Bean Soup. I doctored it up with some red pepper flakes, a bay leaf and various other seasons to give it a bit more flavor. It was delicious and I felt satisfied.

An hour or so later, the sugar cravings came. I had expected them, and had earlier promised myself that I’d have some fruit with Greek yogurt, chia seeds and a drizzle of honey WHEN that happened. It was a well-intentioned plan.

Instead, I found myself reaching into the candy dish and polishing off a bag of jelly beans (not, mind you, the ones that came in our Easter baskets, but the BAG that I had bought at Target the week prior and hidden). I snuck handfuls as I played with my daughter before bedtime and while my husband walked the dog. At one point, MK did ask, “What you eating, Mama? I have some?” so I gave her two or three beans of her own. I know — how generous of me, right?!

Once the bag was gone (and safely buried in the garbage, to hide the evidence), I proceeded to feel physically and mentally ill for the rest of the evening, which is what always happens post-binge. The guilt about what I’d put into my expectant body (did I mention I’m pregnant?), on top of the physical discomfort, always leaves me with with this heavy feeling of shame and disappointment.

We wrote about SSSB as a type of problem-eating pattern in “Tangled Up in Food” back in January/February 2011:

Secretive eating feeds the shame spiral that perpetuates poor eating habits. “Any behavior that takes place in secret tends to go hand-in-hand with shame,” says Michelle May, MD, a board-certified family physician and author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat (Greenleaf Book Group, 2010). “If I eat something ‘bad,’ then I feel guilty, and I feel like a ‘bad’ person for doing it.”

The brain is similarly shackled by joyless eating. Compared with actively savoring food, eating in secret can create stress, which means the release of fewer endorphins, the pleasure chemicals that promote digestion. Endorphins help assimilate nutrients and, ultimately, burn calories. “The chemistry of pleasure is intrinsically designed to fuel metabolism,” says David. “When food comes with a helping of guilt, the nervous system registers only a minimum of pleasurable sensations and we are physiologically driven to eat more. We’re compelled to hunt down the pleasure we never fully receive, even though it’s continually within our grasp.”

Eating furtively easily leads to overeating because it allows you to skirt the emotions at the heart of the issue. Instead of sitting with an uncomfortable situation or emotion, seeking a quick pleasure fix through food becomes a way to change or manage emotions quickly, says May. When the urge strikes to eat behind closed doors, stop and ask yourself what emotion you are trying to escape. “You may think you are overeating ‘just because it tastes good’ or ‘because you lack willpower,’’’ says May, but that’s rarely the case. “The ‘why’ becomes clear only when you explore the feelings that underlie your actions.”

So much of what is written here rings true for me: I’ve been carrying a lot of fear and anxiety over the last few months as we’ve been preparing for the arrival of our second baby. I’m nervous about how I’m going to balance being a good wife and mom with working full-time. Will I be able to do it all? How on earth will ever I love another child like I love my first? How are we going to afford this? How are we going to get all of these projects done before June? Will I be able to get all of these projects at work wrapped up before I go into labor? And the questions and doubts keep coming.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m THRILLED to be having another child. But when I think back to when my SSSB started, it was quite early in my pregnancy, when all of these little niggling thoughts, which have since snowballed, began creeping in. I once again turned to comfort foods from my past to deal with my insecurities.

The good news is, I’m finally addressing my SSSB and holding myself accountable. It’s time to change things up and get real, because let’s be honest, my husband and daughter (soon to be daughters) are going to catch on. I don’t want to be saying one thing and doing the other — my personal food rules can’t and shouldn’t be different than those I set for my family. I need to walk the talk with more integrity, especially when it comes to nutrition.

With that in mind, here are a few strategies I’m putting in place to nip this SSSB in the bud:

  • Get rid of all the leftover Easter candy, whether I donate it or throw it away. Having that stuff in our home is just too much temptation. 
  • Stop buying sweets and treats known to fuel binges (we don’t keep potato chips in the house, so why would I start buying bags of candy?).
  • Keep healthy snacks on hand (I just ordered my first Nature Box this morning).
  • Drink a glass of water when I first have a craving; if I’m still hungry 20–30 minutes later, then have a healthy snack.
  • Rethink holidays associated with sweets and treats, and share our desire for healthier alternatives with family and friends. An Easter basket doesn’t have to be stocked full of chocolate rabbits and candy.

It feels SO good to finally name this, put it out there and start taking control. Care to join me in tackling a SSSB of your own?

Full Disclosure: I ate a LOT more jelly beans than what’s pictured above.

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