Research:Hiding Eating Habits in Youth Tied to Obesity


Obesity Tied to Secretive Eating

Five very obese fat men on the beach

Five obesely fat men on the beach

I am not an expert on eating disorders or obesity for that matter, but as a primary care physician, I often am the first to suspect and diagnose eating disorders. The diagnosis is difficult to make, and patients and their families often downplay the diagnosis. It is very easy to miss, so you have to have a high index of suspicion, and you have to gain their trust as you peel back the layers of disease.

In March of 2017, a published piece of research from Appetite entitled Secretive eating among youth with overweight or obesity look at this very topic[1].  The research study was a questionnaire-based observational study of 577 youths in which they looked for those that would “secretively eat.” Secretive eating was defined as privately eating to hide what is being or not being eaten and may or may not be tied to binging or purging. The study revealed that those that eat secretively are more likely to have an eating disorder and obesity. Although the study was only done on youths, there is no indication the results would be different for adults.  

I am confident that this finding of this study is no surprise to anyone who has ever had an interaction with someone who has an eating disorder. It makes perfect sense for obesity also. Obesity and eating disorders have negatively reinforced openly displaying a person’s eating habits. If someone overeats and they are obese, they are often shamed into hiding their eating. They become self-conscious and hide their eating. A similar thing happens with eating disorders

The bottom line: This study does indicate a cause, but it does suggest commonality for patients with eating disorders and obesity. There is a broad index of suspicion for eating disorders. Avoid shaming loved ones for their eating habits and encourage them to get help. If you are overweight, don’t hide what you eat. This likely makes you eat faster to hide your eating. Eating slower may help limit your consumption.

[1]Kass et al., “Secretive Eating among Youth with Overweight or Obesity.”
Kass, Andrea E., Denise E. Wilfley, Kamryn T. Eddy, Kerri N. Boutelle, Nancy Zucker, Carol B. Peterson, Daniel Le Grange, Angela Celio Doyle, and Andrea B. Goldschmidt. “Secretive Eating among Youth with Overweight or Obesity.” Appetite. Elsevier BV, March 2017. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2017.03.042
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About the Author

I am a family physician who has served in the US Army. In 2016, I found myself overweight, out of shape, and unhealthy, so I made a change to improve my health. This blog is the chronology of my path to better health and what I have learned along the way.

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