My house is a veritable treasure trove of hidden goodies. There are birthday presents stashed at the top of my closet, lingerie under the bed, dark chocolate peanut butter cups in the freezer (bonus: takes me longer to eat them that way. un-bonus: I have to pass by the cookie dough on the way to them.) and our emergency flashlight that my husband and I have hid and re-hid so many times that we don’t even know where it is anymore. Obviously, my squirrel tendencies are because I live with 4 little people who have zero concept of respecting other people’s belongings. Seriously, they think my panty liners are huge awesome stickers and no matter how many times I hide those suckers I still find them stuck all over the house.
But when it comes to food, I can’t really blame the kiddos. In the past I’ve had some admittedly bizarre behaviors around food (behaviors that I have made a LOT of progress in fixing as of late – wahoo!). I hated eating in front of people. And yet I couldn’t eat alone either. I destroyed food. I lied about it. I even hated it. And I hid it. While my food-hiding tendencies run more towards eating abstemiously in public and then shoveling in a half gallon of ice cream at home alone, a comment left on my post “The Slow Metabolism: Fact or Myth?” made me see food-hiding in a totally new perspective. Sometimes I get so caught up in my own neuroses that I forget other people have their own closeted crazies.
Jessica wrote, “I’m not sure I buy the whole ‘some people can eat whatever they want and never gain weight’ thing. There have been points in my life when I felt like I could eat whatever I wanted, and points where I’ve felt so obsessed with food that I was never going to win. Maybe there are a couple of people in the world who really can eat thousands and thousands of calories a day, but I think they’re extremely rare. I think if you look more closely at those people who seem to be eating junk all the time, you’ll find that the numbers add up– they are not actually eating as many calories in a day as you think they are. If you’re thin and don’t have much stress around food, it’s easier to only eat when you’re hungry, and that cuts out a lot of calories. Also, people love to make it look effortless, because it makes them feel special and important, which means they’re eating the candy in front of you and hiding the turkey on whole wheat. ” [emphasis mine.]
I have this problem: I always think that people have always been the way that I know them now. For instance, when I meet someone new who is very thin it never occurs to me that they might have been heavy in the past or are recovering from a long illness or work very very hard for that tiny body. I just assume that they have always been thin and that it is easy for them. Weird, right? So when I see some skinny girl chowing down on the pie and ice cream, I think “Huh, she’s really lucky. She must be one of those who can eat whatever she wants.” And then I try not to roll up into a ball of shame and jealousy.
But Jessica makes an excellent point. Of course people are not always as they appear to be. This was brought home to me the other day when I walked into a lady’s room to change Jelly Bean’s diaper. A young, beautiful mother sat nursing her baby (it was one of those fancy lady’s rooms with rocking chairs and plush couches and artwork! Oh yes men, those bathrooms really exist!) and we chatted a bit about our kids who were almost the same age. As I threw away the diaper – in a pail much nicer than the one I have at home, sigh – she suddenly stood up and the distressed look on her face surprised me. “I know this is really weird but I just have to ask you this before you leave?” I blinked. If she was going to try to sell me Amway or Quixstar or whatever it is now, I was ready to bolt. “How did you do it? You’re so thin. I mean, you look like you’ve never even had kids.” I turned 7 shades of red and stammered something about my last 10 pounds still hanging around. “No,” she said more insistently, “I really really want to know. Did you do a diet? A workout? Pills??” My eyes widened as I contemplated explaining to her my brand of crazy. “I’m desperate,” she added as if the tears filling her eyes didn’t explain that well enough.
“Well yeah, I do eat healthy most of the time. And I workout.” I thought about just leaving it at that – it is true, after all – but then I realized I’d be leaving her with the impression that I’ve always been this way and that it is easy for me, both of which are so laughably untrue that I plopped my butt down on the couch next to her, gave her a hug and proceeded to tell her my whole sorry story. Four different kinds of eating disorders, my Very Bad Boyfriend, my gymnastics team, my 6th grade health teacher, my bulimic grandmother – the whole shebang. We spoke for about 45 minutes during which I learned that she had been hospitalized with an eating disorder before she’d had her daughter and was now really struggling with the way motherhood had changed her body. By the time we parted I think she felt a lot better and I was immensely glad I had resisted the urge to let her believe I was what she assumed me to be. Sure I obliterated my “perfect” image but that conversation was so healing for both of us that I don’t regret my honesty one little bit.
So whether it’s hiding the fact that you eat healthy food 90% of the time so you can eat hamburgers and fries when you’re in front of people, like Jessica pointed out, or whether it’s hiding how much you workout, like I was tempted to do – I want to know, have you ever hid a healthy habit? What made you do it – were you afraid of being called a health nut? Afraid of being labeled as eating disordered (whether you were or not)? Were you just trying to avoid a slew of unwanted advice (You’re a vegetarian?! You’re going to die from a protein deficiency!!)? Are you ever tempted to just let others think you have it all together?