Finally, your partner is asleep. You sneak out of bed, excitedly scroll through your contacts and dial “Pizza Hut.” You whisper, directing them to meet you outside. Your heart is pumping, and your mouth is watering.
When they appear from the darkness, you tiptoe to the backyard, careful not to wake your partner. Consumed by passion, you lick, suck and swallow. It feels so wrong. No, it feels so right!
Satisfied and sweaty, you carefully dispose of the evidence. You slither back into bed, relieved to hear your partner snoring. As the guilt sets in, you swear to protect the secrecy of your midnight revelry.
Ah, what a glorious pizza it was.
Such is the story outlined in a recent — and relatable — Reddit thread, where a man announces that he regularly inhales a medium pizza and eight chicken wings by himself while his wife is sleeping. He describes his covert feasts as “the most exciting thrill that I often daydream about and look forward to.” His motivation: His wife dislikes pizza, so he never otherwise has a chance to eat it.
There are similar stories scattered throughout the internet, where partner A decides that their junk food cravings are too disgraceful for partner B to bear witness, so they keep them a secret, cramming chocolates and sweets into their mouth while partner B is away. I can also imagine that you — yes, you — have at least once chosen to sneak in some unhealthy eats, unbeknownst to your partner. Everyone feels the captivating pull of burgers and nuggets every now and then, but nobody wants their partner to know they can solo an entire Del Taco Fiesta Pack in under 10 minutes.
But while the occasional bout of sneak-eating might seem like a relatively harmless enterprise — surely not on the level of actual cheating — such sly actions could point to bigger problems beneath the surface. “Sneaking food in this context usually has less to do with food and more to do with not feeling seen and acknowledged in the relationship,” says hypnotist Lori Hammond, who specializes in weight loss and considers herself to be a “former eat-behind-my-partner’s-back-er.” “There may be a sense of loss of autonomy, so the ‘hungry’ partner takes an ‘I’ll show her!’ approach by being the boss of how much pizza he shovels in while she’s asleep. When the pizza is gone and the tummy is full, it starts to feel like food is the boss, and he’s not as in control as he thought. If a person eats behind their partner’s back because their partner doesn’t approve of their food choices, it’s a similar issue — their partner isn’t accepting them as they are, and it rubs up against their core need for acceptance. When the binge is over, they realize food doesn’t fill that void, and they feel worse than before.”
Sure, sneaking a pizza here and there might seem like a small thing, but not being able to share something that insignificant with your partner is telling. “Sometimes it’s these seemingly very small rifts that erode the foundation of a relationship and result in a split later on,” says psychologist Glenn Livingston, author of Never Binge Again. “The sneaking is bad for the relationship — it can interfere with trust (because the wife will eventually have a sense that something’s fishy) and prevent genuine emotional intimacy.”
Dana Hunnes, senior dietitian at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, adds, “I always wonder, when someone in a relationship is hiding something — even if it’s food — what else might they be hiding?” On the flip side, is a relationship in which you feel the need to hide your Crunchwrap cravings really the kind of relationship you want to be in?
Besides potentially contributing to an unhealthy relationship, though, sneaking food obviously encourages unhealthy eating habits, too. “Sneak-eating, where one specifically desires to hide their food, as opposed to simply enjoying eating in private and not caring if one is seen or not, is never healthy,” Livingston says. “It creates an artificial excitement and child-like rebellion, which clouds people’s judgment about what, how much and when to eat. Moreover, it leaves people feeling inappropriately guilty, which actually wears down their willpower and makes it more likely that they’ll overeat in the future.”
But what other options do you have when you and your partner fundamentally disagree on the foods you choose to eat?
“If a guy likes pizza, feels it’s a healthy, fun indulgence once in a while, but his wife doesn’t feel the same, I’d encourage him to talk it out with his wife, rather than sneaking it behind her back,” Livingston says. “I’d suggest he ask her if she’d be willing to ‘agree to disagree’ for the sake of their relationship, because he doesn’t want to sneak pizza in private. Then, I’d suggest he try to enjoy every last bite. He may, however, find that without the adrenaline rush of sneaking, he’s not quite as interested in the pizza as he thought he was.”
While being open and honest is always a great practice, Hammond notes, “The tricky part is that it only works if both parties are respectful and interested in an amicable solution.” As an alternative approach, she recommends that sneak-eaters address their poor eating habits first and foremost. “Imagine you could fly up high and get a bird’s-eye view of the situation,” Hammond says. “Journal from a detached and empowered perspective, and give yourself advice about sneak-eating and the situation that triggered it.”
Another consideration: “Food cravings are a form of anxiety,” Hammond explains. “Physiologically, cravings are a form of electrical energy stuck in the body. If a person feels they must binge, they can release the electrical current by slowly passing an object back and forth between their hands, and gently swinging their hand out to the side in each pass. It sounds simple, but it’s super effective.”
Then again, if your eating habits are mostly fine, but you simply enjoy the occasional indulgence, just let your partner know. “Honesty is the best policy in relationships, along with compromise, especially when it comes to food,” says Hunnes.
After all, if they can’t love you with your medium pizza and eight chicken wings, they don’t deserve you with your kale salad and pickled cucumbers either.