PurposeSecretive eating, characterized by eating privately to conceal being seen, may reflect eating- and/or body-related shame, be associated with depression, and correlate with binge eating, which predicts weight gain and eating disorder onset. Increasing understanding of secretive eating in youth may improve weight status and reduce eating disorder risk. This study evaluated the prevalence and correlates of secretive eating in youth with overweight or obesity.
MethodsYouth (N = 577) presented to five research/clinical institutions. Using a cross-sectional design, secretive eating was evaluated in relation to eating-related and general psychopathology via linear and logistic regression analyses.
ResultsSecretive eating was endorsed by 111 youth, who were, on average, older than youth who denied secretive eating (mean age = 12.07 ± 2.83 versus 10.97 ± 2.31). Controlling for study site and age, youth who endorsed secretive eating had higher eating-related psychopathology and were more likely to endorse loss of control eating and purging than their counterparts who did not endorse secretive eating. Groups did not differ in excessive exercise or behavioral problems. Dietary restraint and purging were elevated among adolescents (≥13y) but not children (<13y) who endorsed secretive eating; depression was elevated among children, but not adolescents, who endorsed secretive eating.
ConclusionsSecretive eating may portend heightened risk for eating disorders, and correlates of secretive eating may differ across pediatric development. Screening for secretive eating may inform identification of problematic eating behaviors, and understanding factors motivating secretive eating may improve intervention tailoring.