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Int J Eat Disord. 2019 Feb;52(2):153-158. doi: 10.1002/eat.23002. Epub 2019 Jan 9.

I didn't want them to see: Secretive eating among adults with binge-eating disorder.

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Department of Psychiatry, Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut.
Department of Psychology, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut.



Secretive eating is characterized by eating furtively and concealing the act and evidence of eating. Among youth, secretive eating is common and associated with eating-disorder psychopathology. Yet, secretive eating among adults, including adults with eating disorders, is relatively unexplored.


We assessed secretive eating among treatment-seeking adults with binge-eating disorder (BED) and examined demographic and clinical characteristics of patients with and without secretive eating. Patients (N = 755) were assessed for BED, eating-disorder psychopathology, and depression by trained doctoral clinicians using established interviews and self-report measures; height and weight were measured.


Overall, 54% of patients reported secretive eating distinct (i.e., separate) from objective binge-eating episodes (OBEs). A significantly greater proportion of women than men endorsed secretive eating; age, race, and education did not significantly differ. Patients with and without secretive eating did not significantly differ in body mass index (BMI), OBEs, overeating episodes, or restraint. Patients with secretive eating endorsed significantly more subjective binge-eating episodes, greater eating concerns, shape concerns, and weight concerns and had higher depression scores than patients without secretive eating. Patients with secretive eating were significantly more likely to have overvaluation of shape/weight than patients without secretive eating. Results remained the same after adjusting for sex, race, and BMI.


Findings suggest that, among patients with BED, secretive eating reflects greater eating-disorder psychopathology but not increased frequency of OBEs or greater BMI. Understanding secretive eating can to inform determination of eating-disorder severity contribute to treatment formulation and planning.


binge-eating disorder; eating behavior; psychopathology; secretive eating

[Available on 2020-02-01]
[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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