Keeping secrets about eating is something that most of us do. How often haven't you claimed that you have only eaten two biscuits when in actual fact you had five? Or what about that midnight snack that started out as a glass of milk and turned into the remaining third of last night's chocolate cake?

Usually, these little slips of the self-control are nothing to worry about ... we all do it at some stage. What is a problem is when you try and keep your relationship with food a secret because these little binges become habit-forming and turning into a destructive element within your relationships.

There are two main, yet closely related types of secretive eating that people do, both of them indicative of eating disorders.

Bingeing is the first problem. It is usually apparent in obese people who periodically lose control of their eating habits. They start to eat unusually large meals to the point of discomfort, even when they are not hungry.

The second problem which incorporates the first is bulimia: the bingeing and subsequent vomiting of food in the hope of losing weight. Bulimia sufferers also abuse laxatives and diuretics as well to purge their bodies of what they have eaten.

Bingeing, whether because of bulimia or because of binge eating disorder is always done privately, often late at night, in the bathroom or when no one else is around. Privacy is essential for the bulimic and the binger because they do not want anyone to know of their affliction but also because they are very embarrassed about consuming food in any circumstances, even at normal meal times.

"It becomes almost ridiculous to have a bulimic in your house," says Jennifer, whose sisters both were bulimic at the same time, "you can't buy food for more than a few days and you feel that you need to eat it immediately, before they eat it just to throw it up again. My sisters were so bad that they even would try and vomit water that they had drunk."

"Secrets within families may be good and sometimes even necessary, but bingeing and bulimia is dangerous and destructive. It was too late when we eventually figured out what was up with my sisters, one had already damaged herself beyond repair."

If you are worried that someone in your family may have an eating disorder of some kind, these are the behaviours that you need to watch out for.

  • Lack of control over eating. The sufferer will eat until they simply cannot eat anymore, even though they are not hungry or enjoying the food.
  • Eating meals that are much bigger than normal
  • Frequently using the bathroom for long periods after eating
  • Abuse of laxatives and diuretics
  • Dental problems because of excessive vomiting eroding the tooth enamel
  • Lack of energy
  • Mood swings