“Snack Sneakers Snonymous”: 3 Steps for Parents to Understand the Sneaking

curiosity emotions snack sneaking Feb 02, 2024
woman with long curly hair and dark glasses making a silly lip-licking face while eating vanilla ice cream - on cover for Family in Focus with Wendy Schofer, MD podcast episode #107, called

Parents are asking, "What can I do about all the snack sneaking?" And one parent last week suggested that we form "Snack Sneakers Society" of parents.... hmmm... S-nonymous?

Let's dive in on how to REALLY help ourselves and our kids -- with tips you truly haven't heard before.

First, let's suspend one track that's playing in the background: concluding snack sneaking is a problem.

In order to understand we have to first step out of the version of ourselves that concludes snack sneaking is a problem. This is the biggest, most important step. Because when we identify a problem we jump to fix it mode and don't pause to understand or consider
Other perspectives or options. We also get a huge hit of dopamine from thinking "I'm right!" And reinforce it repeatedly.

Additionally, there is a cognitive bias - once you think you've got an answer, (or a snack sneaker), your brain tends to find all.the.evidence to support your theory. (Yeah, think about the whole rabbit hole we fell into seeking WMD back in Iraq. For a current example, we can think about the negative impact of social media -- which feels very true and yet it is another form of cognitive bias because we tend to then look at the downside without any consideration of other perspectives)

That also happens frequently on social media, where we tend to find like-minded folks supporting our current views - and build fervor around an approach. This is similar to when you say "My kid sneaks food" - there is a roar of responses about how you just need to not have it in the house, lock it up, control access, etc.

But what is the answer? First, step back and ask what is the problem.

We THINK it's sneaking snacks. In order to find out what else is possible, we move to step #2:

2) Get crystal clear on what is happening. What does snack sneaking mean?

Think of a particular instance. If you're having trouble coming up with one, it may be time to consider if this is really snack sneaking or something else like eating at non-meal times or not knowing that the cake was supposed to go to Devin's party tonight.

If you were in a court of law, how would you share what you're witnessing? 

You can also look at this going into the future: witness what's going on. What do you see? Look at the patterns.

Well, ok, get clear on what is actually happening. Put on your super-sleuth hat and take notes -- what do you actually SEE? 
Look at the patterns.

Is sneaking snacks meaning having more Doritos that everyone else? Is it coming home and taking a snack when told to wait til dinnertime to eat? Is it creating a stash of Halloween candy in the room? Is it taking candy from the store without paying?

Take take a step back and look at the patterns

3) Take a deep breath before you do Step #3: Make them right.

I know, this is HARD. And really important. Make them RIGHT for the choice they made.

How are they RIGHT to take the food?
 - perhaps they are hungry
- perhaps they are afraid of being scolded for taking food, and so sneak it to avoid feeling shame
- perhaps they are giving it to a friend
- perhaps there was a misunderstanding about the food, the timing, the location, the rules
- perhaps they just don't want to hear about it

How does it not only make sense that they took it, but you can see how they felt it was the right decision?

Now I hear you thinking, "Nah, they KNOW the rules. And I'm teaching moderation."
Moderation means very little in the moment to a child with a developing brain. They know what they want. They're not thinking about the consequences or neceesarily punishment.

So how did they make a decision that they thought was the right one, right now, for them?

Let's look at my most recent episode that could have been looked at as sneaking. I was driving home from work, asked husband if he wanted to go out or stay at home. "I've already got my comfy pants on and I'm going to make grilled cheese sandwiches." OK...

But guess what? That's not what I wanted. I wanted some fresh, hot soup. So I stopped along the way and picked up some yummy coconut curry from the Thai place down the road. When I got home my husband was like, "What? Why? I would have told you to get something for me."

Now the definition of "sneaking" is varied here - which is why you need to get clear on what YOU mean in each situation. But I can see how my husband could have thought of it as being sneaky, getting something without telling him.

In truth, I desired soup, not grilled cheese made out of leftovers. I was cold and wanted a particular type of comfort. And I thought my husband already had his: comfy pants and dinner at home.

I can see how he would think me wrong to pick up food without including him.
And I can also see how in the moment I thought it was the right choice - to honor his choice to stay home and make grilled cheese AND for me to stop and grab the soup I wanted.
I thought it was a win-win.

When we start giving the benefit of the doubt and assume that there is a way that they were in the RIGHT, we can start welcoming a very helpful emotion: compassion. It's understanding.

Now, you may not agree with the decision. But I've gotta share a little tidbit: shame, guilt and layering on punishments tend to drive snack sneaking further underground. They don't stop the behavior because we never gave the chance to understand WHY it's happening in the first place.

Now, I'm gonna guess that when you start collecting clues, looking at patterns, there will be strong patterns of emotions showing up:
frustration, resistance, not wanting to be told NO, desire.

This becomes about communication, creating a foundation of how things are done in your home, boundaries and also understanding emotions (and letting kids learn how to feel theirs).

I've found that when I sneak food (yup - guilty) - it's because I don't want to share, I don't want to let others see me eating something yummy, I don't want to TALK about it (whatever is going on) and I don't want to be SHAMED about my decision. I sneak it because I don't want to hear others' judgments.

What about you? When do you sneak food? Why? Take some time to write it down and then consider how you may understand so much more about what your kids are experiencing than you did a short while ago.

Drop me a line with what you're discovering. How is this helping in your home? [email protected]

And of course, join the next Family in Focus group coaching program - we start again in April. Find out more here



YouTube version of Episode #107 here.

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And when you're ready to start applying this in your own home, check out www.wendyschofermd.com for more information about how the Family in Focus program can help you and your family create lifelong healthy relationships with food and body, now and at every weight.

Disclaimer: While Wendy Schofer, MD discusses health and wellness, this is not medical advice and she is not your doctor. Optimal health is achieved in combination with your physician, who collaborates with you for your individual health. Talk to your doctor. And tell them about Family in Focus. Mwah!


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