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Secretive Eating

Can nose-picking lead to secretive eating?

I believe it can.

And, for me, I blame Bryan Qualls.

When I was a young kid, I had no self-judgment or shame around what, or how much, food I ate.

I had no self-awareness around such things either.

From where I stood, no one seemed to be watching what I was eating. Why would they? I was blissfully unaware that such an idea even existed in the world or that it had plagued generations of women in my family.

I was, however, aware that nose-picking was a no-no.

It wasn’t ladylike.

It was gross.

That’s what Kleenex is for.

Some story about boogers being the body’s way of rounding up all the germs that don’t belong there as a way of eliminating them. If the nose is a trash receptacle, the snot gathers the trash and the Kleenex is the dumping ground.

Or so “they" said.

I didn’t mind picking my nose. I didn’t mind eating what I found. I didn’t mind the saltiness. What was the big deal? It didn’t taste like a trash heap!

But, when adults saw me pick my nose, it was met with crinkled noses and finger-wagging, so I learned to pick in private.


In third grade, I was sitting in the Vandever Elementary School cafeteria at lunchtime. We had these long, rectangular white tables that were hinged in the middle so they could fold up to be rolled out of the way. The cafeteria was also the gymnasium. Attached to the tables were these small, round blue seats. There were rows of tables, probably over one hundred kids all having lunch at the same time.

I was sitting with a group of friends when I was overcome with the immediate need to pick my nose.

Knowing it was frowned upon in certain circles, I made the mature decision to swivel myself around so my back was to my friends. I didn’t want to expose any of them to the moral catch-twenty-two of how to handle witnessing my actions. I wanted to protect them.

And me.

I circled my body around to the right. Picked. Licked. And circled back around.

What my not-yet-fully developed brain was unaware of was that you didn’t have to be seated at my lunch table in order to see me.

Before I could complete the circle-back, I locked eyes with Bryan Qualls.

Bryan was not sitting at my lunch table.

Bryan was sitting at the table behind mine. Once I landed my initial swivel, he had a front-row seat to my clandestine conduct.

“Ew!” he said out loud as I was removing my right index finger from my mouth.

Sharp inhale. Shift eyes. Swivel back to face friends. Say a prayer Bryan drops it.

If he leaned over to snitch on me to a friend, I’ll never know. I re-engaged with my friends at the table and didn’t chance a glance over my shoulder.

But, the damage was done.

The shame cycle was unleashed.

I’d been seen. Called out. “Ew”ed at.

If I wanted to safely do a deep dive down my nasal passage, it would have to be in isolation.

It was around this time I started gaining weight, too.

I’m not blaming my weight gain on Bryan Qualls.

I’m not blaming my weight gain on my nose-picking.

I’m simply laying out the facts.

I am, however, blaming this particular cycle of shame on Bryan and his choices that day.

As I gained weight, I started to learn that, in addition to picking my nose, adding weight to my frame was not a desired “look”.

I also became aware that if adults saw me eat food, they could comment on it.

If they didn’t, they couldn’t.

So, I started eating certain items in secret.

Instead of grabbing a cookie and eating it, regardless of who was around, I would covertly grab two cookies, acting as if it was just one, and then casually hurry to my room so I could eat both while my mom thought I was only having one.

This surreptitious sneaking followed me into adulthood.

As a single person, it was pretty easy to eat what I wanted, when I wanted, without the intrusive eyes of others.

Once I got married, I had to be a little more stealthy.

I might grab a piece of chocolate and pop it in my mouth as soon as my husband left the room to use the bathroom. I had to keep an eye on mounting evidence, so I would make sure to bury the wrappers in the trashcan. I knew better than to let them accumulate on the top.

There were occasions when I came close to being found out. My husband might come back from the bathroom and want a kiss. It’s hard to hide peanut-butter-and-chocolate breath at close range.

The risk was more of being called out than found out. The unknowingly nosy detective’s reaction determined my emotional response. If they commented in a way that conveyed a sense of “ew”, I felt caught and steeped in shame. If they ignored it or commented in a playful way, I dodged a bullet but took note to avoid facing that risk again in the future.

As I discovered food allergies to gluten and dairy, I would find myself partaking in birthday cake and jokingly telling my friends, “Don’t tell my body” meaning “don’t tell my body I’m eating these offensive foods that make me feel like trash”.

As if my body wasn’t acutely aware of every morsel I munched.

Who did I think I was fooling?

It started with hiding my booger consumption from Bryan Qualls.

Then, it was food consumption.

I avoided being seen in order to not feel shame at the hands of someone else’s reaction to my behavior.

Over time, I didn’t need an external person to see me. Or judge me.

I saw myself.

I didn’t need Bryan to say “ew”.

I was saying “ew”.

So, just like I hid from Bryan, I had to hide from me.

Don’t tell my body.

She already knows.

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