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The Low-Down on Chewing-and-Spitting

Posted Sep 23 2008 6:18am

So those of you following my blog know that chewing-and-spitting has been one of my two main disordered eating issues (along with midnight eating).

I know how gross it is, how sick it sounds, and how wrong it is. But many of us disordered eaters do it, I’m learning. And I’m not proud of it. It’s a waste of food, and a waste of the pleasure food can bring.

Fortunately, I’m working on it and making some progress. I am proud to say that I’ve been “sober” for six full days now, and it’s been hard at times, but I am coping.

As a good friend says, “I’m taking it one day at a time … “

In comments on a previous post , Lila shared this link that I think does an excellent job of explaining what chewing-and-spitting entails and why it’s so dangerous.

Here’s some highlights (direct quotes from Trisha Gura, PhD.’s blog)

What is it?

“Chewing and spitting out food is an old eating-disordered behavior only now coming to light. It’s the latest trend in eating disorders, not because the behavior is new, rather because the online community is rapidly passing around the secret. The mechanism is simple: a person who chews and spits puts food in his or her mouth, tastes it, chews it and then spits it out without swallowing in the hopes of getting some enjoyment out of food, while not having to suffer the weight-gain consequences.”

Is it an eating disorder?

“Some experts say, yes. Others say, no. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV) the proverbial Bible of psychiatric illness, does not list “spitting and chewing” as a separate, diagnosable eating disorder.

Yet, chewing and spitting is nonetheless part of the eating disorder landscape. That is because chewing and spitting is a misguided calorie-control technique, a “food issue.” Individuals with true eating disorders — anorexia, bulimia and eating-disorder-not-otherwise-specified – use the technique in a creative attempt to have one’s cake and eat it too. Sort of. “

Is it harmful?

“Absolutely. Here are four good reasons:

1. A person who chews and spits is not allowing essential nutrients into the body. Therefore, the behavior is akin to starvation dieting and/or purging by vomiting.

2. Ulcers (because food in the mouth triggers acid release in the stomach) and jaw pain are possibly in store for regular chewers and spitters.

3. Weight gain, not weight loss is the most likely consequence. The body reacts in unforeseen ways to continual chewing and spitting. Seeing, smelling, hearing about and even the hint of food can trigger the release of insulin. This hormone regulates blood sugar and is a major player in diabetes. Tasting food releases salivary enzymes and also triggers the release of insulin. Excess insulin is a dieter’s worst nightmare, because the hormone stirs appetite, making a person feel hungrier, wanting to chew and spit more. Here lies the addiction to chewing and spitting, which like bingeing and purging can be daunting to try and quit. Heightened appetite also triggers eventual weight gain, something easily evidenced by simply reading the bloggers’ laments. If a person chews and spits long enough, they can fall into a state of hyper-insulinemia, producing too much insulin, which sets him or her up for insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and eventually diabetes.

4. Finally, a person who chews and spits is probably harboring deeper fears about his or her weight and body image. These fears– and all preoccupations with thinness and dieting– are the foundation of all eating disorders. If you chew and spit, you are setting yourself up for a serious disorder later in life.

Don’t wait for Chewing and Spitting to become an “official” eating disorder. If you’re chewing and spitting, get help now.”

Wow … in a nutshell, that sums up my experience with chewing-and-spitting.

How about you? If you were a former chewer-and-spitter, how did you stop?

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