10 January 2017

Eating Disorders – How Chewing and Spitting Can Harm Health

When it comes to eating disorders, most people are aware of anorexia and bulimia, but not many know about an equally dangerous condition known as ‘chew and spit’. This often-debilitating condition is becoming more prevalent these days, with many individuals first coming across it through social media. A recent article on the Independent website focuses on ‘Mandy’ (not her real name) who has suffered from various eating disorders from the age of just twelve. Now, thirty-one, Mandy has spoken about how the eating disorder ‘chew and spit’, or CS, has affected her life.

Escape

Mandy came across CS online, and after spending many years cycling through periods of restricting food intake and bingeing, she saw it as an escape. CS is the process of chewing food and then spitting it out to avoid the digestion process. Mandy believed it was the perfect way to satisfy her cravings for ‘junk’ food without putting on weight. However, she has now compared it to a drug addiction and explained how the compulsion led to the break of her jaw bone.

Mental Health Problem

Eating disorders are classed as mental health problems, and while anorexia and bulimia are considered to be eating disorders, CS is officially classed as a disordered eating behaviour. Some people with anorexia or bulimia will practice CS while some sufferers practice CS alone. As CS is relatively new in the world of eating disorders, there are not many statistics available in terms of the number of individuals suffering with it, but it is estimated that around twenty per cent of those with other eating disorders practice CS.

Study

Dr Phillip Aouad from the University of Sydney is currently conducting a study into CS and Mandy is one of the participants. He said that the number of internet searches relating to CS have increased over the past five years, and Mandy herself admits that she came across the practice on the internet. Dr Aouad believes that social media could be making the practice more widespread. He said, “Although people, especially online, indicate their initial ‘joy’ at ‘hacking’ their diet, CS appears to be able to very quickly turn into something that is anxiety provoking and very distressing.”

He is hoping to find out more about what triggers the condition as well as the dangers it can cause to the body. Evidence suggests that this eating disorder can have a negative impact on the social life of the individual, and because large quantities of food are chewed but never consumed, it can lead to financial struggles.

Dr Aouad added, “From what we are seeing in our current study, it becomes incredibly addictive in a very short period of time. Moreover, it might give the perception of weight loss at the beginning; however, several reports have highlighted that after some time, it may actually cause weight gain. Not to mention that we are yet to investigate in greater detail additional adverse issues related specifically to CS.”

Extreme Case

Dr Aouad says that Mandy’s case is one of the more extreme that he has come across so far. Her obsession with chewing and spitting resulted in a piece of her jaw breaking away and her wisdom tooth being removed. Dr Aouad said, “Not adhering to dentist instructions, she chewed and spat a quantity of food, which led to dry socket. This resulted in a bad infection and dental emergency when a piece of her jaw bone broke off due to still not being able to stop CS.”

When Mandy began chewing and spitting, she was chewing small quantities of food, but after a while, she would chew much larger volumes of food, including around a dozen doughnuts at once. However, because she then began to worry that she may have ingested some of the food, she started purging herself. She said, “I find that I do it a lot more when I’m feeling anxious.  It feels a little like I’m not alone when I’m with food, so I feel less nervous or lonely. It’s like being in a parallel universe where the most important thing in the world is simply eating the food.  I don’t answer the phone or text messages; it’s very quiet, and nothing comes before the CSing.”

Investigation

As CS is still so new and has not actually been classed as an eating disorder yet, there is little known about it, and there are very few treatments available. Nevertheless, despite it being a little-understood condition, there are many people around the world affected by it. Dr Aouad is hoping his investigation will highlight the condition and encourage health experts to do more for those suffering with it.

If you are struggling with CS or an eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia, contact us here at UKAT. We specialise in helping those affected by a range of eating disorders and other types of addiction. For more information on how we can help, please do not hesitate to get in touch with us today.

Source:  Chew and spit: The disordered eating behaviour could be spreading through social media (The Independent)

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