With symptoms including food-related guilt, swollen jaws, rotten teeth, and stomach ulcers, chewing and spitting disorder is noted to be “as real and as serious as bulimia purges, abusing laxatives, or anorexia nervosa.” As the symptoms of chewing & spitting, or CHSP affect one’s physical and mental well-being, why is this disorder not spoken about more freely in the mainstream media and among mental health professionals?
Until 2013, chewing and spitting was featured as a symptom of an ‘Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified’ in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. One example of EDNOS behavior in the DSM-IV was outlined as “repeatedly chewing and spitting out, but not swallowing, large amounts of food. In the newest DSM (DSM V), there is no mention of CHSP at all.
Today, despite Google searches producing nearly half a million results for CHSP web searches, there is little to no depiction of CHSP in films or TV shows, no celebrities associated with it or headlines on mainstream media outlets. One sufferer reports, “It’s not something easily recognizable… like anorexia or bulimia. To me, it was just a weird and gross habit that I would have to explain to whoever I told,” she says.” Dr. Kathryn Kinmond reports in a recent Refinery 29 article, that “a possible reason for this [lack of disclosure] is that the behavior is not socially acceptable.” It is plausible that sufferers may not be coming forward to seek treatment or garner support as they fear they are engaging in a shameful behavior. It should be known that CHSP is a treatable behavior.
CHSP presents in a number of ways but is in general viewed as a form of self-harm, with strong addictive and OCD-like qualities. Therapists and psychologists have noted patients to engage in compulsive chewing to reduce fear related to body weight or body image. However, contrary to a sufferer’s expectation, chewing and spitting often causes more weight gain than they originally thought as saliva contains enzymes that start the digestion process, meaning some calories from the food are absorbed.
It is of utmost importance that there be an awareness of CHSP in our communities. As stated by Dr. Kinmond “Arguably, there may be people engaging in this behavior who either do not see it as a problem, or do see it as a problem but do not know where to go for help.” If you are seeking help for behaviors associated with CHSP, do not hesitate to reach out to Columbus Park Treatment Center in NYC. Our programming targets disordered eating behaviors and the cognitions that are associated with them, as well as related disorders like OCD, depression and anxiety in the least restrictive setting. Learn more about our outpatient setting here.