Chewing and spitting (CHSP) is a form of disordered eating where someone chews food, but spits it out, rather than consuming it. Often the food is high in salt, sugar or fat, or regarded by the person as ‘bad’ or ‘junk’ food. Chewing the food for some time and then spitting it out is seen as a way of enjoying the taste without gaining weight or consuming calories. CHSP can exist as a symptom of a diagnosed eating disorder, or as a separate form of disordered eating. CHSP is not widely recognised or researched, and people who engage in this behaviour can be reluctant to seek help due to guilt or shame.
Effects of chewing and spitting
Damage to digestive system – The sight, smell, thought and taste of food triggers the cephalic phase of gastric secretion, which prepares the body for digesting food. Even though the food is not swallowed, CHSP triggers this response increasing stomach acids, digestive enzymes and insulin. When the food is not digested, the stomach acid can damage the stomach lining, causing ulcers. Insulin levels are also affected, which may potentially lead to weight gain and an altered metabolism.
Damage to teeth and mouth – Like bulimia, CHSP can also lead to dental problems, such as tooth decay and cavities. Excessive chewing can also cause swollen salivary glands.
Malnourishment – CHSP can lead to malnutrition if insufficient calories or nutrients are consumed. Many people who engage in chewing and spitting actually gain weight. This can be as a result of increased likelihood of binging on the “forbidden” foods, or unintentionally consuming extra calories. It may also be caused by the increase in insulin released into the body.
Social isolation – CHSP can be an addictive and uncontrollable behaviour that is very difficult to stop. It can lead to social isolation and feelings of guilt and shame.
Financial – CHSP can lead to financial difficulties due to the large quantities of food that are purchased but not consumed.