Rumination Disorder: Eating Disorder Explained | Eating Disorders Victoria
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Rumination Disorder Explained

Home ~ Find support ~ EDV blog ~ Rumination Disorder Explained

This page provides information on rumination disorder. Rumination disorder is serious condition that can have severe consequences on an individual’s health.

What is rumination disorder?

Rumination disorder is a lesser known eating disorder but is a serious condition that can worsen over time and can lead to severe health implications if left untreated.

According to the DSM-5 criteria, a person with rumination disorder will repeatedly regurgitate their food effortlessly and painlessly for more than a month. This regurgitation isn’t forcefully expelled from the mouth as it is in vomiting and is not the result of a medical condition such as a gastrointestinal condition. Rumination occurs when food that is swallowed but not yet digested is regurgitated and may be re-chewed, re-swallowed, or spat out.

Rumination disorder is known to affect children as well as individuals with developmental disabilities. However, the disorder can occur in infants, children, adolescents and adults from all walks of life.

How is rumination disorder classified?

According to the most recent version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), rumination disorder is an eating disorder presentation that falls under the classification of ‘other’ feeding and eating disorders. Other feeding and eating disorders are distinguished by an enduring disturbance of eating or eating-related behaviour that leads to significant health consequences. This classification assists in identifying and categorising conditions that do not meet the full criteria of eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder or avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID).

It is important to note that this classification of rumination disorder as an other feeding and eating disorder is not a suggestion of a less serious eating disorder, but simply a different grouping or presentation of symptoms.

What does ‘other’ eating disorders mean?

This classification helps to recognise and categorise conditions that do not more accurately fit into fit into anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, or avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder.

Read more about how to identify other eating and feeding disorders

Warning signs of rumination disorder

Some of the more common signs and symptoms of rumination disorder are:

  • Regularly regurgitating food that has been partly digested
  • No obvious physical condition leading to this behaviour
  • Re-chewing, re-swallowing or spitting out regurgitated food
  • Secretive behaviour around eating or hiding the behaviour i.e. by covering one’s mouth during meals
  • Avoidance of social eating or eating around others
  • Stomach aches and indigestion
  • Chapped or raw lips

If left untreated rumination disorder can lead to dehydration, malnutrition, weight loss, damage to teeth and gums, and electrolyte imbalance.

Eating disorder risk factors

There are various psychological, physiological and social risk factors that may increase the likelihood of developing an eating disorder.

Read more about risk factors

How is rumination disorder different from bulimia nervosa?

There are several differences between rumination disorder and bulimia nervosa including behaviours and underlying motivation.

Bulimia nervosa is a serious mental illness characterised by recurrent binge-eating episodes (the consumption of abnormally large amounts of food in a short period of time), immediately followed by compensatory behaviours such as self-induced vomiting, fasting, over-exercising and/or the misuse of laxatives, enemas or diuretics. Rumination disorder typically involves frequent regurgitation, usually within half an hour of eating but does not involve the binge-purge cycle of bulimia nervosa.

Rumination is understood to be subconscious behaviour whereby the individual won’t appear to make an effort to bring up their food, nor do they appear distressed or disgusted by the behaviour. In contrast, those experiencing bulimia nervosa engage in compensatory behaviours such as purging as a way to cope with feelings of shame and guilt following a binge and use these behaviours as an attempt to control weight or shape. An individual experiencing rumination disorder may re-chew, re-swallow or spit out food. However, elimination is the motivation of compensatory behaviours exercised by an individual experiencing bulimia nervosa.

It is important to note that rumination disorder is a serious condition and people with the condition often do not feel in control of their disorder. The condition may also intersect with other feeding and eating disorders and individuals with anorexia nervosabulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder or avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) may also experience rumination disorder.

What is bulimia nervosa?

Bulimia nervosa is a serious psychiatric illness characterised by enduring episodes of binge eating, followed by compensatory behaviours including purging and fasting.

Read more bulimia nervosa

Getting help

If you suspect that you or someone you care about has rumination disorder, it is important to seek help immediately. EDV recommend visiting your GP as the first port of call. The earlier you seek help the closer you are to recovery. 

Eating Disorders Victoria has a broad range of services for people affected by eating disorders, including carers and the EDV Hub can offer support, information and referrals. Contact the EDV Hub on 1300 550 236 between 9.30am – 4.30pm, Monday  – Friday or email edv@eatingdisorders.org.au. 

Talking to your GP

Eating disorders can affect anyone, and the signs and symptoms are different for everyone. It’s important to get diagnosed by a professional so that you can access appropriate treatment.

Preparing for an appointment with your doctor

How EDV can help

EDV acknowledges that recovery from an eating disorder is really challenging, but we are here to provide support and help you through.

View our broad range of support services
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