Recovering Anorexic – Chewing and Spitting

By September 19, 2012

I was anorexic about 4 years ago and very underweight and sick. I got help and very slowly regained the 30 lbs. I had lost and became a healthy 133 lbs. at 5 ft 7. I stopped seeing my Dr. and now have developed a new disordered eating problem that I never hear about and have many health issues because of it. I don’t swallow my food but eat or chew it and spit it out. I will allow myself one meal at night only of salad and mostly water filled veggies. I also have about a 2 oz. piece of orange roughy fish. I’m scared and have actually gained some weight. I chew usually sugary foods to get energy to get through my day. I’m exhausted and tired of being sick and tired! Please help me.  – anonymous

Dear anonymous:

Considering your history of successful eating disordered treatment, I think you and I intellectually could agree on the following:

Poor nutrition will make you feel tired, exhausted and sick
You have the inherent right and need to consume foods of a great variety
Walking away from disordered eating is our choice and our statement that we are ready to live our lives

That said, I want to affirm for you that your eating habit is not new. And you are not alone in your experience. Disordered eating may look a multitude of different ways, but it is the belief that we can control who we are and how we are perceived by the outside world that is at work.

You write that the current eating patterns “just developed.” Chewing up food and spitting it out is a food restriction practice. You taste but do not swallow. The power and control comes in tasting and the security and safety in spitting it out. “Allowing” a salad with mostly water-filled veggies in the evening is another food restriction technique.

I am willing to bet that maybe one or both of the following statements may describe you:

1. Changes (developmental and/or situational) are occurring in your life and you may not feel as confident as you would like at dealing with these events
2. Living at your recovered weight (133 lbs.) is different then what and how active anorexic living looks and feels. 

When we remove powerful coping mechanisms (as in the severe food restriction in anorexia) and begin to choose living fully, the eating pendulum may swing. Suddenly manifested are new, different, or opposite disordered eating behaviors. You have a history of walking back from the dark power of anorexic living. It is not unusual, following successful treatment and a return to a functional weight, for persons to experience anxiety and/or control needs. Your mind still needs to know how to receive life and cope with daily living. It is programmed to think security and confidence are found in the games we play with food and eating. You can watch what you eat, maintain your weight, and reprogram your heart and mind about how to attain personal solace and worth. The old programming wants to condense all of your power in to making food behave.

Transitioning from anorexia to full living without severe restriction is challenging—but absolutely possible. Consider revisiting your previous treatment provider and/or establish a relationship with a new therapist. You may want to develop a transition plan for living and confront yourself about how you are tempted to use food, weight and appearance to cope over new and/or different solutions. As adults, all of us must find mature and balanced ways to enjoy the journey of this lifetime. Be brave. Confront the demons that want to tempt you to live less then what you were created to know.