Chewing and Spitting Is an Addiction I Can’t Stop

By January 24, 2013

I hear you often get asked about chewing and spitting, but i have no way of finding support down here. My mother is angry at me over the whole thing. She is the wrong person to turn to for help with this. I’m just wondering how is someone supposed to get help over something like this? I’ve actually managed to gain weight. I have possibly been swallowing with this chewing and spitting things and probably won’t be content to stop until I am at my favorite weight of ** kilograms. I am 60 kilograms, which I’m not happy with. Until then, I can’t control myself. I have started eating regularly through the day – *** calories and a half hour of exercise or more a day. But the chewing and spitting is an addiction I can’t stop. I feel like the only way is to find another Addiction – like substituting the food for a cigarette. Thanks. – Anonymous

Dear Anonymous,

Chewing and spitting is a form that an eating disorder takes. The form – whether it is spitting and chewing, restricting or bingeing and purging — is not the core issue. Your fear of weight, self-esteem issues and likely painful relationship issues are the core problems — most everyone with an ED has those problems regardless of how they practice their ED.

I don’t know if you have a lack of support in general or the lack of help is because you are the only one you know who uses chewing and spitting. If there is support for ED in general in your area, I encourage you to reach out. See if there are support groups — professional or recovery groups. Going online may help you track one down.

If there aren’t any support groups for ED in general, you may find support at AA meetings. Even though your problem is not alcohol, you will likely find some common issues, like self-esteem and wounds from past relationships.

I would also encourage you to get into therapy if at all possible. If money is a problem, contact churches or other groups who might know where to refer you for low cost or free counseling. See “Finding Treatment” for more information.

If your mother doesn’t understand, you are right: she cannot be much of a support right now. Parents get angry when their child has an ED for many reasons. Sometimes they are afraid something bad will happen to you. When there is that type of fear, parents often want to control their children and get them to stop so they will be safe. The fear often comes out as anger, because the parent is angry and frustrated that he or she cannot protect the child. Protecting someone almost always involves a measure of controlling them.

Firefighters give strict orders to people they are rescuing telling them exactly what to do. A parent in a parking lot with a child holds her hand tightly so that she cannot run out in front of a car. When the parent can no longer directly control the child (or even an adult child) the parent may use all kinds of tactics, including shaming in order to get the child/adult to change. This is especially true if the child/adult-child is not only the one in danger, but is also the one who is seen as causing the danger.

For example, a drug addict is in danger, but she is also the one who is putting herself in danger. It is as if the child/adult-child has become two people — the potential victim of harm and the perpetrator. The parent rages at the child for being the perpetrator, but much of that comes from fear that their child/adult-child will be hurt. This may or may not be happening in your case, but it is worth thinking about.

Sometimes the anger comes out in a power-struggle. She wants you to stop. The fact that she wants you to stop may result in feelings of resistance. As she pushes, you pull. So she gets angry with you because she cannot change you and her anger comes out in ways that are far from supportive. This becomes a power struggle. Power-struggles are a competition that involve strong emotions.

The winner in a power-struggle is the one who prevails in his or her way. In this case, if you recover from the ED — she wins. If you don’t recover, you win. At least, it may feel like that. So without even being aware of it, one of the reasons why you may be having trouble with recovery is that you don’t want her to get her to win — you don’t want her to say, “See I was right, I knew you could stop if you wanted to.”

I have seen this happen a lot and very often the person with the ED isn’t even aware that it is happening.

If possible, it might be very good for you and your mother to go to counseling to work on these types of issues. If not, it is important for you not to let your mother’s anger or how she acts be a reason to keep the ED.  If you recover, you win.

Also, if you chew and spit because you having trouble avoiding binges or over-eating, there are other things you can do. First, make sure you eat at least six times a day. Don’t let yourself get overly hungry. Studies have shown that eating regularly can help to control overeating, even apart from therapy sometimes. It will make it a lot easier that is for sure. If you restrict because you fear you will overeat, you are setting yourself up to overeat. If you lose your fear of overeating, your tendency to chew and spit will decrease.

The bottom-line in all of this is that you need help for emotional issues and relational issues that are fueling your ED. You need support, perhaps in the form of an AA group. You would be wise — to create a meal plan that includes regular meals throughout the day as opposed to going several hours without eating and then eating out of significant hunger.

God is there to help you even though He may seem distant. He is never far away.

David Wall, PhD