Male: Is Occasional Chewing and Spitting Okay?

By January 11, 2013

My name is Drew and I am a 25-year-old male writing to ask a question about a chewing and spitting behavior I occasionally engage in. I’ve read the other posts on your website about this behavior and wanted to follow up about my experience with chewing and spitting. I have been overweight for most of my adult life and in the last year and half began a routine of working out and reducing my calories slightly with great success. I’m 5’11 and went from well over ***lbs to my current weight of *** which is closer to a normal BMI for my height, but still right on the border of overweight. I always eat several meals (3-5 small meals throughout the day), which are for the most part healthy. I also exercise regularly by going on two-mile runs 4 or 5 times per week. I never have much fewer than **** calories per day and don’t engage in overexericsing nor do I purge food. However, occasionally I have noticed that I will chew and spit small extras to my diet, (i.e., a cookie, a half candy bar, etc.). I’m not doing this regularly, but probably at least once every two weeks and maybe as much as twice per week. I have a lot of trouble resisting junk food and I find that it isn’t until it is in my mouth that I recognize that these things aren’t on my diet nor do I want the extra calories. Unlike the other posts I’ve read, I don’t do it with an entire batch of cookies or with the meals I am eating for nutrition, but I wonder if engaging in this behavior might be a precursor to other disordered eating. I can tell if I’m rationalizing to myself about how it might be okay in moderation, because then I’m not risking the serious side effects mentioned. I think I need someone to tell me this is not normal or okay, no matter how infrequently or “in moderation” I am doing it. Best, Drew

Dear Drew,

Congratulations on the many steps you’ve taken toward health and fitness. Well done! Don’t be mislead by the current BMI standards – you are likely right on target in terms of your body weight. More importantly, you are making consistently smart choices with food and exercise. BMI does not take into account the composition of muscle versus body fat, so with your regular exercise you may even have higher than normal muscle mass which would make the weight on the scale higher altering your BMI.

Consider professional football players with extraordinary muscle mass, many have BMIs in the “obese” level which is absurd. Weight is only one small factor in the bigger picture of overall health and BMI is only a surface measurement tool. There are much more sophisticated methods of assessing what is a healthy weight for your body. One of the best measures is to determine: at which weight (range) do I stay naturally when I am eating intuitively with balance, variety and moderation and exercising moderately for pleasure? This is your body’s set point weight, which, for many people, does not fall into neat and tidy BMI categories.

It sounds as though you’re falling into a mental trap that I see a lot with eating disordered individuals: you have rules in your head about good versus bad food and when you want bad food (or “junk” as you say) you can only resist for so long then have some and feel guilty. To compensate, you spit it out. Yes, this may lead to more serious eating problems in the future and no, this is not a normal practice in any way – not even “in moderation.”

This is human nature: when we tell ourselves not to do something we naturally have a tendency toward that which is perceived as forbidden. This is precisely why the philosophy of no “good foods” or “bad foods” is so powerful. When we truly experience freedom with eating and exercise we begin to experience these practices in, what I believe, is their best possible form. We get the privilege of eating what we want, when we want, with balance, variety and moderation. If we truly believe that no food is “bad,” then we can eat candy bars and cookies when they appeal to us just like we eat carrots and cottage cheese when it sounds good to us. Have you ever felt guilty about eating carrots? Nor should you for eating candy bars or cookies.

Believe it or not, there is nutritive value in those foods, just different nutrients than what we find in carrots. We need a broad spectrum of nutrients from food so it is actually advantageous to eat a wide range of foods to ensure we are getting all these nutrients. Now, if we eat five candy bars at a time or the entire box of cookies, that is not moderation; nor is it beneficial to the body to eat five pounds of carrots or the entire container of cottage cheese. So, the key is to eat with balance, variety and moderation; no “good” or “bad” food; eat when hungry, stop when satisfied.

Allow yourself to eat what you call “junk,” experiment with how much and when these foods actually sound good to you. Chances are, there is a psychological aspect that may even influence the appeal of these foods. In other words, you may not even like candy bars or cookies as much as you think you do. The appeal might be in “the forbidden.” As a result, you crave these foods more strongly than if they were just neutral to you. You will likely find that eating intuitively, rather than emotionally, will lead to greater freedom overall.

Ultimately, this freedom can lead to eating all kinds of foods without feeling compelled to spit them out if they don’t follow certain calorie levels or what is labeled a “good, acceptable, healthy” food in your mind. I recommend the book Intuitive Eating; it describes this philosophy beautifully.

Thanks so much for having the courage to ask the question…good luck on your quest toward freedom!

Juliet N. Zuercher, RD