Chewing Gum and Eating Disorders

I love gum, and I never could figure out why Willy Wonka didn’t.

But, unlike Violet Beauregarde, kids with eating disorders don’t get any nutrition from their gum.  What they get instead is:

  • suppressed appetite
  • jaw problems, like TMJ
  • GI problems
  • their brain telling them to chew more

I didn’t know that The Firecracker had an eating disorder when she started asking me for huge containers of Ice Breakers Raspberry gum every.single.time. we went to the store. I just knew that she was eating 40+ pieces waaaaaaaaaaaaay too quickly.

However, it turns out that gum chewing is a coping mechanism for a nasty ED side effect: depriving yourself of calories greatly increases your sense of smell. Chewing gum not only masks the scent of food, it gives the brain a nourishing, soothing smell–like mint or berry or watermelon–to trick the brain during constant hunger pains.

The act of chewing also stimulates two other areas of the body: 1) Gastric juices, and saliva, making the body think that food is coming, and 2) Serotonin, giving the body a nice, relaxing feeling.

Did my  daughter know this at age 9? Was she googling this? Or did she stumble upon it all on her own, when she got some comfort from my impulsive checkout aisle purchases? 

The Firecracker chewed hundreds of pieces of gum before I realized she had a problem. She hid the wrappers and chewed gum pieces, and even made a big deal about giving the plastic or metal containers to her sisters to play with. She told me her teachers set up “gum chewing time,” and were given gum as a reward for finishing math work early.

None of that was true.

After I realized she had an eating disorder, I started searching online, and found some gut-punching “advice”:


So, if someone you love suddenly has a zillion mint containers, or buys cases of diet soda and bottled water, or becomes a walking supplement pharmacy, there might be a problem.

Meanwhile, gum and mints are not allowed in our house. I love them, I’ll steal them out of the candy jar on your desk, but I don’t let them through the door.

 

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