Rumination Disorder: Signs, Symptoms and Treatment

Teen girl worried about body image

Contributed by: Colleen Watson, M.A., LPC, Eating Disorder Specialist, Timberline Knolls

In the eating disorder sphere, anorexia and bulimia are far and away the most common and understood of the food-related diseases. A lesser known, yet still important illness, is that of rumination disorder.

The essential feature of Rumination Disorder is the repeated regurgitation and rechewing of food. For quite some time, this disorder was seen as exclusive to an infant or child; it tended to occur after a period of normal functioning and lasted for at least 1 month.

However, in the most recent issue of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5) this disorder has been reclassified as a legitimate eating disorder, not unlike anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder (BED).

In those who are not infants, partially digested food is brought up into the mouth without apparent nausea, retching, disgust, or associated gastrointestinal disorder. The food is then either ejected from the mouth or, more frequently, chewed and reswallowed. Those with this syndrome often report that the food tastes normal, not acidic like vomit. Rumination typically occurs every day, and at every meal, usually within 30 minutes of eating.

Specific symptoms of this disorder include:

  • Repeated regurgitation and rechewing of food for a period of at least 1 month following a period of normal functioning.
  • The behavior is not due to an associated gastrointestinal or other general medical condition (e.g., esophageal reflux).
  • The behavior does not occur exclusively during the course of Anorexia Nervosa or Bulimia Nervosa. If the symptoms occur exclusively during the course of Mental Retardation or a Pervasive Developmental Disorder, they are sufficiently severe to warrant independent clinical attention.

Young girl alone in park, face close up.It is unknown how many people currently struggle with this disorder and the precise cause of rumination syndrome is also not known.

Although this disorder is rare, we have had residents who struggle with this issue admit to our care. It has been associated with bulimia and anxiety.

Since it appears to be a behavior that is calming and soothing to the person who experiences it, this disorder is treated the same as any other eating disorder. We strive to replace this unhealthy approach to anxiety or stress with new, positive strategies that the individual can practice.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

What tools have you learned to replace anxiety or stress with positive strategies for coping?

About the Author:

As an Eating Disorder Specialist Colleen Watson spends her days facilitating psychoeducational and process group therapy; each is specific to eating disorders and individual therapy. She works with residents on body image issues, food exposure outings, and lends support during meals and with snacks. She works collaboratively to enhance the eating disorder programming at Timberline Knolls.

Colleen started her career as a Direct Care Counselor at Castlewood Treatment Center in Ballwin, MO, then went on to work as a Practicum Therapist at Saint Ambrose School in St. Louis. She became an Intern Therapist at the Center for Counseling and Family Therapy and then at Kids in the Middle, both in St. Louis. She also worked as a Community Support Specialist at the Crider Health Center in Missouri and as a Psychotherapist at Lowry and Associates in Oak Park, IL. She joined Timberline in 2015 as an as a Behavioral Health Specialist.

Colleen received her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from the University of Missouri. She earned a Master of Arts in Human Development Counseling from Saint Louis University. Colleen is a member of the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on February 15, 2016
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