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How to Cure Rumination Syndrome

Updated on December 8, 2016

Hope for Rumination Syndrome: Surely Regurgitated Foodstuffs Will Not Follow Me All the Days of My Life

Rumination is a rare eating disorder.  It is often confused with bulimia or gastro-esophageal reflux disorder.  In my dear friend Annabelle Gordon's case, the condition evolved as a by-product of bulimia, and has since taken on a life of its own.
Rumination is a rare eating disorder. It is often confused with bulimia or gastro-esophageal reflux disorder. In my dear friend Annabelle Gordon's case, the condition evolved as a by-product of bulimia, and has since taken on a life of its own. | Source

Please Help Transform My Esophagus Into a One-Way Street!

I recently received some fan mail from a lovely young lady who is embarrassed by her seemingly bizarre condition. My friend, let's call her Annabelle Gordon, chews and reswallows regurgitated foodstuffs for minutes and sometimes hours after she eats.

Annabelle began her struggle with eating as early as nine, when she began to diet and overexercise. At fourteen, she was taking laxatives, and at fifteen, she suffered from a full-blown eating disorder involving severe restriction, compulsive exercise, self-mutilation, as well as binging and purging.

Her family intervened early on. Annabelle was hospitalized twice and underwent a four-month day-treatment program for adolescents with eating disorders. Over many years, Annabelle has worked to hard to maintain a healthy weight and eliminate most of her eating disorder symptoms. Unfortunately, she continues to struggle with rumination, an unusual but pervasive symptom that significantly diminishes her quality of life.

After talking to the experts, I discovered that there is much confusion around rumination syndrome. The condition is mainly seen in infants and people with intellectual disabilities or autism. Because it is so rare in other populations, rumination syndrome in adults is frequently mistaken for bulimia. However, in bulimia, the patient ALWAYS purges the regurgitated food/vomit, while in rumination syndrome, the food is most often reswallowed. Annabelle says that one of her doctors also dismissed her symptoms as gastro esophageal reflux disorder (GERD). But unlike GERD, the act of regurgitation in rumination syndrome is voluntary.

I believe that this is one of the reasons why Annabelle is so ashamed of her affliction. Who would intentionally vomit in her mouth over and over again? One would think that such an unpleasant experience would be easy to avoid. I beg to differ. Read on.

My Message of Hope - Strategies to Reduce Symptoms

Dearest Annabelle. I urge you to put your shame on the shelf. True to its name, your condition is a syndrome. It is absolutely an illness and not a vice. You did not choose to perpetually endure vomit in your mouth any more than I chose the infected ingrown hairs that emerged following my last bikini waxing. Last week I taught yoga at a benefit for breast cancer research. It would have been absurd for me to berate one of the survivors for having required a mastectomy. So too is it absurd for you to blame yourself for having rumination.

For some reason, in the area of mental illness, people tend to associate the illness with the patient. Alas, this fact impedes the most crucial ingredient to your recovery: self-esteem. No one ever flew to the moon by calling herself a piece of shit. In order to transform your esophagus into a one-way street, you must transform the way you see yourself. Hence, in the following list, along with some physical strategies which may help reduce your symptoms, I offer some suggestions on how you might learn to love and approve of yourself unconditionally.

1) Find your person. Choose someone, a shrink, counsellor, friend, family member, yoga teacher, barista or mail carrier who you can talk to about anything, no matter what. I don't want to get hokey or new age on you, but did you ever consider that there was something symbolic about always having vomit in your mouth and throat? Are there issues in your life you're afraid to talk about? Are you ruminating about something you're afraid to say? Practice communicating with someone you trust. It may also be useful to meditate on your throat chakra. Stimulate this chakra by repeating its beeja sound: HAM (pronounced HUM).

2.) While we're talking about chakras, you might want to bring your attention to your navel chakra. Among many other things, the navel, or manipura chakra governs our digestive organs. On an esoteric level, it is related to our ability to digest life. Therefore, dear Annabelle, you might examine your life to determine if it contains any indigestible elements. If this is the case, perhaps chanting the navel chakra sound "RAM" (pronounced RUM), will accelerate the elimination process. So too might digestive enzymes.

3) Relax around food. Eat slowly, without being neurotic about it. Eating too fast may aggravate your esophagus and digestive organs. Also, be sure to eat regularly and to eat enough. Often, rumination is used to compensate for under-eating. It creates the illusion that the person is taking multiple bites of a certain food when really she is simply tasting the same morsel over and over again. Being well nourished will help reduce the tendency to prolong restrictive meals with rumination. Acquire the support you need in order to establish a healthy, eating routine. Try not to worry about getting fat. Send cosmic love from your heart to your thighs, and any other tortured body part. In time, you'll realize that they're as beautiful as diamonds.

4) Find healthy substitutions to ruminating. Typically, this does not involve drinking in solitude. That said, life's a bit much sometimes. Most of us require a safety net to run away to occasionally. Personally, I escape with my magic silver horse at least once a week. I also enjoy Grey's Anatomy in all its seasons. Perhaps you're more partial to musical theatre.

5) Although understandably, you probably wish that your esophageal transformation had occurred last Easter, try to have a moment-to-moment approach as you make these courageous and lifelong changes. When you and rumination syndrome finally part ways forever and ever, Amen (which you will!), no ugly God is going to throw pizzas at you, because you didn't do everything perfectly all at once. Your mistakes and stumbles are merely aberrations, but your moments of victory and transcendence remain forever etched upon your soul. Don't let anyone try to convince you otherwise.

Best of luck, dear Annabelle, and let me know how it goes!

- Much love from the Exuberant Bodhisattva

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      Necmiye 8 weeks ago

      Rumination is very underdiagnosed even in patients with anorexia/bulimia because we are ashamed, it seems bizarre, disgusting, we don't tell anyone. When I was anorexic for 7 years, I would never admit that I also did this. I didn't tell a SOUL until I found another anorexic friend who admitted to doing the same thing. 20 years later, I still was unable to "shake" rumination even though I overcame anorexia. It was so familiar, so comforting! Only recently I told my partner because I started having bad pain at night while I was sleeping with all the acid. My teeth have started to show erosion in the back. The only thing that keeps me from doing it is drinking liquids while I'm having a meal, so I asked that my partner make sure I have tea or water with every meal. Also, eating slowly helps. So far, this is the longest (2 weeks) i've ever gone without ruminating. You just can't say "today I'll stop!" you need a plan and committment. For me, I think finally telling someone other than my therapists and committing to strategies like drinking with meals and eating very slowly is helping. Please, if you are doing this behavior--you are not alone, but take active steps and techniques to stopping. It is damaging your body.

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      Jay 3 months ago

      Just a question, could u have both bulimia and rumination syndrome?

    • IcyMike420 profile image

      IcyMike420 7 months ago

      I don't know how long I've had this but I began realizing a couple years ago and began researching.

      I haven't found a way to cure it or find remedies other than willing myself to stop the process when I feel it starting.

      I have just recently developed some pain in my upper abdomin and I believe it's related. I think I'll try deep breathing that Chris shared in the comments to help subside the flare ups.

      Thanks for the article, I feel better knowing I'm not alone in this!

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      8 months ago

      I have had this condition since my teens, and I'm almost 40 now and just now thinking about stopping my regurgiation. I've never had any other sort of eating disorder, and it's never come up in my therapy, but I'm hopeful about learning diaphragmatic breathing. Someone on this thread asked if having rumination syndrome puts us at a higher risk for esophageal cancer; yes, it does, the same way that acid reflux or GERD does. It's not a very high risk, though. There's a risk factor for esophageal cancer called Barrett's Esophagus, which is where your esophagus, after being regularly exposed to acid, changes into a more stomach-like tissue, so if you've had rumination forever, it might be smart to get scoped to see if you have Barrett's. Only 10-15% of people with acid reflux ever develop Barrett's, and only 0.5% of people per year with Barrett's Esophagus develop esophageal cancer- so it's still really rare. If you do have Barrett's, a doctor will probably ask you to take drugs to lower the acid level in your stomach: either h2 inhibitors or proton-pump inhibitors. FYI, long-term use of proton-pump inhibitors is turning out to be more dangerous than having rumination syndrome- their side effects include mineral deficiencies, osteoporis, and dementia- so keep your distance from those!

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      Alice 24 months ago

      I'm 15 and I think I've had regurgitation syndrome all my life but have only recently been diagnosed since as I didn't bother seeking medical advice until it got really bad last year. I often find that doing things I enjoy or doing exercise can help, it also seems to ease off in the holidays-does seem to point to it being stress related but since I like school it seems odd. I've never had any mental illnesses or eating disorders either so I can understand where some of you are coming from.

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      Chris 2 years ago

      I think I have rumination because I bring up food as well which I usually reswallow. I not anorexic or bulimic though. At one point I was morbidly obese but not anymore after losing 100lbs. Deep breaths seem to help reduce the frequency of the regurgitation.

    • profile image

      2 years ago

      Johnny, from what little you write it sounds like rumination.

      This is a good link as well: http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/916297-overv...

    • profile image

      2 years ago

      For anyone with rumination syndrome I'd start reading here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?Db=pubmed&C...

      And then get in contact with competent helpers.

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      johnny 2 years ago

      I believe I may have this condition but my experience of it is somewhat different to articles I have read. Up to2 hours after eating I can regurgitate my food at will by simply flexing or fluxing my upper stomach muscles. I can do this when I choose and can control the amount of food that enters my mouth. It is not an unpleasant experience and I enjoy 're eating my food which I simply swallow again. Would this be rumination syndrome or something different.

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      2 years ago

      "Often, rumination is used to compensate for undereating."

      Hit that nail on the head for me. I've had anorexia for many years and I do think it must be linked. It's just horrifyingly embarrassing and stops me from eating out with friends or joining my family for a meal in recovery. I'm afraid of cancer or some form of lasting damage too, @B, I don't think we're designed to withstand it for so long :/ I see it as a complete obsession... maybe one way to beat it is to obsess over not doing it? Then again, it only really flared up to an extreme every-meal thing when I was hospitalised and forced to eat ridiculous amounts to stretch my stomach and gain weight (which caused more relapses, as usual). But if there's anything I've learned from recovery, it has been to use the bad traits for good. If I'm so strict on myself to the point where I don't allow my self to eat or make myself wake up in the middle of the night in order to exercise... surely I can be strict enough to stop whatever comfort rumination strangely and humiliatingly brings. I'm going to try to remember that I'm the only one who has control over my own life.. and waiting for a cure is a bit of a cop out on my part tbh. Fake it till you make it has helped me in so many ways.. so has visualisation and distraction. Maybe if we combine everything, we could strike some sort of balance.

      No idea... sorry for these ramblings. They might help some - it's certainly given me motivation anyway. I wish only the best for everyone here and I know how lonely this can be. This is my first time coming across a discussion about it... I hadn't a clue this was a thing that many people experience.

      Even in recovery I can't be free of myself. Just one damn thing after the other..

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      stat 3 years ago

      @Neeley. As someone who has also delt with Rumination disorder since my early tees I highly recommend trying diaphramic breathing http://www.ccdhc.org/handouts/Rumination%20Syndrom... It is not a cure all, but it has helped me dramatically reduce the amount of rumination I have.

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      Neeley 3 years ago

      I've had rumination for as long as I can remember(14). I have no history of eating disorders, and it is very confusing we think it's a nervous reaction or I'm just bored. I hope they find a cure soon!

    • profile image

      3 years ago

      Are we at a higher risk for esophageal cancers??? That is a frightening thought for me...it cannot be ok for our esophagus to endure daily acidic conditions, unlike the stomach it doesn't have the protective lining :(

    • profile image

      Misty 3 years ago

      I have rumination syndrome and its taken over my life! I want to find someone I can talk to that I can relate to..

    • profile image

      SS 3 years ago

      My 14 year old daughter was instantly cured after receiving BOWEN therapy, after suffering for 6 months and 10kg weightloss.

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      jj 4 years ago

      I think it's a bad habit borne out of a need. That need is to re-experience food again - to make sure it's still there - and you're not abandoned. It's definitely connected to anorexia/bulimia - not having enough, not being enough, not being given enough, not needing enough and then flipping the tables upside down and using brutal forceful energy to tip the scales to have more than enough, being there and enough, being given enough, needing enough if only for one instant it takes to hold a mouthful of regurgitated food in ones mouth.

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      Erica Schmidt 5 years ago

      Hi Jeremy,

      My apologies for the misleading title. I guess that our cases are very different since my condition was somewhat of a by-product of bulimia. I'm sorry to hear about you and your daughters' suffering. (And sorry for the delay in response-I haven't visited hubpages much lately). I can relate to your frustration with the medical community, since even in the eating disorder, rumination is quite rare. Fortunately and unfortunately for me, rumination constituted an addictive behavioral pattern and not necessarily a physiological problem. Thus, I have been able to eliminate symptoms for almost a year now. I hope that one day this will be possible for you and your daughter. Thank you for your response. I have a different blog here: exuberantbodhisattva@blogspot.com. Best wishes, Erica.

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      Jeremy 5 years ago

      I have had this condition since my early 20's, and I can guarantee you there is nothing mental about it. It is very frustrating to see it classified that way every time I research it online. Unfortunately, my daughter developed the same thing at the age of 5, which shows that it is genetic, and I guarantee you she has no psychological food issues.

      Your advice is fine, but it is not a cure, as the title of this article is misleading (giving me a moment of false hope.)

      I have never suffered from psychological food issues or been bulimic, and there is nothing buried deep down in my psyche that urges me to let food come back up every time or eat or drink. This is a purely physical issue, which science simply hasn't figured out yet. It's possible it originates in the brain, but if so, it is in the part that controls the body's automatic functions like breathing.

      Anyway, I just thought I'd clarify this point. It is frustrating to have a condition that is so grossly misunderstood by the medical community. Hopefully for my daughter they will figure it out some day soon.