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