More BFRBs Revisited


Childhood Obesity News is going back over the collection of posts about Body Focused Repetitive Behaviors (BFRBs). Just about everyone has either seen or done this: A person enters a semi-trance state, where the brain is somewhere else and the mechanical arm apparatus picks handful after handful of popcorn from a bowl and conveys each handful to the mouth, over and over.

Sure, the salt makes the popcorn tasty — but more than likely the real attraction is the eating process itself, with all the biting, crunching, chewing, and tongue acrobatics, and the interesting sensation of matter proceeding down the gullet. Sure, food is very attractive and sometimes shows indications of being addictive. But eating can have drug-like effects on mood and mentation, and often gives every appearance of being addictive, in and of itself, with little relation to the substance in question.

Chewing is not necessarily the only addictive motor action. Apparently, swallowing alone can provide stress relief, which helps to explain the enormous popularity of soft drinks. “More about BFRBs” went into additional detail about the concept of the hand-to-mouth motion as a powerful addictor.

We have talked about aggressive chewing, and stress eating in people and dogs, and “eating your stress,” and the relationship between inappropriate and disruptive chewing behavior and ADHD. There are also shared characteristics between BFRBs and another alphabetical problem, OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder), in which things must be done only one way, under perceived threat of some dark and terrible result. As we described:

A person might feel that it is a rule to eat cookies only in a certain mathematical progression. You can eat three, but if you mess up and eat four, then you have to go to the next multiple of three, which is six. Or, a person might hold a belief that the whole package of cookies has to be finished at one sitting, because to do otherwise would open the door to existential chaos.

Obviously, OCD could perpetrate overeating in myriad ways, which all add up to self-sabotage.  Technically, body-focused repetitive behaviors qualify as a coping mechanism, because they are used to cope with stress. But as coping mechanisms go, having a BFRB habit is not a promising path.

People seem to be massively infected with stress, because they love to crunch. Legions of scientists intensely research such concepts as “fracturability” and “first-bite hardness” for the benefit of corporations. On the most basic level, there really is nothing wrong with that.

No one wants to discourage chewing. Chewing is the very basis of the “fletcherizing” fad that swept the country, once upon a time. Horace Fletcher, the guru of chew, preached the gospel of chewing each mouthful of food dozens of times. The benefit to the digestive system is undeniable, but this practice also does something for the emotions.

As we learned, a major religious institution was interested in Fletcher’s teachings because people who practiced them tended to drink moderately, if at all. This might have been mere coincidence, resulting from personality differences between alcoholics and folks who try out new “crackpot” theories. Or maybe industrious, devoted chewing was a BFRB that relieved stress to the point where people felt no need to get drunk.

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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