In a time where adult babies, foot worship, cross-dressing, and BDSM are common in the world of fetishism, the spectrum of eroticism continues to grow even with food. Many of us are aware that foods such as pineapple, shellfish, and chocolate share aphrodisiac qualities that stimulate the sex organs. These qualities stem from endorphins, or hormones that cause pulse increases, mood boosts, and emotional highs (Asha et al. 2009). While food can incite these physiological sensations, we should also examine the psychological effects that stem from uncommonly practiced food fetishes.
Fat fetishism, or the sexual attraction to clinically overweight or obese people, is a category of fetishes that also includes feederism, in which the individuals concerned obtain sexual gratification from the encouraging and gaining of body fat through excessive food consumption (Terry and Vasey, 2011). Heterosexual couples are the most likely to enter a feeder-feedee relationship, as feedees are “individuals who become sexually aroused by eating, being fed, and the idea or act of gaining weight,” while feeders are individuals who provide food and encourage weight gain (Terry and Vasey, 2011). The feeder-feedee relationship most discussed in recent years is that of 26-year-old Tammy Jung, the feedee, and 31-year-old Johan Uberman, the feeder.
A short documentary directed by Kimberly Kane gives us more insight into feederism and Tammy’s and Johan’s lifestyle. Tammy tells Kane, “I weigh myself every morning to see how much I am going to eat throughout the day, and…at night to see the work that I did and be proud of myself.” Kane is given permission to observe and film their feeder-feedee interactions, and as the story unfolds we see Johan feeding Tammy large portions of bacon, Hot Pockets, and ice-cream among other high-calorie foods for breakfast alone. Kane admits to the couple, “I never realized how sensual eating food can be…but I can feel it in the atmosphere.” At the end of her stay with Tammy and Johan, Kane finds Tammy’s list of New Year’s resolutions for 2016; the last resolution read, “I want to enjoy every pound.”
Tammy’s expectations for her weight-gain stem from her past struggles with her body image. “A long time ago, I used to be very insecure. It was never good enough, I was always fat, always thought of myself as fat, until I hit that goal weight of 180 to 200 where I just woke up one morning and just felt the best I have ever felt my whole life.” As Tammy continues to work towards being the biggest fat fetish model, her doctors are concerned about the elevated risk of her dying young. She defends herself by saying, “…it’s not going to change my goal. I still want to hit 250. I still want to hit 300. I don’t feel like I am sacrificing my youth; I feel like I am only enhancing my life.”
To some, Tammy’s daily eating habits seem like “guilty fun,” but Johan’s work in her packing on the weight in such a short period of time is essentially gavage, a term for both force-feeding ducks to fatten their livers for foie gras and a practice in some African cultures to “fatten” women up to be suitable for marriage (Haworth, 2011). When Kane asks Johan about his role as a feeder, he justifies his feeding Tammy with historical Roman food binging followed by orgies.
While interacting with others, we typically notice people’s outward appearance first; on the other hand, understanding people’s mental workings can be difficult because those expressions may not be obvious at all. When we look past the feeder-feedee relationship, we must ask whether Johan’s actions are justified. Is a satisfying sex life more important than Tammy’s health, and is Johan literally and figuratively feeding Tammy’s development of a mental disorder?
Based on a portion of the fifth version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) discussed in a previous article about binge eating disorder (BED), Tammy appears to suffice all criteria related to this disorder except for her claimed lack of “feelings of guilt, embarrassment, or disgust” (“Eating and Feeding Disorders,” 2013). Tammy has “recurring episodes of eating significantly more food in a shorter period of time than most people would eat under similar circumstances,” and seems to eat beyond her capacity of being “full,” but she and her partner find sexual pleasure from these eating behaviors. Is binge eating disorder what is going on here then?
While her doctors warn her about her declining health, Tammy is continuing on her “personal path towards body appreciation” by “packing on the weight” to achieve her ultimate goal of being the biggest and heaviest pornographic star in the Big Beautiful Women (BBW) community. She says: “My career ambition is to become as popular as possible, and I hope I can continue to just make lots and lots of money like I’m doing.” In this light, both her control and lack of control work in concert with each other in such a complicated way. Her “control” shows us that she strategizes what and when to eat by telling Johan what to make her for every meal, and he listens to her; the couple even goes as far as broadcasting their sexual endeavors involving food for Tammy’s “Army of Fat Admirers.” On the other hand, her “lack of control” stems from her inability to break away from money-making and weight-gaining. Beyond these immediate reasons, some critics may view Tammy’s behaviors as resonant with addiction, while others may consider her situation to be paraphilic. Both views will be explored below through DSM-5 terms.
The idea that specific kinds of foods may have a potential for addiction and overeating such as in binge-related eating disorders or obesity may represent a form of addictive behavior has been discussed for decades (Muele and Gearhardt, 2014). The term food addiction was first introduced in the scientific literature in 1956 by Theron Randolph, and although comparisons between addiction and eating behavior were suggested in the following decades, approaches to systematically examine and define food addiction were not pursued until the early 2000s (Davis, 2013). Muele and Gearhardt (2014) explore the parallels between DSM-5 criteria and overeating, stating:
“Craving refers to an intense desire to consume a substance and frequent experiences of craving are a core feature of a subjective intensity of disturbance or distress…the term craving does not only refer to drug-related, but also to other substances like food or non-alcoholic beverages…overeating is associated with more intense and more frequent experiences of food craving. For example, higher scores on self-reported food craving measures have been found in patients with bulimia nervosa (BN), BED, or obesity…thus, the criterion of frequently experiencing craving or a strong urge to consume a substance can be translated to food and represents an important symptom in food addiction” (Muele and Gearhardt, 2014).
We can keep guessing whether Tammy experiences any internal disturbance or distress from her craving to consume large portions of food frequently, but we cannot be sure if the nature of the feeder-feedee relationship overlaps with the DSM-5 classifications of food addiction either.
Our last chance to examine this complex situation is from the angle of paraphilia. According to DSM-5 standards, paraphilia is “any intense and persistent sexual interest other than sexual interest…if a paraphilia causes distress or impairment to the individual or if its satisfaction entails personal harm (or the risk of such harm) to others, it is considered a paraphilic disorder” (“Paraphilic Disorders,” 2013). Could we interpret Tammy’s desire towards continual weight gain to be self-impairing because of her putting her health at risk? Can we also look at the situation through Johan’s role in the relationship and claim that he is fulfilling his own sexual pleasures by sadistically stuffing his lover with waffles, bacon, pizza, and ice-cream all in one sitting?
In the end, Tammy and Johan are consenting adults and do not appear to suffer any associated distress or impairment. She may be trying to “enjoy every pound,” but when food and sex combine, we have to consider the ethics of Tammy Jung and the psychological repercussions of food fetishism.
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Feeding and Eating Disorders. Retrieved from http://dsm.psychiatryonline.org/doi/full/10.1176/appi.books.9780890425596.dsm10
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Paraphilic Disorders. Retrieved from http://dsm.psychiatryonline.org/doi/full/10.1176/appi.books.9780890425596.dsm19
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Substance-Related and Addictive Disorders. Retrieved from http://dsm.psychiatryonline.org/doi/full/10.1176/appi.books.9780890425596.dsm16
Asha, M. R., Hithamani, G., Rashmi, R., Basavaraj, K. H., Jagannath Rao, K. S., & Sathyanarayana Rao, T. S. (2009). History, mystery and chemistry of eroticism: Emphasis on sexual health and dysfunction. Indian Journal of Psychiatry, 51(2), 141–149. http://doi.org/10.4103/0019-5545.49457
Davis, C. (2013). Compulsive Overeating as an Addictive Behavior: Overlap Between Food Addiction and Binge Eating Disorder. Current Obesity Reports, 2(2), 171-178. doi: 10.1007/s13679-013-0049-8
Haworth, Abigail. “Forced to Be Fat.” Marie Claire, 20 Jul 2011. Retrieved from http://www.marieclaire.com/politics/news/a3513/forcefeeding-in-mauritania/
Kayne, Kimberly. “Inside the Hungry World of Feeder Fetishes.” Mammamia, 28 Jul 2016. Retrieved from http://www.mamamia.com.au/inside-the-fascinating-world-of-a-feeder-fetish/
Meule, A., & Gearhardt, A. N. (2014). Food addiction in the light of DSM-5. Nutrients, 6(9), 3653-3671. doi: 10.3390/nu6093653
Terry, L. L., & Vasey, P. L. (2011). Feederism in a woman. Arch Sex Behav, 40(3), 639-645. doi: 10.1007/s10508-009-9580-9