Pica is a rare eating disorder in which children, teens, or adults crave and eat items that have no nutritional value whatsoever. Though it’s normal for babies and toddlers to mouth nonfood items, it isn’t normal or healthy for older children or adults.
Some cultures encourage the consumption of clay to increase minerals in the diet. Pregnant women may also crave mineral-rich clay or other items that aren’t normally considered food, as their body’s way of trying to compensate for nutritional deficiencies.
However, if pica persists or isn’t related to culturally condoned medicinal practices or pregnancy, it’s a potentially life-threatening condition. Some people with pica stop eating regular food. Others may have a normal diet, but the types of non-food items they ingest put them at risk for severe medical consequences.
Pica is also common among people on the autism spectrum or those with mental health or cognitive disorders. If you suspect that you or someone you love has pica, seek medical attention as soon as possible.
At The Soho Center for Mental Health, our expert counselors work with your medical team to help resolve your pica and ensure that you get the nutrition you need to thrive. Following are signs that you or someone you love may need treatment for the eating disorder pica.
You crave and eat clay or dirt
If you’re pregnant and find yourself eating clay or dirt, you may lack key nutrients that your body needs. Tell your family physician or OB/GYN about your cravings. They draw blood to determine if you lack nutrients such as iron, zinc, and vitamins.
In most cases, supplying your body with the nutrients it craves through a healthy diet and supplements resolves your pica. However, if you persist in craving nonfood items, you may need therapy to resolve your eating disorder.
You crave and eat paper, toys, or other nonfood items
People with pica may eat a variety of objects that have no nutritional value whatsoever. In these cases, their body isn’t attempting to resolve deficiencies.
Following is a list of some of the most common nonfood items associated with pica. If you have a child under the age of two years who mouths these items, that’s normal behavior for their developmental stage. However, a child of any age or an adult who actually swallows the following items should receive medical attention:
- Paint chips
- Dirt, soil, sand, or clay
- Grass, plants, or rocks
- Cigarette butts
- Rubber bands
- Cloth, wool, or string
- Talcum powder
If you have pica, you might also engage in other destructive behaviors, such as picking at your skin or pulling your hair out.
Pica is dangerous
Eating nonfood items puts you at risk for serious medical complications. Some items can’t be digested and may damage your gastrointestinal tract. Others contain poisons or bacteria that could threaten your health or your life. Possible complications of pica include:
- Lead poisoning
- Bowel perforations
- Intestinal blockage
If you suspect that you or someone you love has pica, contact a medical professional right away to determine if you have nutritional deficiencies or damage from eating nonfood items.
Get help for pica
In addition to resolving medical complications from pica, it’s essential to stop eating nonfood items to preserve your health and life. We offer customized counseling for pica sufferers and their families to help you control cravings and learn healthier behaviors.
Contact our experts today for an eating disorder consultation and treatment. Use our online form, or call our friendly staff during office hours.