Only about 1.2% of women and men in the United States have an eating disorder. The rarest of eating disorders — especially among adults — is pica, which is the uncontrollable compulsion to eat non-food items, some of which may actually be toxic or dangerous.
Pica in adults is often associated with mental health disorders, such as schizophrenia, or with being on the autism spectrum. But having pica doesn’t mean you’re “crazy,” even if your compulsions may sometimes make you feel as if you were.
At The Soho Center for Mental Health Counseling, our caring and experienced counselors diagnose and treat pica and other eating disorders at our offices in Greenwich Village, Manhattan, New York City. Once we determine the cause of your pica and custom-design a treatment plan, you may also benefit from teletherapy sessions in the comfort and privacy of your own home.
Do you have pica? Or suspect that you do? Depending on what’s “feeding” your pica, here’s how we can help you overcome it.
Everyone’s familiar with the food cravings of pregnant women. But did you know that some pregnant women have non-food cravings, too? That’s a form of temporary pica. You may have this form of pica if you’re pregnant and:
- Chew ice
- Chew your hair
- Eat or crave clay, dirt, or other non-food items
Chewing ice isn’t good for your teeth, but it isn’t dangerous for you or your developing baby. However, if you need help breaking that habit before you break a tooth, we help you redirect your focus and find a softer chewing substitute.
If you crave non-food items, but don’t actually eat or drink them, you’re also safe. However, you may find that the cravings disrupt your life or peace of mind. If so, we may help with therapy sessions to calm your cravings and redirect your attention.
If you actually ingest non-food items, contact us right away. Even if the substance itself is nontoxic, if you eat enough, it could negatively affect your health. You may also have an underlying nutritional deficiency that needs to be corrected.
One of the most common reasons for pica is an attempt by your body to compensate for a diet that’s low in minerals such as iron, calcium, or zinc. Many women and men who eat clay or dirt, for instance, are instinctively trying to correct a mineral deficiency. However, eating soil puts you at risk for an infection with parasites or microbes.
Being under-nourished doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re skinny or underweight. You can be overweight, or even obese, and still be poorly nourished because you eat the wrong foods.
As part of your work-up, we may refer you to a nutritionist or other doctor for blood tests. If you’re deficient in minerals, vitamins, or other nutrients, we work with your medical team to help you develop healthy new eating habits that keep you well-nourished. You may also need to take supplements to provide all the nutrients you need.
You have sickle-cell anemia
If you have sickle-cell anemia, you’re probably low in iron. That’s why part of your pica work-up usually requires a referral to a primary care physician. It’s important to first identify and treat any underlying conditions that may be driving your pica.
Rarely, medications you need for another condition could contribute to pica. We may need to adjust your medications, or you could benefit from therapy that helps you manage your compulsions.
You’re on the spectrum or struggle with mental health
Previously, pica in adults was associated with mental health problems, autism spectrum, or intellectual disabilities. However, many women and men with pica behaviors don’t have these conditions.
If, however, you do struggle with mood, cognition, or other issues, our team designs a treatment protocol that helps you manage the underlying distress, so you can better control your pica.
Pica is often associated with childhood trauma, including living in stressful or economically disadvantaged conditions. You may have learned to ingest non-food items as a way of soothing yourself or even getting attention from the adults in your life. Therapy is beneficial in these cases.
You don’t have to worry about or feel ashamed of your pica: It’s treatable. Contact our friendly team by phone or online form today. You might also benefit from teletherapy sessions.