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Diagnosing Geophagy

By: Beth Morrisey MLIS - Updated: 1 Sep 2018 | comments*Discuss
 
Geophagy eating Disorder pica eating

Geophagy is the practice by which an individual routinely eats soil substances such as chalk, soil, mud and clay. The cause of geophagy is unknown, but in some parts of the world it is practiced as a means of completing the diet and is therefore considered an adaptive behaviour and not an eating disorder. In the UK, however, geophagy is most often diagnosed as a type of pica, and therefore an eating disorder, and it is most often diagnosed in children and pregnant women. As with the ingestion of any type of non-food substance, the consumption of soil substances can lead to extreme health concerns and so should be treated by a medical professional as soon as possible.

Signs of Geophagy
There are only two real signs of geophagy, which are the craving and eating of soil substances including chalk, soil, sand and mud. These eating behaviours may or may not be conducted in secret, though soil substances are rarely the main type of substance consumed by an individual. In fact, hardly ever does geophagy prohibit an individual from consuming an otherwise normal and healthy diet, but it is feelings of shame and embarrassment that most often keeps Westerners from seeking a diagnosis for their tendencies to eat soil substances.

Diagnosing Geophagy
Geophagy is usually only discovered when an associated health problem such as an intestinal blockage, intestinal perforation or tear, dental injury, poisoning or parasitic infection strikes and an individual is rushed to a surgery or hospital. During the medical investigations blood tests will usually be carried out which determine if a mineral deficiency or anaemia could be the cause of geophagy (as has been documented in many cases). If no such medical emergencies or investigations occur, then geophagy can remain undetected for some time.

Geophagy is formally diagnosed as a type of pica, and therefore an eating disorder, in individuals who have routinely consumed non-food substances for at least a month and for whom this behaviour is inappropriate to their developmental stage. However, geophagy is not diagnosed as an eating disorder if soil substances are consumed by an individual as part of a recognised cultural or religious practice. If this is the case, then geophagy is recognised as a type of traditional or adaptive behaviour and not as a type of pica.

Treating Geophagy
There is no recognised cure for geophagy, and the type of treatment recommended will depend upon the type of geophagy that is diagnosed. If geophagy is recognised as a traditional or adaptive behaviour then there will likely be no treatment plan recommended. If, however, geophagy is believed to result from a nutritional deficiency then vitamin or mineral supplements will likely be prescribed. But if geophagy is diagnosed as a having a psychological basis then a treatment plan appropriate to this diagnosis will likely include counselling or talk therapy, family counselling, cognitive behaviour therapy, attendance at support groups, and nutritional education, counselling and planning.

Geophagy is the practice of eating soil substances and may be either a type of pica and therefore an eating disorder or a traditional or adaptive behaviour as recognised in certain cultural and religious groups. For further information on geophagy, consult a medical or mental health professional for advice on specific behaviours and motivations.

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Beef - Your Question:
I need help I'm out of controle. I have been eating dirt since 2011. I sustained a traumatic brain injury may20th 2011 and have been eating dirt ever since. I have been suffering from extreme abdominal cramping and urethral burning for years. My doctors have NO idea what's wrong with me and haven't been able to help with the pain at all. But I'm pretty sure I know why I'm sick and it's cuz I keep eating dirt and soft rocks like a crazy person. My teeth hurt all the time cuz I'm destroying them by chewing on rocks. My urethra is on fire like I am besot with some unholy STD. My abdomin twists and writhes with terribly painful spasms. I am almost certain why these things are happening and it's due to my Pica/Geophagy. I know I need to stop but come nighttime I lay there repeatedly putting non food items in my mouth. AHG I hate myself please help do I need mental health counseling? I've been trying to get that for ages but I'm on Medicaid and can't get any help. Please help I'm ruining my life.

Our Response:
Unfortunately, as Medicaid is a social health care programme in the US, we cannot advise as we are a UK-based site with knowledge of only UK-based healthcare options. I do hope you manage to seek and find help.
EatingDisorderExpert - 3-Sep-18 @ 10:39 AM
I need help I'm out of controle. I have been eating dirt since 2011. I sustained a traumatic brain injury may20th 2011 and have been eating dirt ever since. I have been suffering from extreme abdominal cramping and urethral burning for years. My doctors have NO idea what's wrong with me and haven't been able to help with the pain at all. But I'm pretty sure I know why I'm sick and it's cuz I keep eating dirt and soft rocks like a crazy person. My teeth hurt all the time cuz I'm destroying them by chewing on rocks. My urethra is on fire like I am besot with some unholy STD. My abdomin twists and writhes with terribly painful spasms. I am almost certain why these things are happening and it's due to my Pica/Geophagy. I know I need to stop but come nighttime I lay there repeatedly putting non food items in my mouth. AHG I hate myself please help do I need mental health counseling? I've been trying to get that for ages but I'm on Medicaid and can't get any help. Please help I'm ruining my life.
Beef - 1-Sep-18 @ 8:41 PM
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