Home > Eating Disorder Types > Pica Disorder

Pica Disorder

By: Beth Morrisey MLIS - Updated: 30 Nov 2017 | comments*Discuss
Eating Disorder pica non-food

Pica Disorder is a relatively rare eating disorder in which an individual ingests non-food substances such as chalk, soil, paper, plaster, paint chips and more. Since it is not a common disorder, few people understand pica as it relates to the general population. Below are some basic answers to frequently asked questions about pica.

What Causes Pica?
It is not yet known what causes pica, but research indicates that it may be related to mineral deficiencies such as an iron deficiency. However, often the non-food items that an individual chooses to consume will not contain the mineral of which they are deficient, so pica is not an alternative means of obtaining nutrients.

Who Suffers from Pica?
Statistics show that pica is generally diagnosed in children and pregnant women. For children, pica is only diagnosed when eating the non-food substance is developmentally inappropriate, and therefore pica is usually diagnosed only in children over the age of two. Women who suffer from pica during pregnancy often understand that what they are eating is, at the very least, odd and possibly harmful, but the compulsion is so strong that they eat it anyway. Due to embarrassment, many women then avoid seeking treatment for pica and instead continue on in secrecy.

What Non-Food Substances are Consumed Due to Pica?
In addition to chalk, soil, paper, plaster, and paint chips, individuals with pica may also be drawn to and enjoy eating glue, faeces, insects, leaves, gravel, clay, laundry detergent or starch, baking soda, cigarette ashes or butts, ice, hair, soap and buttons. Individuals may also be drawn to eating raw ingredients that have not yet been combined into cooked food, such as floor and raw potatoes. Usually these items are consumed in addition to an otherwise normal diet, and so do not prohibit the individual from consuming healthy food as well.

What are the Signs of Pica?
There are only two signs of pica: cravings for non-food substances and eating non-food substances. There are, however, some health risks associated with pica stemming from ingesting foreign substances, including intestinal blockage, intestinal perforation or tear, dental injury, poisoning and/or parasitic infections. Often it is only when an individual is being treated for these associated problems that pica comes to light and is diagnosed.

How is Pica Diagnosed?
Pica can remain undetected for months or even years if no major health problems occur. Pica is diagnosed in individuals who have routinely consumed non-food substances for at least a month, for whom this behaviour is inappropriate to their developmental stage and who do not consume these substances as part of a recognised cultural or religious practice.

How Is Pica Treated?
The type of treatment recommended for pica will depend upon the type of pica that is diagnosed. If pica stems from a nutritional deficiency then this will usually be treated with supplements to rectify the deficiency. If pica is diagnosed as a having a psychological basis, then an appropriate treatment plan for this condition will result.

How Can I Obtain Further Information on Pica?
Both medical and mental health professionals will be able to provide further information on pica. Contact a local GP or private mental health specialist to obtain more information on pica.

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@nwaters2016 - yes, it sounds like you do have pica. Some people eat material, or stuffing from toys, so these are quite similar. Get yourself checked out - it's not good for you, no wonder you have major stomach issues :(
Coleltx - 30-Nov-17 @ 3:18 PM
Hi everyone. I am a 21 year old female and I am not sure that I have pica because I have been way too embarrassed to see a doctor about it. I have been craving and eating bath towels for about 8+ years. I always had to buy new towels for myself so my family wouldn't notice my addiction. I have not seen or heard anyone to have the same craving as me so I really do feel alone. I am just wondering if anyone can help me find a way out of this addiction. Also I've always had major stomach issues with this bad habit but I still can't stop. Please any help would be greatly appreciated.
nwaters2016 - 30-Nov-17 @ 12:41 PM
Hi all ! I am currently investigating whether my nearly 6 year old daughter has Pica she chews through everything including clothes wood stones toys tissue paper bobbles hair clips string pens pencils (stationary) but she doesn’t always swallow them ! Does that mean she isn’t actually ‘eating’ these things but perhaps chewing, Is that more of an ADD thing or could it still be pica? thanks and well wishes to you all ??
beckyjo - 22-Nov-17 @ 9:18 AM
I have had pica for years now I either eat carpet or the inside of soft toys. I have tried so many times to stop but pica gets the better of me. It is that bad I have actually gone to town to buy soft toys just to pull them apart.
Lisamum3 - 19-Nov-17 @ 7:24 PM
I'm addicted to eat clothes, papers, soil and plastic I can't stop to eat them I'm being eating them for 3 years before that I used to eat soil and now sometimes when I smell detergent I want to eat it and I'm very upset about these things and onother thing that I have got scared to happy and sad situations or events I have taken alot of stress I'm thinking very much as well about deaths.
Amy khan - 8-Nov-17 @ 1:08 PM
@ikkynumberone - go and seek some help from your doc. What clothes? How? How can you swallow material, it must be very difficult.
Panda - 6-Oct-17 @ 1:56 PM
hi i am 16 years old and i have a really bad addiction to eating clothes i have been doing this since i was 9 my family just think its a joke but don’t take much notice now but i want to stop i am embarrassed of this condition but i can’t help it i keep eating strong and clothes and then i suffer from severe stomach aches and constipation after wards. plz advise me what do i do
ikkynumberone - 3-Oct-17 @ 8:44 PM
I m a 17 year boy and i m being habitual of eating plaster of paris and chalk. I cant resist from it. My doctor also gave me a month calcium course. After then also i m not getting away from it.
Xyxxjhah - 17-Aug-17 @ 5:05 PM
My daughter is eating small sand stones since 4 years of age. I am proving good healthy food to her. Still she has cravings for eating . This disorder is increasing. She is now 12 years old. I am away from her for 2 years and not able to help her . she is otherwise very intelligent and considerate child. How should I help her?
Banno - 10-Aug-17 @ 8:12 PM
I have worked in social care for 30 plus years in the UK and USA. Every time I became anaemic, I had an over whelming compulsive urge to eat sand and grit...I lived in the UK then...I ate loads! ...I thought I was barking mad....until, I I realized just as soon as my ferrous sulfate got into my system...my urge dissipated totally! TY for reading! Juls
Julsncraftycrittersl - 27-Jul-17 @ 9:37 AM
@Sarah - your doctor should not have laughed you out of the surgery. You need to complain to the surgery and draw attention to the fact this is a 'condition' - and one that needs to be taken seriously!
Ol - 18-Jul-17 @ 12:11 PM
I'd love to think there is a cure to stop me from eating so many bubbles I went to my doctor and she said she had never heard anything like it and laughed it's at the point now I'm running 2 baths a day also filling the sink up a few times a day to
Sarah - 17-Jul-17 @ 6:27 PM
Tink - Your Question:
I know I have PICA. I have been eating washing powder for over 20 + years. I feel that it may have something to do with being anemic of some sort. Iron defiencies. Ian am 40 yrs old so I know all about this disease or whatever it is labeled as. I have stopped because of reasons, however I always go back. To eating it. I just wish there was a cure with no harmful side effects and I'm willing to try anything.you all just don't know the extent of everyday life of dealing with this. I carry it with me 24/7. So yeah it's that crucial. Any helpful advice is greatly appreciated. No judgemental comments need they won't be helpful.

Our Response:
PICA is like any other addiction and there is nothing to be ashamed of, we are not here to pass judgement. Like any other addiction, you need help and counselling to try to overcome it. You don't say what level of help you have had or whether you have been through your GP, therefore it makes it difficult to advise. The only thing we can do is to ask our other readers and posters if they have found a way around trying to combat this addiction which may help you?
EatingDisorderExpert - 13-Jul-17 @ 12:53 PM
Since I was a kid I've bubbles and foam from soap and bubble bath. I would even put the foam in my mouth despite the irritating feeling and taste. I still do but I am able to resist repeating these actions again...mostly
Jolyne - 13-Jul-17 @ 3:32 AM
I know I have PICA. I have been eating washing powder for over 20 + years. I feel that it may have something to do with being anemic of some sort. Iron defiencies. Ian am 40 yrs old so I know all about this disease or whatever it is labeled as..I have stopped because of reasons, however I always go back. To eating it. I just wish there was a cure with no harmful side effects and I'm willing to try anything.you all just don't know the extent of everyday life of dealing with this. I carry it with me 24/7. So yeah it's that crucial. Any helpful advice is greatly appreciated. No judgemental comments need they won't be helpful.
Tink - 12-Jul-17 @ 12:12 PM
@KBeck - I pnce had a craving for ice-lollies, lemon ones. When you have got a craving -it's hard to ignore - but not sure about bubbles and Radox. But soap products seems like a popular pica disorder such as washing powder, soap, detergent, I wonder what makes these products so attractive to some?
Oll78 - 4-Jul-17 @ 12:53 PM
Hi all, I think I have pica I eat bubbles johnsons baby bath every single day I had my son nearly 7 months ago now and it seems to be getting worse it's so embarrassing I'd love to be able to stop I just can't
Sarahlouo - 3-Jul-17 @ 7:19 PM
With my first pregnancy I was so bad for eating ice. I craved pineapple and my ice craving got so bad I froze trays and trays of ice cubes and froze pineapple too. I'd freeze water bottles for work. I ended up having an iron galfour drip. The ice craving never went away. I also craved Radox original bubbles. I spent hours in the bath but never ate any. The second pregnancy didn't bring much new but now I'm not pregnant and all I want to do is eat bubbles. It's hard to stop myself. I know I probably have Pica as I've always struggled with my iron and I'd guess my B12 is low too. I'm so bad at taking supplements.
KBeck - 30-Jun-17 @ 9:44 PM
@Oll78 thanks for the advice, i love sherbert! I'll give it a try :))
Gappy - 29-Jun-17 @ 10:47 PM
Im 39 weeks pregnant and I realize that each time I'm pregnant I have to eat Irish spring bar soap and ice I would go in the bathroom just to soap my hands up an licked it off over an over then go to the kitchen and eat ice until I'm on cloud 9 then I go back to my room an lie down or I will some times squeeze the dishwashing liquid in the sink and turn the facet on just to get the smell of of the dish washing liquid; I try to stop but I can't stop this behavior.
Kitty - 24-Jun-17 @ 7:53 PM
@Gappy - I can't even imagine what having such an urge would feel like as they are the most alien substances to want to eat. Can you substitute it with sherbert or Refreshers which have a similar abrasive quality?
Oll78 - 20-Jun-17 @ 12:38 PM
So at some point I had started to crave dry laundry detergent in my mouth. Not to swallow, but I just thought it would feel nice in my mouth. The craving got so ridiculous that I substituted it with baking soda and I have been chewing that for a few months now. I remember one time my mom came into my line of vision with a cup of ice chips and I had a sudden and compelling urge to chew them. It was really odd seeing both laundry detergent and baking soda in the list of things people with pica might eat. I'm going to assume I have an iron deficiency and take some iron tablets.
Gappy - 19-Jun-17 @ 3:24 PM
@RaynaC - yes, it's thought to have some health benefits and to absorb toxins. It is sold in bags, like sweets in parts of Africa.
JennaY - 16-Jun-17 @ 12:12 PM
Hi there, I am a teenager and grew up in the South. When I was young, I was exposed to something we called "chalkdirt" which is really called kaolin. It has a chalky consistency and creamy, salty taste. The milky white rock is mined in the South, baked, and a common snack among my maternal family. I used to eat it occasionally. Recently, I've been craving the taste. The craving is very strong, so strong that once I even ate some concrete powder to get the taste (I didn't swallow it.) I now small rocks and other things to subside my cravings. My mother is anemic, and I think I might be as well. I guess sucking pebbles is my way of getting a tiny amount of iron?
RaynaC - 16-Jun-17 @ 3:18 AM
Hey I'm 24 year old and I love to eat drywall I like to feel that crunch on my teeth I never swallow it I been eating drywall since I was a Lil girl I don't know what's wrong with me I always promise myself umma stop but I find myself right back eating it i crave for it I really want to stop
Bri - 10-Jun-17 @ 6:06 AM
Hy I am 20 years old I started eating soap when I was one month old...every time I try to stop but as soon as I smell it I eat it and now I am really scared cause every time whenI am sitting quite I can hear the bubbles in my stomach.
Nelz - 8-Jun-17 @ 11:24 PM
i ate cement after every 2-3 weeks but in very small amount usually in small pieces...it can cause any damage to me..???
alizay - 3-Jun-17 @ 1:43 PM
I'm 31 y old,and for about a year or so I rat wall. Um,mostly when I fell down or when I'm uber-happy... What's wrong with me?!
Nevena - 1-Jun-17 @ 2:25 PM
I eat wall, I made so many holes in my house, I love the Earthy taste andthe crunch in my mouth, I forget about everything I just enjoy it, I just can't help thinking about it, it makes me dribble, my mouths goes allwatery when I think or talk about, I been eating it for many years I just can't help it once I've eaten it I start licking the wall and the floor for the powder leftover, I hate it afterwards when I think I'm damaging my inside so Ipromise to myself I'm not going to eat it again about 20mins later I want it again, I've never told my drabout it because I feel embarrassed and I don't know how to tell him/her, I want to stop but I can't .
Esha - 13-May-17 @ 8:55 PM
Im a 26 year old and have a problem with eating clay soil for over a year now. I've tried stopping but I can't, will I have problems when I want to have kids in future, how can I stop? Please assist.
Worried - 10-May-17 @ 7:04 PM
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