Pica Eating Disorder

Pica eating disorder involves eating of non-food items. This article has information on the types of non-food items people with pica eating disorder consume, some possible reasons for pica eating disorder, and tips on overcoming pica eating disorder.

One of the more interesting eating disorders out there is pica. The word “pica” comes from Latin. It is the word for magpie. A magpie is known for its indiscriminate appetite; it will eat nearly anything. Pica is an eating disorder in which someone will eat non-food items. While it is normal for young children to explore the world by putting things in their mouths, if the compulsion continues beyond the age of two or three, there could be a problem. Pica eating disorder is especially concerning in adolescents and adults. In some cases, depending on what is being eaten, pica can lead to iron-deficiency anemia and to lead poisoning.

Some of the non-food items that those with pica eating disorder might consume include:

  • Hair
  • Clay
  • Dirt
  • Paper
  • Sand
  • Soap
  • Toothpaste
  • Buttons
  • Paint chips
  • Baking soda
  • Ice
  • Feces
  • Cigarette butts
  • Laundry detergent
  • Cornstarch
  • Chalk
  • Coffee grounds
  • Plaster
  • Glue

The desire to eat these items amounts to a craving in many cases. And you can imagine how dangerous some of these items are. Some of the items, such as soap, detergent and other cleaners, can be dangerous in small amounts. Others require larger amounts to cause harm, but if a person is eating the items compulsively, it may not take long to reach lethal amounts of some of the non-food products.

Reasons for pica eating disorder

Experts have been unable to pinpoint a specific cause of pica. However, it is thought that there are some conditions that might contribute to the eating of non-food items. Some of the reasons given for pica eating disorder include:

     Nutritional deficiencies: It is thought by some that pica might be triggered by the need for some mineral that a person is not getting. While this might be true in some cases, it is worth noting that what people usually resort to eating doesn’t actually supply the deficiency.

     Dieting: There are those who are trying to lose weight. Instead of eating food items, which are absorbed into the system as calories, they choose non-food items that pass through the system. This way, they can feel full, but they do not gain weight. While this might not begin as a compulsion, continued practice may turn into pica eating disorder.

     Developmental problems: Pica can actually be a sign of developmental problems, such as retardation, autism or some brain abnormality.

     Culture: In some groups, the eating of non-food items is a regular practice. These cultural norms encourage pica, and can become compulsive.

     Malnutrition: Those who do not have access to food may develop pica eating disorder. In order to avoid the feelings associated with starvation, pica may be an option. In developing nations, the eating of clay and soil is especially common.

     Mental health problems: If someone has obsessive-compulsive disorder, or perhaps schizophrenia, it is possible that he or she might develop pica.

In the end, pica eating disorder remains largely a mystery. However, it does exist. Some of the symptoms of pica include the following:

  1. Consumption of non-food items, compulsively, for more than a month.
  2. Continued consumption of non-food items in spite efforts to stop.
  3. Eating non-food items even though there is no cultural, religious or ethnic norm.
  4. Continued eating of non-food items, even though that stage should have been outgrown.

Overcoming pica eating disorder

For the most part, pica is addressed by attempts at behavior modification. Psychologists may be able to help those with pica overcome their problems. The idea is to try various methods to substitute inappropriate non-food items with appropriate food items. In some cases, using gum or some other type of acceptable item for placement in the mouth, to distract from the desire to eat inappropriate items can be an effective way to help someone overcome pica eating disorder.

Like overcoming any disorder, it is important that someone suffering from pica have a solid support structure of friends and family that can aid in the development of appropriate behaviors and attempts to overcome inappropriate and sometimes harmful behaviors.

Related Article: Overview of Eating Disorders >>