The conversation around eating disorders is usually limited to well known conditions like bulimia or anorexia. While those are certainly worth discussing, there are also more rare eating disorders that are not as well known. Pica is one type of rare eating disorder that seems odd and almost fake to many people, but is in fact a serious and potentially life-threatening mental health condition. Pica refers to the persistent craving and compulsive eating of nonfood substances.
People with Pica find themselves eating things such as dirt, chalk, or even more dangerous objects that can lead to serious consequences. It’s not a well-known disorder, so here are a few facts everyone should know about it.
The puzzling phenomenon known as Pica has been described in historical accounts since ancient times. It’s been observed throughout history all over the world, in both premodern and modern cultures. The disorder reached its apex in the 16th through the 18th Centuries, when it was extensively documented and researched in Europe.
Pica doesn’t only affect humans. It’s been observed in other animals such as chimpanzees. Pica has also been observed in cats and dogs, but in these cases it can be a sign of a medical condition, such as immune-mediated hemolytic anemia. Scientists still don’t know what cases pica in animals, as there’s no sufficient evidence to definitively prove any current theories.
Pica is defined as the intentional consumption of substances that don’t have significant nutritional value. Psychiatrists categorize Pica patients into different subtypes based on what they most commonly like to eat. Some of the subtypes include:
Pica can affect anyone. However, there are some conditions that correlate with a higher rate of this rare eating disorder. Many pregnant women have Pica tendencies, with chalk being a common craving. People with developmental delays or autism also have Pica at higher rates. Poor nutrition can lead to to it as well, and in this case, they tend to crave things such as ice or starch. Young children tend to have Pica too, but this usually subsides after the child turns two or three.
While most cases of Pica are caused by a nutritional deficiency or a specific disorder, there are cases of cultural pica. Certain cultures and religions involve eating non-nutritional substances. For example, in parts of Africa the ingestion of kaolin, a type of white clay, is common. This practice is due to the clay having health benefits such as absorbing toxins.
Pica is a fascination disorder, but it can also be dangerous. While some of the substances Pica patients consume, like dirt, chalk, and ice, don’t pose any health risks, others do. Pica can be difficult to treat but it is possible. If you have any questions or concerns about Pica or any other common or rare eating disorder, feel free to contact us today.