Pica is a type of eating disorder that is characterized by the eating of items that are not considered edible because they provide zero nutritional value. So, while it is an eating disorder, it has little to do with food. While the existence of this specific eating disorder is widespread due to its abnormalities in characteristics, the prevalence of the disease is relatively unknown. But, fortunately, those who are diagnosed with this specific eating disorder can get help to establish healthy eating patterns and healthy alternative outlets to manage the underlying causes of this condition.
What is Pica and who is Affected?
Pica involves a compulsive urge to eat substances that are not food. This may include substances like dirt, laundry detergent, glass, metal, hair, ashes, coal, clay, paper, glue, feces, and paint. While this disease is most commonly diagnosed in children, it’s possible to follow individuals into adulthood. However, individuals with developmental and/or intellectual disabilities are more likely to have pica follow them into adulthood. It’s not known how many people are affected by pica, although it’s thought to be relatively rare. Additionally, since many may feel embarrassed about the behaviors which characterize pica, they may not tell their physician about their eating disorder behaviors. So, while pica is known to be relatively rare, it may be more common than we think.
Pica is hard to diagnose because there is no test to determine its presence. Rather, only the clinical history of a patient can lead to the proper diagnosis of this disease. Other tests can help physicians develop an accurate pica diagnosis. These tests include intestinal blockage tests, anemia screenings, and blood tests to determine side effects from food that’s consumed.
Symptoms and Effects of Pica
Obviously, since pica involves eating of substances that are not edible and provide no nutritional value, people can experience a wide array of side effects. Side effects of pica can differ from patient to patient depending on the length of time inedible objects have been eaten and which substances are being ingested. Some common side effects of pita disorder may include:
- Stomach aching/cramping
- Poisoning (from paint chips; can lead to developmental disorders)
- Nutritional deficiencies due to malnourishment
- Bloody stool (due to stomach ulcer caused by eating inedible foods)
- Tears in the lining of the esophagus and/or stomach
- Kidney and/or liver infection due to ingesting parasites found in dirt
- Tooth decay or other tooth issues
What is Pica Treatment Like?
Treatment for pica is effective in helping individuals establish new, healthy eating habits. Because pica can get in the way of nourishing the body, it’s important for these individuals to gain education about healthy eating habits, the nutritional value of food, and ways to manage pica cravings. Here at The Willow Place for Women, we provide women struggling with eating disorders like pica not only learn about their specific eating disorder but about how to overcome unhealthy behaviors associated with these disorders as well.
During treatment at our facility, along with educational resources for eating disorders, women struggling with eating disorders can also take advantage of a number of therapeutic outlets. This can help to identify and address the underlying causes of the development of eating disorders. This way, women can learn to deal with these underlying issues alternatively and in a way that’s not debilitating to health. This way, women can learn to live a healthy lifestyle that includes eating with the goal of providing the body with nutrition.
If you or a loved one is struggling with the effects of pica and needs help to establish a healthy lifestyle, Willow Place for Women is here for you! Reach out to us today to get started on your journey towards a healthier life free from the effects of eating disorders.