Definition: Pica is a type of eating disorder where a person compulsively swallows non-food items.
Pica is an eating disorder that involves eating non-food items, such as paper, hair, pebbles or stones, ice, and other such things. Depending on the person, this may be something that can naturally resolve, such as if a child is engaging in pica behaviours and will tend to grow out of it.
Anyone can struggle with pica, however, some groups may be more likely to experience it. They include children, those on the autism spectrum, and those who are pregnant.
The main symptom of pica is eating objects that are inedible. This can, however, lead to other health issues, depending on the objects being eaten.
Pica can also be a co-occurring condition with other physical and/or mental health issues. This can include obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), autism, schizophrenia, and others. It often, but not always, arises from a deficiency of some kind and/or a type of compulsion.
Treatment for pica usually depends on the underlying causes and potential side effects of what is being eaten. If the items are toxic or are causing health concerns, the first step will be to treat that. There can be many physical effects, including bowel obstructions, malnutrition, deficiencies, and more.
After this step, or if there are no physical health concerns, an individual can seek help in the form of medications or therapy.
Medication: Some individuals with pica have found antidepressants to be useful. As well as this, recent studies have found that certain multivitamins have had a positive effect on those struggling with pica.
Psychotherapy: Again, depending on the underlying causes, therapy has been found to help those struggling with pica. This can include such therapies as talk therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), or differential reinforcement.
It’s best to talk to your health team when looking at treatment options. They can recommend and guide you through what could be the best fit for you and your well-being.
I have a loved one experiencing pica, how can I help?
If you have a loved one who is struggling, having an open conversation about how you can best support them can mean the world. For example, asking how you can best support them on their journey. Simply being a friend can often be the best thing to do. Maybe even working on a well-being plan with your loved one that may be useful to both of you.
Understanding this condition is also immensely helpful. It can help you and your loved one to better work with what they’re going through. Realizing that their eating disorder is an illness and not them can also be useful to both of you. It’s equally important to also remember to take time out for yourself for self-care.
It’s important for those struggling to know that you can fight and recover from pica. You can find ways to heal from it. There is always hope and people who care about you who will support you on your journey.
Voices of Hope wants you to know that your life has value and you deserve help, care, and support. You can fight pica and you can heal from it and live free from it. We understand how difficult mental illnesses can be, but you are worthy, and you are strong. You can get through this. Reach out and keep fighting. You are not alone in your fight. We believe in you. And remember that there is ALWAYS hope.
Resources and Links:
- Cleveland Clinic - Pica
- Love Your Kite
- Healthline - Pica
- Bite Back by Sarah Harry
- The Mighty - Pica
- Verywell Health - Pica
- ED.org - Getting Help
- Eating Disorder Hope
- The Body Love Society
Voices of Hope does not offer direct mental health services and our team is not comprised of trained mental health professionals. If you require assistance, we recommend visiting our resources page for helpful information.
If you are in immediate risk of harm to yourself or others, or need advice for someone in your life that is at risk of immediate harm to themselves, please contact your local emergency services.