Outrageous cravings not to be taken lightly

17 June 2014 - 15:50 By Shenaaz Jamal
Chalk. File photo.
Chalk. File photo.
Image: Gallo Images/Thinkstock

Love that yummy blue stuff? Our readers offer insight into the eating disorder, known as Pica, which can be dangerous to your health and mental wellbeing.

Craving a slab of chocolate? A cigarette? How about washing powder?

Pica is an eating disorder that makes you want to nibble on substances with no nutritional value. Sufferers crave washing powder, cigarette ash, dog food, soil, chalk, ice and raw rice, amongst other non-nutritive substances.

Clinical Psychologist, Craig Traub, says that Pica is often a coping mechanism that could stem from isolation, neglect, sexual abuse, stress, anxiety and other factors. The secrecy that comes from it can point towards depression.

Pica is also very common amongst pregnant women, children and people that are intellectually disabled.

“I was feeling down and just soaked my finger into washing powder and I tasted it and felt better and realised that the blue stuff tasted great. It took long for me to get the stuff but I realised that the longer I focused on getting the blue stuff the more I got satisfied in a way, it was more like a getaway,” said Sphiwe Khoza, who is recovering from the addiction.

Another sufferer, Sanet Ballack, said: “The one day I was emptying out the ashtray and some of the ash was left on my hand, I licked it, and it actually tasted nice. Every day I had to have my cigarette ash. It was just this great taste in my mouth, it was this weird bitter taste, but it was great”.

Traub explained that eating these substances is a form of attachment, and to quit Pica is like losing a bond that the substance created. To deny access to the substance can cause anxiety and increased craving.

Dietician, Lila Bruk, explained that Pica as an unexplainable craving that and can be quite dangerous to the body. “Eating something like ice is not as bad as eating washing powder and cigarette ash that could be poisonous. And eating sand can lead to intestinal obstruction that may require surgery at a later stage,” she said.

According to Traub, people with Pica first go into denial, then acknowledge the issue and try and reason their actions by trying to make it seem acceptable. People with this type of eating pattern are ashamed of what they are doing and are less likely to seek help, he says.

“There are not many support systems for people with Pica even though it could link to depression,” said Traub.

Sufferers should visit a psychologist and dietician to ascertain the cause of the eating disorder.

Until the underlying reason behind the craving can be understood, Traub said sufferers would struggle to quit it.

Thank you to our readers who described their experiences on our social media platforms.

Here is a selection:

•         I love eating clay, I crave it more especially when get the smell of wet soil when it rains and when I see it but other times I just forget about it. When I get the craving I can't think of anything else but to get it, my mouth even waters. I would also get cement and baby powder cravings, I once finished an entire bottle of baby powder - Kinolitha Franchesca Vezi

•           “I know chalk has no nutritional value but it's just good on the tongue. Sometimes I console myself by thinking that at least I don't smoke or drink” - B. Selesho, who adds that on days where she would like the taste of the chalk to be sweeter, she opts for glass of fruit juice prior to eating it.

•         It’s addictive, when I crave sand I can’t even think straight. I once was so desperate to eat that I had cubed an apple and ate it (eyes closed) pretending it was my soil but it didn’t help. – Kelebogile Moutlaone

•         The reason I resorted to cigarette ash is due to scarcity of normal wood ash you normally get in rural areas. It’s common knowledge to all black people Africans born and bred in rural areas that ashes do alleviate heartburn. I was taught by my grandmother. It usually occurs when I eat spicy food or any tomato dish. - Xolelo Mkandla

•         I was a cop for many years. Once arrested a person who ate his own faeces and drank from the very dirty toilette. Took him to a doctor and was told it is a well-known condition. I was off food for a few days. – Eben Minnie

•         This is very serious, my daughter eats boxes. Is there a solution for this coz the doctor couldn't help me? – Tshepang Ramafoko

•         I used to eat soil. I'm so craving it right now, it's sad that I can’t eat anymore because of anaemia. - Beverly Saphokazi Payi

•         I am so addicted to ice, I read that my anaemia is highly likely to be the cause of my ice cravings. I am with a glass of ice as I type. - Vutivi Rikhotso