Pica is when a person craves or eats nonfood items like sand, ice chips, dirt, clay, hair, burnt matches, chalk, soap, coins, or paint chips. Most medical guides consider pica as an eating disorder. Some pregnant women will develop pica during pregnancy. We will discuss what pica is and other types of eating disorders and what you can do to treat them.
Pica will usually develop in people with mental health conditions, but not all people who suffer from pica have a mental health condition. Pica is more common to show in children and pregnant women. Children will often hide the behavior from their parents or caregivers. Other groups that are a high risk for developing pica include autistic people, people with other developmental conditions, pregnant women, people from nations where dirt-eating is common. Pica is different from healthy behaviors of babies and young children who put objects in their mouths, and they will persistently try to eat nonfood items. They will also develop other symptoms, including broken or damaged teeth, stomach pains, bloody stool, nutrient deficits (low iron, hematocrit, or hemoglobin), and/or lead poisoning.
There are also other types of eating disorders such as:
Bulimia nervosa is a condition that typically develops during adolescence or early adulthood. Studies show it is more common in women than men. They tend to devour large quantities of food very quickly, and then takes steps to purge their body of the extra calories. Standard purging methods include self-induced vomiting, taking diuretics, taking laxatives, or excessive amounts of exercise. Signs and symptoms of bulimia can include:
- obsession with body weight and size
- repeat binging episodes that accompany a sense of loss of control
- purging episodes to prevent weight gain
- a general fear of gaining weight
- acid reflux
- a sore or inflamed throat
- tooth decay
- severe dehydration
- electrolyte imbalance that can lead to stroke or heart attack
Anorexia is one of the more well-known eating disorders that tend to develop in adolescence or early adulthood and is more common in women than men. There are two subtypes of anorexia:
- Binge Eating and Purging Type: An individual with this type usually purges after eating. They will consume large amounts of food and might try to excessively exercise to burn off the calories they consumed.
- Restricting Type: People with this type do not binge eat. They will turn to dieting, fasting, or overexercising in an effort to lose weight.
Signs and Symptoms of Anorexia:
- Abnormal restricted eating habits
- being underweight compared with others of similar height and age
- a fear of gaining weight, even if they are already underweight
- obsession with being thinner
- distorted view of their body
- basing their self-esteem on body weight or shap
- avoid eating in public or around others
- obsessive-compulsive tendencies (in some people)
A condition in which a person regurgitates partially digested food, chews it again, and will either swallow it or spit it out. Unlike self-induced purging, rumination is involuntary. The first episode usually is in response to illness, physical injury, or psychological distress, and regurgitation may provide some relief. This disorder can develop as early as infancy and will get better without treatment. However, persistent rumination could lead to fatal malnourishment. Rumination in older children and adults usually requires psychological treatment.
Signs and symptoms:
- A need to burp
- Feeling of pressure or discomfort
- Abdominal Pain
- Electrolyte Imbalance
- Sleeping Difficulties
- Weight Loss
Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)
ARFID used to be called selective eating disorder and is similar to anorexia in that it is restricting calorie consumption. However, a person with ARFIT does not obsess about their body size or weight gain and can occur due to a lack of interest in eating, or they may avoid eating because of the sensory characteristics of feed. This disorder can occur at any age and could be more challenging to detect in children who are fussy eaters.
Signs and Symptoms:
- Significant weight loss
- Stunted Growth (in children)
- Severe nutrient deficiencies
- A dependence on oral nutritional supplements
- Considerable interference with social functioning
Other Eating Disorders:
Orthorexia: This eating disturbance is an obsession with eating healthful foods. Healthcare professionals do not recognize it as an official condition.
Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED): A person with OSFED may show signs and symptoms of bulimia or anorexia but does not meet the diagnostic criteria for either condition.
Unspecified Feeding or Eating Disorder (UFED): When a person does not meet the criteria for any particular eating disorder but will present with similar symptoms and psychological distress.
Laxative Abuse: This is not technically an eating disorder, but laxative abuse involves excessive use of laxatives in order to lose weight and become thinner.
Excessive Exercise: When someone does an excessive amount of exercising in order to burn calories and achieve unhealthy weight loss.
Treatment options for all of these could include:
- Psychotherapy (Family Counseling or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy)
- Medications (Antidepressants, Antipsychotics, Mood Stabilizers)
- Nutritional Counseling
- Medical Care and Monitoring
If you suspect that a loved one has a eating disorder you should encourage them to speak to their doctor. Doctors may refer the person for psychotherapy, psychiatric treatment, or for care at a specialist center for eating disorders.