Eating Dirt

Chomping on earth, or buying packets of white clay at the supermarket to chew on? You are just pica participating.

Pica is the scientific term for craving and consuming things that are not food. It doesn’t have to just be dirt (although that is the most popular and more specifically called Geophagy), it can also involve craving sand, ice (in massive quantities), raw starch and cornflour, chalk, newspaper, cigarette ashes, toilet paper, paint chips, used coffee grounds and baby powder. Pregnant women form the largest group of pica-practicing-people, and the second group is of course children. Between 10% and 30% of kids ages of 1 to 6 years have the eating disorder pica, which is characterized by persistent and compulsive cravings (lasting 1 month or longer) to eat nonfood items.

In some countries, if you see a woman chomping on some dirt it is THE tell-tale sign that she is pregnant.  It really depends on where you live and your culture, for example 0.01% of Danish women eat dirt and 56% of Kenyan women eat dirt. Is this because there is something lacking in their diets, or does it depend on whether it is more culturally acceptable in certain areas and people are more likely to admit they chow down on soil?

According to KidsHealth, pica may be cause by the following –

  • nutritional deficiencies, such as iron or zinc, that may trigger specific cravings (however, the nonfood items craved usually don’t supply the minerals lacking in the person’s body)
  • dieting — people who diet may attempt to ease hunger by eating nonfood substances to get a feeling of fullness
  • malnutrition, especially in underdeveloped countries, where people with pica most commonly eat soil or clay
  • cultural factors — in families, religions, or groups in which eating nonfood substances is a learned practice
  • parental neglect, lack of supervision, or food deprivation — often seen in children living in poverty
  • developmental problems, such as mental retardation, autism, other developmental disabilities, or brain abnormalities
  • mental health conditions, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and schizophrenia
  • pregnancy, but it’s been suggested that pica during pregnancy occurs more frequently in women who exhibited similar practices during their childhood or before pregnancy or who have a history of pica in their family

Very interesting.

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Jodes on April 3, 2011 at 11:38 am

    Does chocolate count? I know it’s not a non-food but it’s definitely a a constant craving!! Come to think of it, chocolate is a vegetable… it’s from a cocoa BEAN and beans are vegetables… therefore: Good for you! 🙂

    Reply

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