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Pica Involves Eating Everything but Food: DSM-5, Causes, and Treatment

Patty has advanced degrees in preventive medicine and health psychology, with 35 years of work in allergy and other autoimmune treatment.

Pica example: 1,440 items found in one mental health patient's stomach.

Pica example: 1,440 items found in one mental health patient's stomach.

PICA: Diagnosis and Symptoms

America's psychiatric diagnoses manual, the DSM-5, published in 2013 and updated approximately once every two decades, shows eight types of eating disorders:

  • Anorexia Nervosa
  • Bulimia Nervosa
  • Binge Eating Disorder
  • Pica
  • Rumination Disorder
  • Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder
  • Other Specified Feeding or Disorder (disorders that do not fit into the first seven)

I have worked largely with the diagnoses presented in the previous manuals (DSM IV and DSM IV-TR), but pica remains much the same, and I have seen a few cases of the disorder. The DSM-5 states that it often manifests itself in the presence of other mental disorders, and I have found that to be true thus far.

Source: Diagnostic and Style Manual of the American Psychiatric Association, DSM 5; 2013.

The criteria for a diagnosis of pica are listed below; however, if you or someone you know exhibits any of these symptoms, ask a doctor about them and possible treatments needed. We cannot actually make a diagnosis by matching a list of symptoms with a patient's behavior without the examination required for the condition.

  1. Strongly continuing to eat non-food items for at least one month.
  2. This eating in No. 1 above is inappropriate for the developmental level of the individual.
  3. The eating in No. 1 above is not part of a culturally or socially usual/customary practice.
  4. If the eating in No. 1 occurs in the presence of another mental disorder (autistic spectrum disorder) or during a medical condition (pregnancy) and is severe enough to warrant independent clinical attention, then it is diagnosed as pica.

Some of these unwanted behaviors accompanying pica can include syndromes of behaviors that include:

  • Abnormal language
  • Strange methods of play not used before
  • Strange relationships with friends of the child's own age (peer group)

Look for these things to occur and call your pediatrician or family doctor (general practitioner or internist), and discuss them with him or her. The child may also pull out his or her own hair and eyelashes, and that is part of another syndrome. If this happens, call the doctor right away.

Also, keep a diary or a daily log of the times when your child chews on paper and other nonfood items and when he/she does not. Make a note of what happened just before the behavior occurred and how soon it is after a meal or before the next meal. Write down anything that you think is important about each particular instance of pica behavior. The log or diary would be helpful to your doctor. Like so many puzzling situations, if you start writing things down, you begin seeing patterns.

A Magpie or Pica. This bird eats almost anything.

A Magpie or Pica. This bird eats almost anything.

Pica Means "Magpie" in Latin

Pica comes from the Latin word that means magpie, which is a bird that is known for a big appetite to eat anything and everything.

Here are some of the things that children and adults sometimes eat if they have been diagnosed with or show signs of pica or have yet been un-diagnosed with any mental illness:

  • Dirt / clay / mud; clay pottery shards
  • Rubber erasers
  • Pencil wood
  • Play-Doh
  • Paint chips
  • Plaster
  • Chalk
  • Cornstarch
  • Baking soda
  • Coffee grounds
  • Cigarette ashes / Burnt match heads / Cigarette butts
  • Feces
  • Ice
  • White Glue / White paste
  • Hair, from head or hair brushes. Cat hair is a newer item
  • Buttons
  • Pennies/nickels
  • Paper / cardboard
  • Sand
  • Toothpaste
  • Soap bars
  • News favorites among non-food eaters are the melamine sponge and foam pillow stuffing.
Scroll to Continue

Read More From Healthproadvice

Note: Eating some non-food items, as is done in cases of pica, can result in bladder cancer.

Melamine, a Non-Food Protein

Scientific American Magazine researchers found that melamine, a high-nitrogen-containing, non-food protein, is added to food illegally to boost protein content for the nutritional label. It was used as protein for cattle to eat from 1958 through 1978, when it was found that it does not metabolize efficiently enough to be as effective as desired.

When eaten by humans in quantity, the end result of this melamine can be bladder cancer.

Materials like glass, plastic and metal are not changed in their passage through the bowel and might, in theory at least, be more hazardous than natural substances. Occasionally children or people in disturbed mental states swallow these sorts of things deliberately and it is remarkable how rarely they develop problems.

— Core Charity

Possible Causes of Pica

The act or habit of eating things that are not food is called "pica" in medical and psychological textbooks. For children, who learn about the world by putting things into their mouths, pica is really fairly common. I remember kids in elementary school eating pencils, erasers, paste... and a few crayons.

Some of the children were bored, and some did not realize they were chewing on nonfood items because they were thinking hard about a test question or a math problem. There were a lot of pencils with teeth marks on them in elementary school. I see them in libraries and college classrooms on occasion, even today, and they make me laugh.

Unfortunately, some children do not have breakfast at home, and they eat paper and other items just because they are hungry and need to survive. Hopefully, subsidized school and summer breakfast and lunch programs are reaching most of them, and they are receiving at least one or two meals a day in school. This initiative has helped a lot in the past 20 years.

One other serious possibility to consider is that pica can be—but not always is—associated with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), but a licensed doctor or other qualified practitioner needs to determine that, with the input of the patient.

Developmentally, babies—more than elementary school kids—have a period of growth in which they put just about everything they find into their mouths, even their own feet. They usually go on to something more exciting that catches their attention and forget what they had in their mouths. When a child has passed this developmental point and is older but suddenly begins to eat nonfood items once again, there may be a problem of some kind. In this case, there is likely some cause for it that can be found and eliminated, however.

Stress and Developmental Causes

Think about, and ask your child about, any new or recurring stresses in his life—a new baby at home, changing schools, a new job for a parent, a bully at school, etc. Remember that every time you move before the child is five years old will generally make him/her regress in maturity a bit for a while, but this will usually remedy itself. An example of this is bedwetting that begins with a move and ends when the child is more steeled in a routine.

If you suspect emotional or developmental problems, talk with your doctor ASAP. If everything seems fine and the blood tests are normal, ask your doctor if it is just a habit. If so, then try to keep paper and other nonfood items away from your child if he/she is very young.


Fortunately, two very likely causes can be examined through a simple blood test. The first cause is easy to cure, and if either cause is found to be at fault, steps can be taken to correct both problems. These causes are curable, including:

  1. Low iron in the blood (anemia)
  2. High blood level of lead

Lead exposure is a problem for many children that live or visit for extended periods of time in older houses that have lead-based paint in them. These houses were built mainly before the 1970s, and lead paint was outlawed in 1978. However, other sources of lead include certain types of medications, some kinds of pottery, and several other sources. The blood test for lead and anemia will help you to begin to narrow down the cause of eating paper and plastic and such.

There are other possibilities for the manifestation of pica in children. Some kids develop pica as a symptom of emotional distress. Some others experience developmental disorders that lead to longer periods of time eating nonfood items or to returning to the behavior. Many of these problems would most likely not manifest only as pica, however. Other behaviors and symptoms would likely begin to appear.


Treatment may not even be required, but talk to your doctor to be sure.

Pica treatment can involve several kinds of licensed professionals, depending on the reasons for the disorder and the various symptoms and related syndromes.

A medical doctor must first look for physical problems causing the pica—and then also look for physical problems that are being caused by it. It is vital that a medical practitioner be the first to enter the case.

If there are socioeconomic matters involved, a social worker will become involved to provide education and guidance to remedy underlying problems such as poverty and the factors that are associated with it.

If psychological conditions are present, a licensed therapist or psychiatrist will become involved.

This article is cited and quoted in the Journal of the International Society of Preventative and Community Dentistry: 2014 Jan-Apr; 4(1): 1–4.


Alison Snyder. "Protein Pretense." Scientific American Magazine. August 2007.

This content is for informational purposes only and does not substitute for formal and individualized diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed medical professional. Do not stop or alter your current course of treatment. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2007 Patty Inglish MS

Comments and Additions

Shannon on December 26, 2016:

I crave the taste of rubber. I chew rubber bands and love the smell. Even the rubber around a tennis shoe. The converse type. I don't swallow it. But it's so good and I don't know what is in rubber that I like it so much. The large postal brown rubber bands are the best thus far.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on November 04, 2015:

@Che - I hope you never have any ill healty effects from eating those rollers. Lots of people say they enjoy the flavor and texture. Too bad real food doesn't have the same!

Che on November 04, 2015:

I am 34 and i am HOOKED on Foam hair rollers! Not just any kind, but they have to be Goody brand! It started as a child and i would stop when I run out, but then i would see them in a store and start again. Its shameful, no one knows, i snack on them and tell people its licorice when they ask what i am eating. It has a cardboard taste to it, that i LOVE! It also helps me poop! Its gotten so bad, that I order rollers off of ebay! I can eat a pack of 37 in a few days. I try to stop, but I can't! Just glad to know that I'm not alone

Jason Faith from Grand Rapids MN on December 04, 2014:

ty, very interesting article.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on April 30, 2014:

Pica is still a bothersome eating disorder, but not without effective management and cures in many cases.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on November 14, 2013:

@sandra - It is good to know that your techniques work for you and I think that they can help others. Substituting useful and good-tasting food items for non-food items is, in my opinion, much better than attempting to treat the symptoms with drugs. I will share these tips with as many people as I can.

sandra on November 13, 2013:

i had and do have pica. wax, paper, wood, string, plastic, foam ... not really too sure why ... maybe anxiety, the chewing seems to calm me, maybe nutritional deficiency as well ... it has improved since i have started to eat vegetables (i will only eat them raw, i prefer a harder texture). And have been taking medicinal herbal teas.

I also believe i have a bit of ADD and mild autism ... but all of my 'symptoms' can be alieviated by proper nutrition and calming environment. At least, they minimise immensely in these conditions ...

it may help to keep a diary as you say, to see patterns and times of triggers, etc.

I find chewing on licorice root is very satisfying, it is wood, very tasty and delicious, prevents cavities, nourishes the brain and eliviates stress. think this may help kids very much too as it is high in nutrients and they generally love it.


Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on November 11, 2013:

I've known some and most were kids eating lead paint chips; we could stop then and have the paint removed from those houses through city block grants. This problem seems to be growing these days - especially with sponges.

Marcy Goodfleisch from Planet Earth on November 11, 2013:

I've know. Several people who had pica. It was sort of an unspoken observation I made, and was awkward to be around (yucky, too).

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on November 10, 2013:

@tillsontitan - Agreed; I also see it becoming worse, so its not our imaginations, I think - larger percentages of kids and adults seem to suffer form it. So many people tell me they eat the malamine sponges and furniture sponge material! I hope the substance is no longer in any of our food.

Mary Craig from New York on November 10, 2013:

Surprisingly I missed this hub a while ago. It seems to me this problem has become more noticeable and probably is on the rise in the last 20 to 30 years. It always existed but seems to be worse now.

Thanks for all the helpful information. It is certainly a distressing problem.

Voted up, useful, and interesting.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on November 10, 2013:

UPDATE: After checking the recent studies, I find that melamine (sponges, etc.) is a non-food protein that has been illegally added to some foods in the past. Heavy ingestion of it can cause bladder cancer as an end result.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on November 10, 2013:

Eating these light foam sponges reminds me of eating fast food - people eat and, not satisfied, conintue to eat more of it. I've added a video about sponge eating to this article.

I am hearing a lot about individuals eating these foam type materials and wonder if they contain some addictive substance. After you speak with your doctor about eating sponges, you might want to call one of the many addiction counselors that are available today. Best wishes!

Cassandra1993 on November 10, 2013:

Hi patty, I am 20 and suffer from pica I mainly eat sponge foam, I've eaten mattresses, couches, kitchen sponges, car washing sponges but my favourite at the moment is melamine sponge I just can't get enough of it. I buy 200 packs off eBay constantly. I stopped eating foam for about a year but I can't stop now. I are foam through out my whole pregnancy and my child came out perfectly fine. But now his eating solids I want to stop Incase he try's to copy mums behaviour

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on July 15, 2012:

Note about borax, in case you are told you have a deficiency by a friend -- From health agencies worldwide: Borax is a toxic substance and poses an unacceptable risk to human health when used in food.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on June 19, 2012:

People used to chew paraffin wax before there was chewing gum - I think crayons are mostly wax and vegetable colors these days and safe in that way, but eating a lot of them can make a ball of wax in the intestines in some people. Lots of people chew on pencils, but eating a lot of wood is probably not safe. What does your doctor say of all this?

Vanessa Malefahlo on June 19, 2012:

I have a problem with crayons and pencils, I eat them all the time, and I'm afraid I will never stop eating them, I am 20 years old and this has been going on for years now. Nobody at home knows that I eat crayons. Its killing me and I hate that.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on May 01, 2012:

If you are serious, please find a medical specialist that knows about your disorder. Try calling your local hospital or the state medical board for this information and a referral.

Linda on May 01, 2012:

M 30 yrs old bt i crave for my fingers & nails d problem is i dnt suk em i chew dem i used 2 eat pens bt nw its ma fingerz n its affecting my earz n i've been 2 doctors twice wit because of my ears help m how do i stop d cravings my fingers r so ugly dey hv marks becoz of d chewing bt i cnt stop d cravings plz help.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on April 05, 2012:

Thank you for sharing your experience! I hope you are having good meals now.

Patty Lavine on April 05, 2012:

Patty it is truly an honour to know now that i am not a freak of nature, eating all this non-food products has been a blast, but it is now of the past.

thank you

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on March 19, 2012:

I hope the test reveals something that the medical staff can address easily. I first heard of pica in a college class in which we were discussing malnutrition in the inner city, but it doesn't seem that pica is about malnutrition. Best of luck to you and your family!

Carla Louise B from Bracknell on March 19, 2012:

My 16 month old is getting tested for pica she eats everything in sight! and has been down A and E many times as she has eaten loads of different objects! when we sow our consultant he said to ME he wanted to test her i didn't even know anything about it! they have taken a blood text for vitamin, calcium and zinc deficiency. im trying to find out more info on it

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on February 23, 2012:

Irish Spring surely smells good, though :)

Karen on February 23, 2012:

I've had a craving for ice for about a month now. I sat on an 8-hour flight to France and had to ask the flight attendant (multiple times) for a glass of ice because the craving was so bad but I just thought it was funny... until 3 days ago when I noticed how good my bar of Irish Spring smells. I just wanted to lick it!!! I decided not to and I fought the urge to lick my soap until my shower this morning. I couldn't take it anymore... I just had to taste it, so I did! Tonight, the craving is back and knowing that I have never had an addictive personality, I decided to Google "why do I have the urge to lick my bar of soap" and I came upon this blog! I have never heard of Pica before tonight but I sure am grateful that I decided to check up on why I have this weird craving... Now I can follow up with my doctor and take steps to "nip it at the bud"! Thanks for sharing!!

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on February 17, 2012:

I recently saw a broadcast with a physician that believes pica is an addictive behavior that can be erased by replacing the eating of non-food items with behaviors that are more positive. However, I don't know how he does this. I believe the who was on CNN and may be on that website.

concernedmommy84 from Linden, North Carolina on February 17, 2012:

my 8 year old pulls out her hair strand by strand and eats erasers,metal off the penicles,glue,crayons, but her favorite thing is paper. I have got her in counsling and work with her dr. very closly. She has been diagnoised with adhd/add,ocd, and pica since the age of 5 yearsold. We still have not figured out why she does it but we keep trying.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on January 23, 2012:

I wonder if that speaks to hormone changes?

Grandma Laura on January 16, 2012:

I craved ice in my teens and early 20's. I was anemic too, but the underlying problem was Celiac Disease. Once I eliminated all wheat, rye, barley, and oats from my diet I no longer craved ice at all.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on December 21, 2011:

kelleyward - I'd not heard of that one before, so thanks!

random - Many, many reasons. Each case may be different.

random reader... =D on December 21, 2011:

so one of the main reasons of pica is iron deficency..... Is there any other reasons?

kelleyward on December 21, 2011:

When I worked as a pediatric nurse I had patients who ate cotton. They often had anorexia which is included in the OCD type disorders. Very interesting hub.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on December 21, 2011:

That is important and interesting news! - Thanks, Sez. Congratulations on your pregnancy!

Sez on December 21, 2011:

I'm 6.5 month pregnant and have eaten paper in the last couple of months. Funnily enough my recent blood test suggests that my iron count is very low so I have to take supplements. Thank goodness there is a cause! As it isn't that satisying!

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on December 20, 2011:

Yikes! - Thanks for that warning, PR!

P.R on December 20, 2011:

Important!!! just found out that injesting the burnt ends of matchsticks is very dangerous to your health. It is called cautopyreiophagia and leads to a condition called hyperkalaemia which can cause cardiac arrest.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on December 19, 2011:

That's pretty bad! There are some lousy doctors out there and I have met some. I think I know 2-3 good ones.

I sometimes joke that I went into preventive medicine in order to prevent doctors :)

Ghost32 on December 19, 2011:

Got it. Understand that (the bad track record on unlicensed dentists). I avoided LICENSED dentists as much as possible, back in the day--can't imagine the challenge of facing an unlicensed one of those.

On the other other hand, there's the damage some of the licensed practitioners do. As a commercial insurance underwriter in the early 1970's, I handled (among other things) a book of business that included professional liability insurance for physicians. When a "really bad" doctor would become known to be in our region, we'd get notified--so we didn't stupidly and accidentally insure the guy (at that point, they were all guys).

The worst of the lot was a California surgeon who'd left the state on a high lope with 32 outstanding malpractice claims and/or lawsuits on his record.

He ended up in "my" territory for a while, too, actually practicing medicine in southwestern Montana. But--fortunately--none of our agents ever sent us an application for him, so that was good.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on December 19, 2011:

Earthworms! hahahaha. Cute.

And well, I've helped prosecute some folks incorrectly diagnosing others without a license and causing big, big harm. In those cases, too bad it was just a misdemeanor here until the 4th time felony. I would have hanged them for the amount of damage they did - BUT doctors need to listen to patients about their opinions on diagnosis. Patients know themselves better than doctors do. That's not like diagnosing somebody else and they die as a result - An unlicensed dentist did that here in the 1970s and a woman died. At the dentist's office. Bad track record on dentists here.

Ghost32 on December 19, 2011:

Patty, I love your writing but disagree with your statement about OCD claiming, "only a licensed doctor (or) therapist can diagnose that".

It's a personal issue. Neither my wife nor I are licensed, but 98% of the time it's been one or both of us--NOT the licensed doctor or therapist--who has initially, correctly diagnosed her various and numerous ailments. The vast majority of the time, we've had to tell the licensed professional, "We believe THIS is Pam's (latest) problem; check it out please."

[Got a chip on my shoulder against paper proof of competence; can ya tell?]

That said, I'd never heard of pica (except as a typeface) until reading this Hub. Great info...and it triggered a memory.

My final go-round in college was at Montana State U. in Bozeman. In the married housing apartments, we all got along despite the population density...except for one couple across the street from us and down a bit in a nearby building.

In the dictionary under "jerk", it says, "See that guy."

One day a number of us in fine spring weather noticed their two-year-old (if he was that) out alone on the sidewalk...eating earthworms he was finding in cracks in the sidewalk. None of us intervened; the child was in no immediate danger, the father would have ranted at us for even going near the kid, and besides, to us (half a dozen or more observers) it was sweet if juvenile revenge.


But not pica, I guess. Earthworms are food after all.

Rated Up and Several.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on December 19, 2011:

Oh yes! - before chewing gum became popular, people chewed canning wax all the time. No problem. If the crayons are non-toxic, little problem there unless a child would eat a whole box and get blocked up. Cheers to you!

moonlake from America on December 18, 2011:

Interesting hub. I didn't know that's what it was called.

When I was small I ate crayons. I ate any kind of wax. Like the canning wax mother used.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on December 18, 2011:

Probably depends on what chemicals are in the match head and how many you consume. Likely there is sulfur and several other chemicals. Too many match heads will make you sick after a while.

P. R on December 18, 2011:

I've been eating the burnt ends of matchsticks. How does this affect our organs or our general health. Please let me know.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on December 14, 2011:

Kulliee - It's bad that it's so hard to get someone to even listen! You'd think the school nurse would help. Maybe the GP will be better.

Vepuu - That's heavy stuff to eat; do you eat any food?

Kulliee on December 14, 2011:

so i tried to follow ur advice, tryed talking to my school nurse, well that failed epically, made me feel even more stupid that i origionally feel.

Started off as a casual convo and when her respone was 'ino wat ur on abt, personly i thnk that thay are just mentally tapped, hnestly there are some mental people around'

So i thnk il try my GP next hoping he/she will me more... Empathising, understanding and helpful.

Vepuu on December 14, 2011:

Hi im 19 years old and i have 1 problem im eatng sand i can't go a day with out eatng. This startd when i was 15 years. What's that nw hw cn i stop this?

Kulliee on December 13, 2011:

Okai, thank u very much and will do =)

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on December 13, 2011:

Kullee - By a wet ball I mean that the cardboard can go into your stomach and intestines and not digest it can make a wet ball of mushy cardboard that can build up larger and block the intestines. This might cause pain, swelling, infection (fever too) and might even need surgery to correct.

It sure CAN be embarrassing! - but tell your doctor you are really having difficulty not chewing on those things and ask for his or her help. A good doctor will take you seriously and be sympathetic. Let us know how you are doing!

Kulliee on December 13, 2011:

thank u, my mum found out and she sed she'd book the doctor appntmnt (the up side...) but its a bit embarrasing saying to yur dctor, hi, i eat cardboard and paper and rubber and eat the end of my pencil (which im stopping because of the fear of splinters), wat shall i do? Freaks me out thnking abt it =S

Also wat is a wet ball, i tryed googling it, but i couldn't find anything, i just want to no wat it is and the symptoms, and thanks again, (=

laringo from From Berkeley, California. on December 12, 2011:

I recall watching TLC channel and the program was about adults that eat things like toilet paper, wood,and a host of other things. These non-food items can cause serious damage to your body's organs like the kidneys and liver. Parents if they notice signs in young children should get them help asap.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on December 11, 2011:

Kulliee - Call your local hospital's free Nurse's Hotline if there is one and talk to a nurse - or a school nurse or someone at the local Health Department. Cardboard is not the worst thing you could chew, but eating a lot of it could accumulate a wet ball in your intestines and cause a deadly infection.

I chewed on erasers like Deborah did - a lot of us did that. It lasted with me only about a few months in Grade 3. I got tired of having eraser stuck uncomfortably between my teeth.

Kulliee on December 11, 2011:

hi, im 15yrs old and ivebeen eating cardboard and paper ever since i can remember. Its relieving that im not the only one from lukking at this article! Um... Is it bad eating cardboard? I have really badd cravings and i just don't no wat to do. Wen i stop myself, i start biting my nails. Wat can i do to stop, does this habit harm me in any way??? Thanks

Deborah Brooks Langford from Brownsville,TX on December 02, 2011:

wow.. I did not know all this.. I don't remember having this problem.. I might have.. Just don't remember except for maybe erasers.. I really liked reading it..thanks for writing and sharing... very interesting article. very useful.. voted up...

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on December 01, 2011:

Tasha - A mouthful of screws does not seem to be a phase to me. Seems you need a second, good, opinion. At this point, I'd call a well-known children's hospital and ask for an opinion - many have Nurse's or Doctor's Hotlines for questions. In Ohio, Cincinnati Children's Hospital and Cleveland's Rainbow and Babies Hospital are fantastic, also Nationwide Children's in Columbus.

Alternatively, you could call the Mayo Clinic. I have always trusted them.

kate on December 01, 2011:

my friend eats foil how can i help her.

Tasha on November 30, 2011:

My son is 6 and ever since he started crawling he has been putting EVERYTHING in his mouth(my 8yr old and 3yr old daughter are the complete opposite)

He has eaten half a hard cover Disney book, stickers of toys, soap, paint chips, food off the ground, we found teeth marks on his horizontal blinds and pieces missing, took him to the hospital, he had a few pieces in his stomach (traveled without any problems) they said it was a "phase" we also found him when he was about 4 with a mouth full of screws, chews on wood, erasers, pens, plastic and pretty much whatever he can find.

This is getting very scary for us, I have talked to 3 Doctors and they all say it is a "phase". After seeing all these comments I know I am right.

He is VERY VERY active! I don't think he has an ounce of fat on him, that is another thing I want the Doctor to look at! How do I make it any clearer to our Doctor that this is NOT phase and I need help?!

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on November 26, 2011:

I think the materials in the foam, especially chemical, could be harmful. In addition, these items can sometimes cause intestinal blockages that require surgery.

Crystal on November 26, 2011:

Hi my name is crystal and I am 15 and I have an addiction on eating mattress foams I don't know how come but I had eating it ever since I was little and I want to stop but I can't. Is there anything that will happen to me? Or any kind of problem?

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on November 21, 2011:

Maybe nothing, but call your Pediatrician or your local hospital's Nurse's Hotline and ask.

Cassie32 on November 21, 2011:

My son will soon be turning 8 and recently he has been peeling paint off of our walls in stairway and my bedroom and his and I actually saw him put a paint chip in his mouth and he also chews on paper. What does this mean?

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on October 06, 2011:

At least the milk is giving him nutrients.

I am really bugged by his eating only dry things now and wish he could tell you why he won't eat moist or wet foods. How about ice cream or cut up fruit? Maybe he does not like those sweets either.

I wonder if there is a structural condition in the mouth cavity that a doctor or dentist cound find to change? It sounds like the inside of his mouth is inflexible. I suppose the speech therapist could see that - or does that therapist look into the mouth at all? Well, with a new therapist to be seen, you might ask all these questions soon and find out.

Let us know how it goes. Best wishes to you!

Kelly on October 06, 2011:

He drinks allot of milk every day,He don't really drink other things some time water but rarely.The speech therapist thinks that his not talking yet has to do with him not eating moist wet things that he don't really understand how to put his mouth to say words due to not eating things that aren't solid. We just moved though so he hasn't met with the therapist in this state yet so I'm not to sure what their plan is yet but the home visits should be starting soon! I hope that they can help him! We do pull him away with louder voice not yelling but raised enough that he knows but he still goes back again and again,but we are still trying and working at it every day and will for as long as he does it.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on October 06, 2011:

I think a physician or speech therapist would be able to use that info that your son eats only dry things, including paint, at age 3 and not talking. Some paints smell a little like candy or cake frosting, so that might also be it. It will be a lot of follow-up and work, but I might suggest firmly taking him away from the wall every time you see him begin to peel paint, since he's too young to self govern this yet. A tall play pen would be great, but he would find a way out at this age.

I wonder if the texture of "dry" is important or if there is some overarching condition that includes not talking and eating only dry things? You might ask the speech therapist and pediatrician if it's all connected, but there may be no connection and at least you'd know.

Does he drink liquids? I suppose he must to survive. Given that, then "dry" foods may just be a passing preference.

Kelly on October 06, 2011:

My son peels and eats the paint off the walls and i know its not lead based paint so that don't scare me but my apartment looks horrible now and i can't get him to stop! He only eats dry food right now and is going through speech therapy because he is almost 3 and not talking. I'm at a loss for what to do next and how to help him, I just want my son to be healthy and eat more then dry stuff!

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on October 05, 2011:

Some candy wrappers smell and taste better than the product they contain. But I hope you are not pulling paper from trash cans.

Marie on October 05, 2011:

I eat paper and plastic, specifically candy wrappers. I usually eat plain paper that has not been written on yet because I don't like how the ink turns my tongue and teeth blue. Sometimes I chew the plastic candy wrappers so much that I start choking on the parts that remain and have to spit everything out. Its getting pretty bad. I always eat some form of paper (preferable) when I am studying or alone in my room. However, I now occasionally get urges to eat paper in front of other people. For example, I really wanted to eat paper in the library yesterday. The problem has become so bad that I often eat paper that I do not think is important and when it becomes important, I have to lie and say I threw it out, when really the truth is that I ate it. I would see a counselor but the truth is, I'm not sure if I want to stop. Paper and candy wrappers are way cheaper than actual snacks and more abundant. Eating paper has been a part of my life for the past 13 years or so. I recently told my mom about it and she did not believe me and I have not shown her. I eat healthy and I am normal otherwise. I am not super stressed out either. I guess it is just a habit...but it is getting worse and I don't know why.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on September 27, 2011:

Many people seem to be chewing on brick and mortar, as well as cigarette ashes and a medical professional should be consulted about this.

Sarah -- I suggest keeping all combs and hairbrushes away from your child when not in use, placed on a high shelf or in a cupboard behind a door where he cannot see them. The feathers, dust, and hair particularly can carry mites, bacteria and other concerns. Then speak with your phsycian as you plan do do.

Best wishes.

Sarah on September 27, 2011:

I am wondering whether my 25 month old has pica – he chews dirt, feathers, grass, fluff, dust and hair all the time but he doesn’t swallow it, just holds it in his mouth until we notice and take it out. Do pica sufferers always swallow what they eat? He gets angry when we take a hairbrush away from him and he hasn’t finished putting all the hair in his mouth, and seems to prefers to chew on fluffy non-food items than eat proper food, although he does generally eat normally too. I am going to mention it to our doctor, but any advice would be appreciated.


marsha on September 25, 2011:

Hello, i have a bad habbit of chewing motar between the bricks of houses or buildings. I grind my teeth with it. I have damaged my teeth by doing so. I do it to help relieve tension, and depression. I have been doing this ever since i was a teenager and i am 29 years old and i still do it. I need help. I read one comment above and i thought that i was the only one in this world that had this problem. anyone have any advice? I also chew ice as well to help relieve me

chandrika on September 14, 2011:

i am 32 yrs old still addicted to eat brick pieces , sand , chalk pieces , rice etc fromt the age of 10 .. I could not control myself if i want to consume them .. i used to take it daily . after i take that i feel very hungry . Nowadayss i been getting pain in my stomach . i feel guitly to consult doctor . can any one suggest what are the tests to take to check my organs are good or afftedcted .. pls help me

Stark on September 03, 2011:

Hi, I'm a 15 year old girl and i have been eating cigarette ash for roughly 8 years.All mu family smoke so it's eacy access.It started as a dare from my younger brother, but I got hooked,I google my problem to see if it will have any effect on my health.Im worried because I can't seem to stop and I was wondering if you would have any advice for me.:)

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on August 31, 2011:

WOW! Thanks to eveyone that has shared their stories.

There seem to be some major cravings out there besides the usual paper: 1) ashtray ashes, 2) plastic pillow/matress foam, and 3) dirt. I am guessing it becomes a habit to eat and then the body becomes somewhat addicted to the chemical makeup of these substances.

Paul - I am sorry your daughter is still eating dirt. Some Doctors need to be more active with pica treatment. Insisting that he/she do something effetive for your daughter is a good step and you may have to do it loudly. Keep asking until he answers you and refuse to go on to a next topic until an answer is had.

I think perhaps if you keep monitoring your daughter and stop her eating non-food things for enough weeks, the cycle might break (worth a shot). But keep at the Doctor for help. Contact the nearest medical school and ask for help in understanding what is haqppening and what to do.

Ny favorite last resort is to contact TV news crews like our "6 on Your Side" that go in with cameras and ask on national TV, "Why won't you help these people?" Most patients give up too easily, but I have a feeling you won't.


paul on August 30, 2011:

My daughter is 23 years old and recently sustained a head injury. Before her injury we would often find evidence of her eating dirt. Bags of dirt, dirt in places there shouldn't be dirt. Prior to the accident she lived on her own so I have no idea if she continued this practice. She now lives with us as she needs 24 hour supervision. Just tonight while watching a movie with my wife she ate almost an entire pencil. I checked and I don't think there's going to be any issues, but man oh man, what can we do? I'm going to bring it up to her doctor (which we've already done, but she hasn't said anything about it. I will however bring it up tomorrow!). So what do I do? She continues to find ways to sneak eating dirty: Wipes her hand on the car when she walks by. Bends over to pretend to adjust her shoes and picks up dirt. We always say something and wipe off her fingers, etc., but obviously we have to watch her like a hawk! Sigh. Any ideas are greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance.

Sharon on August 12, 2011:

I have been eating paper and cardboard for my whole life I am now 25 I don't know how it started but I know I just crave it and I eat it at this age I have a bad skin condition and sores all over my head and behind my ears I don't know if this could be coursed by my eating paper but I need help and I don't know what to do

dmdixon08 on July 26, 2011:

hey im 21 and i have been eating foam since i was about 9 years old i have no clue why i been doing it but for sum reason i cant stop i eat it after every time i have a meal i have went through numerous of beds but i juss cant get enough of it i wish this would go away

Van Carman on June 21, 2011:

Yucca Root found in Mexican Markets.Other plants have saponins but some of them are toxic.You probably should try the yucca root.Mexicans cook and eat them like potatoes.Thanks,Van PS,THC found in marijuana is also a saponin

Lady M on June 16, 2011:

All the comments are very insightful. I crave soap sometimes, especially when my emotions seem to be running rapid. I've been eating it for about 10 years and after reading some of the post, it could be linked to iron deficiencies and anemia (excuse my spelling) both of which I have. I am going to try the yucca fruit and see what else has sapponins that will compensate.

Thanks again to everyon

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on May 29, 2011:

Yucca root sounds like it could be an effective aide.

The dry crumbling excrement, if continual, sounds like a problem, but I'm not a pediatrician. My class mates and I were chewing erasers and such until about age 7 or 8. If the eating of coins and other non-food does not stop soon, call a Nurse's Hotline at your local Hospital and ask some questions.

Linda on May 28, 2011:

I have been reading the post about pica, I am sure my grand daughter has this. She eats string, foil, cotton, paper, coins and many other items. My husband and I were discussing this tonight and recalled once when she was an infant (she's 7 now) my daughter changed her diaper and her bowel movement was so dry it crumbled like powder, the doctor dismissed it. I wonder if this has something to do with why she eats everything. She is very tiny but, eats pretty well breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert. I am beginning to get very concerned. Thanks for all the information I have received from this post.

Van Carman on May 27, 2011:

You soap eaters may find relief in yucca root found in Mexican Markets.Yucca contains saponins(soaplike molecules)Saponins lower surface tension of water in your body,hydrating your cells better,giving you a good feeling.I hope this helps.sincerely,Van Carman

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on May 20, 2011:

Hard to tell since there are so many things gping on agt once, but please consult the pediatrician as soon as you can. Pencil shavings smell good to a lot of kids, so that could be part of it. So do scented crayons, if she begins to chew on those as well.

A lot of us chewed on erasers (rubbers) in grades K-3, but we got tired of it.

Best of health to you and your child!

Rebecca on May 20, 2011:

My daughter is 6yrs old and has been eating odd things foe over 2yrs now, initially she was eating chalk and dirt from the garden and then this moved onto the brick fire place in our house - it will be a permanent reminder with her little teeth marks in it! She was diagnosed with Coeliacs Disease 18mths ago following the fireplace incident after her iron levels came back exceptionally low which lead to the Coeliacs testing...18mths later and after observing a totally Gluten Free Diet ... she's started again! Chalk, Dirt, Pencil Shavings and Rubbers. Some one has mentioned Pernicious Anemia to me which like Coeliacs is an autoimmune condition ... I forgot to mention ... she;s Type 1 Diabetic too diagnosed at 3yrs old so that two autoimmune conditions already - please don't tell me she going for a hat-trick?

Bex76 on April 19, 2011:

Thank-you Patty

He was seen by psych in hospital and has been discharged into the care of the community team who have known Harry since his ADHD diagnosis about 8 yrs ago. We (my husband and I) have just been turning over questions/answers and more questions. We just want to keep him safe, this just seems impossible!

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on April 19, 2011:

I have heard before of middle school kids swallowing large objects. I'd get a psych consult right away and and see what comes of that, then talk to him about why he does it. If he does not know and no psych reason reveals itself, stick with the treatment team to look for answers.

Bex76 on April 18, 2011:

Harry my 13yr old son went for an elective Camera top and bottom, to examine his whole digestive system. As he's been passing loose blood stained stools for a few yrs. My mum, sister and myself have ulcerative colitis. I made an obvious assumtion that he may be starting with also. I took him to the GP November 2009 and expressed my concerns. A referral was done, appt after appt was cancelled by the trust. He was eventually given a date 12/4/11. He'd been on the waiting list for 18m's +.

I stayed with harry for his admission.Once he was under the general anaesthetic. I went over to the ward I work On as an adult nurse, to get away from the wd & to distract me. The advise was to returning in an 1hr.

Unawares to me at that time.Theatre had been frantically trying to get hold of me (no signal on my wd!) I came bk to see if he was finished early after about 45 Min's. On returning to the wd to be meet by surgeons nurses specialists you name it. They had discovered minutes into the procedure 8 foreign objects including an 8" knitting needle, some 6" pens pencils,felt tips and large wide key rings all in his stomach !!!

They needed permission to move to an open abdominal procedure to remove them all. Which is where we r now really on his long slow recovery, he's had a psych review, they will remain involved, the reason for this post is to get some advise as the whole multidisciplinary mention this condition. I have never heard of this before and still feel shocked by the magnitude of what he consumed. He has ADHD I'm just lost for answer. I wud love some feed bk

Bex76. Xxx

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on March 04, 2011:

Hi kiara - Go to your school nurse, if you have one, and talk to her/him about it. If you do not have a nurse at school, I hope you have at least one counselor. That person could possibly get help for you, especially if there are doctors that visit the schools free-of-charge. If that fails. Look in the telephone book yellow pages for Hospitals and look for Nurse Hotlines. Call one of these and talk to a nurse.

If everything fails, find a teacher, principal, or pastor to talk this over with. If a parent denies medical care to a child that has a real condition, it could become a legal matter.

kiara on March 04, 2011:

i have pica and eat cardboard

ibeen doinq it for 2 years now

itold my mom

but she just laughs and dosent

want to qet me help

what do i do / and am 14

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on February 22, 2011:

That's a hard one. I wonder if you could substitute a food with similar texture? Check with your doctor on your next checkup.

BETTY on February 22, 2011:

hey patty , my name is betty i have been eating soap foam for years and it is something i cant stop eating what do i do

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on February 12, 2011:

Hi Concerned Mom - I don't know what to think about this one. Just a guess, but has he seen other children at daycare with plastic foam in their mouths? I suppose it could also be curiosity about the taste of things, as he says.

Call your pediatrician or family physcian and ask an opinion, just to be sure. Then, I'd start a log record of non-food items he attempts to ingest, where, when, time of day, activity while doing so -- then look for patterns.

Were you able to successfully instruct your child not to put paint and foam into his mouth and has the daycare staff agreed to keep him from eating the latex paint chips? If not poisonous, might not they cause a bowel obstruction if too many glom together in the intestines?

Let me know what you find out. Best wishes for health for your child and your family!

Concerned mom on February 12, 2011:

We discovered this week that our 4 1/2 year old son has ingested dried latex paint he picked off of the wall at childcare. He has picked it off of the wall while laying down for nap. I called poison control and they said once the paint is dry that it is non-toxic. Then last night I caught him with a piece of foam in his mouth that he took out of his play table. These two instances are the first that we know of, he tells us he hasn't eaten non-food substances before and that he thought they would taste good. He lives in a stable happy home, no schedule changes, no new babies, no new jobs. I have had his lead levels checked in the past and they were so low they did not register. He eats a wide variety of regular food items. Any ideas?

Rob Hale, PhD on January 30, 2011:

Polyurethane foam contains high levels of flame retardants (PBDEs) and other chemicals. These may concentrate in your body, affecting the thyroid and potentially infant development. They also accumulate in breast milk and cross the placenta. Please contact me if interested/concerned. e-mail at

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on January 29, 2011:

MichelleK - Yours is a good plan imo.

I saw a playtime cake made in an elementary school class once, combining just those ingredients - sand, paper (shredded), and glue or white paste, rather; then painted to look like a birthday cake. That's probably not a good craft to do, is it?

The sand clues me to the possibility of a mineral supplement, which I had not thought of previously; so that's a good idea! I think I'm most concerned about the glue, depending on its ingredients - and the dyes in the paper. Let me know how this turns out!

MichelleK on January 28, 2011:

My preschooler's teacher brought this to my attention today that my 3 year old has been eating sand, paper, and glue in class. I have been lax recently about giving him his vitamins, so I plan to give him 2 vitamins a day (Flintstone gummies) and to also give him 8 oz. of Carnation Instant Breakfast. If 2 weeks of the vitamins and supplements don't seem to be affecting the behavior, then I plan to take him to the pediatrician. I'm a nurse, so I'm hoping to encourage his teachers to journal this behavior so we can determine if it is a behavior or a vitamin/mineral deficiency.

Am very glad I happened upon this page, very informative reading!

Kendra706 on January 15, 2011:

I desperately need help! ever since i was about 8 or 9 ive been addicted to the foam in mattresses,chairs,couches,etc. I don't know what to do. Ive tried to talk to my family but they wont listen to me. they think i can just stop whenever i want to.ive tried multiple times but i cant stop the cravings.

alan on January 14, 2011:

hi i am a foam eater too

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on January 11, 2011:

Smell and taste are the same to me, so I understand being drawn by smells. I've heard there is a type of driveway asphalt that smells and tastes like brownies.

I remember in 2nd or 3rd grade a lot of us chewed pencil erasers off. Our teacher said it was like chewing gum, but not to do it.

moi on January 11, 2011:

My mom used to chew on stones for as long as I can remember. A couple of years ago, her docotor gave her iron supplement pills and now she doesn't eat the stones anymore, and she says that the feeling of fatigue she used to have all the time is gone.

I have always loved the smell of mud after the rain and the smell of wet cement has always been really mouth watering.

When I was 11 (I'm 17 now) I would pass by me neighbours house and for some reason the smell fo his driveway on a hot day would make me want to eat it. I'm not sure what type of tar he had on his driveway cause all other driveways had no effect on me, and I could tell by looking that he didn't use the same tar as everyone else (maybe it was paint?).

One day I noticed that the driveway was cracked so I broke off a piece to take home with me one day after school. I cleaned it and then took a bite out of it while trying to avoid eating the tar/paint, but that part came off anyways. I chewed on the little piece and to me it tasted fantastic but I spit it out when I had crushed it all. Over the next year, I would break a small piece of the driveway and chew it.

When we moved to a different city, I would get cravings for that little piece of driveway, but there was nothing I could do to satisfy it. One day my dad bought us a new brand of erasers and whenever I would use mine, the smell of it would make my mouth water, and sometimes I would just sit there and sniff the eraser. I finally gave in, washed out the eraser and ate a piece of it. I guess my dad didn't like the way the eraser worked cause he never bought it for us again.So now, not only did I have cravings for the pieces of driveway, but also for that eraser.

Around that time, my little sister was in the 2nd grade, and she brought home one of the Pink Pearl erasers they got in school for art class. I had never encountered a Pink Pearl eraser but the moment I used it, I had a craving for it so once again I washed it and then began it chew it down bit by bit, but eventually, I chewed on the whole eraser and didn't know where I could find another. (As a side note, to me the Pink Pearl tastes much better than the first brand of eraser that I chewed on.)

since the cravings for my old neighbours driveway persisted, I figured that maybe any rock will do, so I started to taste some other rocks but found that they didn't crumble the way I liked when I chewed them and they had no taste. Eventually, I chipped a piece of the stone wall of our house and I knew I had found a replacement for the driveway.

When I first went to high school, I decided to turn over a new leaf and went a whole year without eating any non food items although the cravings were still there, just as strong as ever. I broke my resolve when my sister brought home another one of those Pink Pearl erasers. I figured since I'd given in, I might as well go all out and started chewing on the chipped rocks from the wall. I even tried to chew both the eraser and the rock at the same time (which was as gross as mixing tea with hot chocolate). Eventually, I began to swallow the stones I would chew on. Even today I still do this. I can't swallow the stones if I have a sore throat because it hurts and lets just say that if I eat a rock and don't keep hydrated, there are some painful issues in the bathroom (I learned that hard way).

I also crave permanent markers, nailpolish, car gas and liquid whiteout though I've never actually tried to ingest them (I don't think I ever will). I actually only use whiteout tape and I haven't worn nailpolish since I was about 4 just to keep tempation away.

Kelly on December 31, 2010:

I have been eating foam rubber for many many years! I love the taste, smell and my mouth waters for it. I do have low iron and take pills for it. Even when my iron is at a good level I still crave to eat it. It is so weird. I am sorry for all of you that have the same problem. Maybe some day someone will understand why people like it so much.

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