Pica is classified as a feeding disorder, a condition which leaves sufferers compelled to eat inedible or non-food items, despite their lack of nutritional value. For many of us, ‘Pica’ is a term that we simply do not recognise or one that some may struggle to associate with any particular condition. This is all part of what makes Pica so misunderstood, a fact that can, unfortunately, delay many individuals from reaching out and gaining a formal diagnosis.

As a branch of eating disorders, it is widely understood that with a thorough evaluation followed by a comprehensive care plan, Pica can be better understood and treated. If you would like to learn more about Pica, as well as what our team at Banbury Lodge can do to help, read on for more information.

Pica non edible items on a plate

Who is more at risk of Pica?

While Pica tends to be more prevalent in children and pregnant women, it is important to remember that this condition can impact anyone at any time. For those who struggle with the condition, they tend to ingest items with no nutritional value. Some of these include:

  • Ice
  • Clay
  • Paper
  • Soil or dirt
  • Sand

In more extreme cases, some individuals may also feel driven to eat items like hair, glue, cigarette ash, and even pieces of metal. As all the items mentioned above can be harmful to the body when ingested, those actively engaging with this compulsion are urged to consult with their GP right away if they are struggling with this condition.

What causes Pica?

No two individuals are the same, and it is impossible to tell why someone might have developed Pica, especially if there is not much insight into some of their personal circumstances. However, there are some contributing factors which can put someone at a heightened risk of developing the condition. Some of these include:


In some cases, individuals develop Pica in an effort to cope with stressful circumstances that might seem out of their control. Some of these stressful situations can include divorce, abandonment, or familial neglect.

Nutritional deficiencies

While it is well-established that Pica is a behavioural disorder, evidence also suggests that micronutrient deficiencies can also be a contributing factor in the development of this disorder. Iron, calcium, and zinc deficiencies can all trigger cravings for non-food items, and this can often be down to a lack of nutrients obtained naturally in your diet. For example, in pregnancy, women can often crave dirt (a subset of Pica known as geophagia), a fact which can be symptomatic of an iron deficiency.

Pre-existing mental health problems

If you are suffering from a pre-existing mental health problem, this can actually heighten your chances of developing symptoms associated with Pica. Some of the mental health conditions most correlated with Pica include:

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
  • Depression and Anxiety
  • Schizophrenia
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or other related conditions, including excoriation disorder (skin picking) and trichotillomania (hair pulling.)

Children over two

In children under two years old, Pica is not usually diagnosed until later on. This is because younger children all experience a developmental stage, putting non-edible objects into their mouths and discovering different textures. However, this is all a huge part of exploring their surroundings and learning through sensory input. During this phase, some babies and toddlers accidentally swallow non-food items, but this is usually not a cause for concern. However, in children over two years old, a Pica diagnosis can be made if these behaviours continue for over a month.

How can I tell if I have Pica?

If you are unsure whether you or someone you love is struggling with Pica, it can be a difficult condition to spot, especially without the right information. However, a good way to start is by observing the physical signs of Pica. Some of these can include:

  • Eating habits: By keeping a close eye on your loved one’s food intake, you can get a better insight into what items they consume and if any are a cause for concern.
  • General state of health: Pica is associated with ingesting items that shouldn’t be eaten, so there is a chance your loved one may be struggling with some physical manifestations, which can include choking, constipation or bowel obstruction, diarrhoea and tooth damage.
  • The risk factors: Some individuals are more susceptible to Pica, and you can look at the section above to familiarise yourself with some individuals who are more at risk of developing the condition.

Treating PICA

If you believe that any of the above statements apply to you or that you frequently find yourself ingesting items that have no nutritional value, this may indicate that you are displaying signs of Pica. For anyone suffering from this condition, we understand just how easy it is to feel alone in your condition, alienated by those who do not understand the reasons behind your disorder. It is even possible you may have considered treatment but feel too embarrassed or ashamed to reach out to the appropriate support channels. However, it is important to remind yourself that the right help is out there; you just need to know where to look.

Pica group therapy session

Step 1 – Talk to your doctor.

As previously mentioned, Pica can arise because of nutritional deficiencies, with individuals craving non-food items to compensate for the lack of nutrients in their bodies. Therefore, your first step should always be to consult with your doctor, testing for any potential deficiencies before moving on to psychological treatment. Because some of the foods ingested can be potentially harmful or toxic, your doctor can also perform some tests to make sure you have not experienced any consequences to your health.

Step 2 – Do some research.

If you have ruled out malnutrition or nutrient deficiencies, it is essential that you carry out a course of psychological treatment to find out why you developed Pica, so you can truly begin your journey to health and recovery. Of course, the best treatment for you will depend on factors such as your age and general state of health, so we would recommend that you do some research to find the best treatment for you.

In adults, there may often be a dual diagnosis for the disorder, and Pica can be present alongside issues such as unresolved trauma, mental illness, or addiction. In cases like these, a course of inpatient rehab treatment might be necessary, giving clients the space to look inward and get to the root of their issues. In other cases, a programme of aversion therapy may be necessary, helping individuals to understand more about which foods are safe to eat and which should be avoided.

Start your healing journey today

At Banbury Lodge, we understand just how difficult it can be to seek out treatment, especially if you are feeling particularly vulnerable or nervous. However, our centre is designed to be a judgement-free zone, well-staffed with an excellent team at the helm to get you the help you deserve. Accomplished in treating a variety of eating disorders and behavioural addictions, we are confident that you will truly receive the best care possible by joining us today. For any more information about our rehab treatment and what we can offer you, contact a member of our friendly staff team right away.

Frequently asked questions

Is Pica dangerous?
In short, yes. Pica can be very dangerous, with some of the risks including bowel obstruction, toxicity and gastrointestinal blockage. Trichophagia (or the compulsion to eat hair) is a prime example, and some individuals can eat so much of their own hair that it gets stuck in their digestive tract, causing blockages that can sometimes require an operation to repair.
At what ages does Pica develop?
As previously mentioned, Pica is a condition that can impact anyone at any time. However, some individuals are more at risk of developing this disorder. Those more inclined to develop Pica include young children, those who are pregnant, and individuals with pre-existing mental health conditions, including Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and schizophrenia.
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