- Why People Are Eating Chalk on Instagram
- 7 Things You Didn’t Know You Could Eat
- What Is The Pica Eating Disorder?
- Diagnosing Pica
- Why Pica Can Be Deadly
- Medical Complications as a Result of Pica
- What Causes Pica?
- Pica in Pregnancy
- Pica and Mental Health Disorders
- Treatment for Pica
- People are videotaping themselves eating chalk to share to Instagram and it’s a lot more common than you may think
- Pica: The Eating Disorder That’s Not About Food
- Ask Sam letter
- Pica: Eating Things That Aren’t Food
- Reason #1: Anxiety and Boredom
Why People Are Eating Chalk on Instagram
If you’ve ever spent time on Instagram, you’ve probably seen an ASMR video. Maybe you didn’t even know it.
For instance, you’re probably familiar with soap cutting ASMR videos, which sound like a xylophone, or emptying a bag of Scrabble letters onto a table. But more broadly, ASMR posts generally seek to trigger an autonomous sensory meridian response—a tingly feeling provoked by certain noises and sensory inputs. The community is huge: there are currently over 5.3 million Instagram posts tagged under #ASMR on Instagram (the genre is hugely popular on YouTube, too.)
However, there’s a genre of ASMR videos that you may have never heard of: chalk-eating. The content is exactly what it sounds like. People take videos of themselves chewing, crunching, and sometimes swallowing chalk. Sometimes it’s sticks of blackboard chalk, sometimes it’s large, asymmetrical, industrial size chunks of chalk.
The content creators are almost exclusively women, and while a large number of them post captions in Russian, there are women from all around the world posting videos of themselves chewing and swallowing chalk. And it’s not a small genre. The #chalkeating tag on Instagram has over 71,000 posts to date, and similarly, the #chalkasmr tag has over 34,000 posts.
An Instagram user who runs a repost account, meaning that they do not personally create any chalk-eating videos, told Motherboard in an Instagram direct message that they believe most people who make “chalk-eating” videos do not actually eat the chalk (The user asked that Motherboard withhold their account handle because certain members of the chalk-eating ASMR community have been bullied.)
“Almost every person who chews chalk or clay does NOT swallow it, as it can cause digestive issues,” the user said. “Some clays you can swallow, but it’s still not a common thing in the community.”
However, just by tapping around randomly, some people are clearly eating the chalk.
Let’s clarify something right off the bat: medically, it is not recommended that you eat chalk. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, swallowing large quantities of chalk can cause abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting, and also shortness of breath and coughing. Eating chalk should not kill you, because it’s not toxic, but it’s not safe.
However, it would be oversimplifying to claim that chalk-eating videos are simply an example of the ASMR genre going too far and getting people sick: there’s actually a medical condition that can partially explain what may be happening here.
Pica, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, is when an individual craves materials that can’t strictly be considered “food” for a period that’s longer than a month. This could include chalk, but also materials like clay, sand, dirt, glue, paper, and pretty much any other material you can imagine. It’s common in children, but it also occurs in teens and adults with unknown prevalence.
Since it can be brought on or exacerbated by mental conditions such as stress, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or autism, pica is classified as an eating disorder. But pica can also be caused by iron or zinc deficiency, or pregnancy.
In an Instagram direct message, user @lovepicaasmr told Motherboard that they have pica, but they do not swallow the chalk. “It started at about age three then I stopped a little after that,” @lovepicaasmr said. “The cravings came back at about 12 and I’ve been chewing chalk ever since then.”
But not everybody in this community has pica. In fact, the Instagram user who runs a chalk-eating ASMR reporting account claims that while ASMR has an “addicting” quality in general, and although chalk-eating induces ASMR for them, they hate eating chalk.
“I can tell you first hand, I tried chalk, one of the natural kinds that everyone “loves” and I IMMEDIATELY knew it was not for me,” the user told Motherboard. “And I frequently tell people, and it is almost always young women, who ask me if I chew chalk or clay the reasons why I don’t: 1) It was a nasty experience from both a taste and textural standpoint; 2) Dental work is expensive, and I’m not risking mine for something that I don’t enjoy.”
In a series of Instagram direct messages, the woman who runs the self-described “ASMR-PICA” account @tasteetastetastik told Motherboard that although she does not believe that she has pica, she got into the community after several months of using Instagram for voyeurism and making foam-focused ASMR videos. “Well I didn’t start eating it until I was faced with stress,” she said. “Had some reoccuring family issues and it kind of propelled from there.”
User @tasteetastetastik told Motherboard that she knows that there are health risks associated with eating large amounts of chalk, and mainly engages in the activity for stress relief.
“Since I just started this past summer I can say it does give me some peace while I’m chewing it as I don’t always ‘eat’ not all of us do,” she said. “Although it is technically edible too much of it will mess with your bowels and digestion.”
Posts and comments from people in the chalk-eating Instagram community occasionally point out that chalk-eating predates the internet. Eating chalk is a cultural phenomenon in Georgia in eastern Europe, but some scholars have postulated that this is actually a symptom of widespread pica in the region.
Other people who eat chalk believe that the activity has a “detox” effect on the body. In fact, certain Etsy merchants capitalize on this narrative by selling chalk and advertising it as “edible” and tagging it under “detox.” However, “detoxing” has been called a “nonsensical” medical term, and eating chalk has no proven health benefits.
Still, there are currently 491 listings for “edible chalk” on Etsy. One of the chalk listings viewed by Motherboard had a “Bestseller” badge from Etsy, and was reportedly in 20 people’s carts.
Image: Screenshot from an Etsy listing for chalk taken by Caroline Haskins. Image: Screenshot from an Etsy listing for chalk taken by Caroline Haskins. Image: Screenshot from an Etsy listing for chalk taken by Caroline Haskins.
It’s also worth noting that since there are hundreds of people posting videos of themselves eating chalk, a subculture has organically emerged from it. User @tasteetastetastik said that the chalk-eating ASMR community is close knit, caring for one another without judging.
“We are everyday people who just for whatever reason either vitamin deficiency, stress, etc should be respected and not judged,” she told Motherboard. “We are aware of health precautions and most of us do not consume this things nearly as much. Asmr is about visual, and all other sensory aspects. Sound especially.”
Similarly, user @lovepicaasmr said that they took comfort from the community they found on Instagram. “I got into ASMR because I saw other videos of people eating non food items, and It felt good to know there were other people like me.”
Like many corners of the internet, there’s also a sense of comradery in being outside the norm. According to the Instagram user who runs an chalk-eating ASMR repost account, this has helped build trust in the community. “We all know we are a little left of average in what we find stimulates our ASMR experience, so there’s solidarity and kinship as well,” the user said.
Again, it’s not healthy to eat chalk, but it’s important to remember that there’s a reason that people post content online that may seem unfamiliar or strange. And if you need resources, there’s help available.
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can find resources at the National Eating Disorder Association website or call its toll-free, confidential helpline at 1-800-931-2237.
TIDYING her daughter’s room, pregnant Rebecca Adimora picked a packet of chalk off the floor.
But she was not looking to get crafty — she was ready to enjoy a tasty snack.
5 Rebecca became addicted to eating chalk during her second pregnancyCredit: Harvey Hook/HotSpot Media
Rebecca, 25, became addicted to eating chalk during her second pregnancy and would crunch her way through ten sticks a day.
Despite the bizarre craving — a symptom of pica syndrome — Rebecca gave birth to a healthy boy called Reuben ten weeks ago.
The full-time mum, who also has seven-year-old Aaliyah, says: “Like most pregnant women, I expected to experience cravings.
“When I was pregnant with Aaliyah, I would eat toilet roll — but I never thought I’d munch on chalk.
5 Despite the bizarre craving she gave birth to a healthy boy called Reuben ten weeks agoCredit: Harvey Hook/HotSpot Media
“It sounds bonkers but the urge was so strong, I just couldn’t stop.
“At 16 weeks pregnant, after my morning sickness had subsided, I felt the strange urge to try one of Aaliyah’s coloured chalk crayons.
“I licked the stick and the sensation was amazing. Before I knew it, I’d bitten into it.
“The sound of the crunch and dry texture in my mouth was so satisfying, I had to have more.
5 She said: ‘I licked the stick and the sensation was amazing’Credit: Harvey Hook/HotSpot Media
“I didn’t want to raid my daughter’s stash so I went online and bought my own box of white Crayola chalk.
“From then on, I was hooked and would munch two sticks a day.”
As Rebecca’s addiction worsened, she spent hours watching YouTube videos of people eating chalk and upped her intake.
The former receptionist, from Oldham, says: “It was really therapeutic to watch others enjoying the snack, too.”
5 Rebecca tried everything to curb the bizarre craving but started to depend on her chalk fixCredit: Harvey Hook/HotSpot Media
Rebecca tried everything to curb the bizarre craving but started to depend on her chalk fix.
She says: “If I didn’t have a bite for a few hours, I got groggy. I would savour every bite and preferred it to normal food.
“The sensation was dry and crumbly and it would stick to the roof of my mouth — similar to the consistency of peanut butter.
“The chalk soaked up all the moisture in my mouth but that’s what I enjoyed about it.
“Admittedly, it was hard to swallow and quite messy to eat but I couldn’t get enough.” At first, Rebecca kept her £15-a-month habit secret but she eventually confessed to her partner Danny Lawton, 32, a labourer.
She says: “Danny thought it was really strange and didn’t really understand why I was doing it. He said I was mad.
“I did feel anxious about my baby’s health and the effects it might have, so sometimes I would chew the chalk and spit it back out. It was always more about the crunch than the consumption.”
When Rebecca mentioned her strange craving to her friends, they suggested she might be suffering from pica — a disorder sometimes associated with a lack of minerals in the body.
5 She said: ‘After Reuben was born, the craving faded and when I later bit into the chalk it was disgusting’Credit: Harvey Hook/HotSpot Media
She says: “At 32 weeks pregnant, I told my midwife I was eating chalk. They took blood tests and the results showed my iron levels were low so they gave me some tablets but they failed to stop my craving.
“I spoke to my sister and discovered she had chewed sponges during her pregnancy a year earlier. It was so weird.
“We had a good laugh about it and said that the condition must run in the family.”
Rebecca’s addiction continued until she gave birth to Reuben, who was born a healthy 8lb 7.5oz on November 2.
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A month later, Rebecca tried a piece of chalk again but it left a nasty taste in her mouth.
She says: “After Reuben was born, the craving faded and when I later bit into the chalk it was disgusting.
“I nearly vomited. It was how I’d imagine concrete to taste.
“People might think I’m bonkers, but until they experience a craving that strong, they shouldn’t judge.
“If other women have similar experiences, they should seek advice from their midwife or GP.
“There’s obviously an underlying reason as to why our bodies crave these things, I am just so relieved my baby son was born healthy.”
‘Stay safe by eating real food’
SUN doctor CAROL COOPER says: “Pica means eating things that aren’t food, and it’s most often seen in children and in mums-to-be.
“As many as a quarter of all pregnant women may have pica. Some indulge their craving in secret because they fear disapproval but many say the craved item satisfies a need for a missing nutrient.
“In Rebecca’s case, turning to chalk may suggest she’s short of calcium but most cases of pica remain a bit of a mystery.
“Obviously, many real foods are high in iron, calcium and other minerals and provide a more balanced diet. Most people reckon they taste better as well.
“It’s also safer to eat food. With pica, there’s a risk of eating toxins along with nutrients – for example, chemicals used during manufacture.”
7 Things You Didn’t Know You Could Eat
Have you ever been sitting in class, watching the teacher write on the chalkboard, when you were overwhelmed by the sudden urge to grab the chalk out of his hands and eat it? Well there are plenty of people out there who eat chalk all the time, so don’t knock it until you try it. For those interested in expanding their culinary boundaries outside of the culinary realm, we’ve rounded up seven non-food things that you didn’t know you could eat.
7 Things You Didn’t Know You Could Eat (Slideshow)
We should begin by saying that the items mentioned here aren’t things that you can idly munch on as you while away the hours. Aside from the fact that there’s little to no nutritional value in any of them, eating them in large quantities won’t kill you, but they will most likely give you quite a stomachache.
There’s also a big difference between “non-toxic” and “edible,”: Non-toxic means that it can’t really be digested even though it’s more or less safe to eat; edible means that your body will process it as it would any normal food and it won’t cause you any harm. The items on our list are all non-toxic in that they won’t kill you or cause you any lasting gastrointestinal damage. That said, we wouldn’t advise actually eating any of this stuff, but you can.
As you go through life, looking at things like paper napkins and wondering if it would be worth it to grab a few to eat for dessert later, there are a couple things to keep in mind: One, does it contain any harmful chemicals? Two, is it made out of plastic, cellulose, or other non-digestible materials? (That’s not necessarily a bad thing.) Three, is it sharp? And four, most importantly, is this a smart thing to do?
So if you should decide that eating some Elmer’s glue is a prudent move, more power to you. Just don’t eat the whole bottle.
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What Is Pica?
Pica is an eating disorder in which a person eats things not usually considered food. Young kids often put non-food items (like grass or toys) in their mouths because they’re curious about the world around them. But kids with pica (PIE-kuh) go beyond that. Sometimes they eat things that can lead to health problems.
What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Pica?
People with pica crave and eat non-food items such as:
- paint chips
- feces (poop)
Health problems can happen in kids with pica, depending on what they eat. These can include:
- iron-deficiency anemia
- lead poisoning, from eating dirt or paint chips with lead
- constipation or diarrhea, from eating things the body can’t digest (like hair)
- intestinal infections, from eating soil or poop that has parasites or worms
- intestinal obstruction, from eating things that block the intestines
- mouth or teeth injuries
What Causes Pica?
Doctors don’t know exactly what causes pica. But it’s more common in people with:
- developmental problems, such as autism or intellectual disabilities
- mental health problems, like obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or schizophrenia
- malnutrition or hunger. Non-food items might help give a feeling of fullness. Low levels of nutrients like iron or zinc might trigger specific cravings.
- stress. Pica is often seen in kids living in poverty, or in those who’ve been abused or neglected.
Most cases of pica happen in young children and pregnant women. It’s normal for kids up to 2 years old to put things in their mouth. So the behavior isn’t usually considered a disorder unless a child is older than 2.
Pica usually improves as kids get older. But for people with developmental or mental health concerns, it can still be a problem later in life.
How Is Pica Diagnosed?
Doctors might think it’s pica if a child eats non-food items and:
- has been doing so for least 1 month
- the behavior isn’t normal for the child’s age or developmental stage
- the child has risk factors for pica, such as a developmental disability
Doctors also might:
- check for anemia or other nutrition problems
- test lead levels in the blood
- do stool tests to check for parasites
- order X-rays or other imaging tests to find out what the child ate or to look for bowel problems, such as a blockage
How Is Pica Treated?
Doctors can help parents manage and stop pica-related behaviors. For example, they can work with parents on ways to prevent kids from getting the non-food things they eat. They may recommend childproof locks and high shelving to keep items out of reach.
Some kids with pica need help from a psychologist or other mental health professional. If these treatments do not work, doctors can also prescribe medicines.
What Else Should I Know?
- If your child is at risk for pica, or you see signs that worry you, talk to your doctor.
- If your child might have eaten something harmful, get medical care right away or call Poison Control at (800) 222-1222.
Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD Date reviewed: November 2019
Reading Time: 6 minutes
The word “pica” is Latin for magpie—a bird known for eating almost anything. Therefore, the pica eating disorder causes individuals to consume non-food items.
Featured on TV shows such as My Strange Addiction and The Woman Who Ate a House, pica is an alarming and dangerous disorder. Moreover, pica disorder can result in serious medical conditions, such as anemia, intestinal blockages, and other life-threatening issues.
Most often, pica often manifests in individuals with other mental health conditions. In fact, 10 to 15 percent of people with mental disabilities and developmental issues also have pica.
Furthermore, pregnancy sometimes causes pica cravings.
What Is The Pica Eating Disorder?
Pica is an eating disorder that involves eating items that are not considered edible. Moreover, these items do not contain significant nutritional value. (However, eating foods or drinks that have little or no nutritional value is not a symptom of pica.)
A person with pica may experience cravings for any of the following non-food items:
- Dirt and sand
- Paint chips
- Pencil erasers
- Soap and laundry starch
- Talcum powder
- Metal and wire
- Pebbles and stones
- Vinyl gloves
- Burnt matches
- Cigarette butts
- Coffee grounds
- Feces, including animal droppings.
Pica can affect children, teens, and adults. In children, it affects boys and girls equally. Worldwide, 20 percent of cases involve pregnant women.
Moreover, small children represent 25 to 33 percent of all pica cases. But doctors don’t diagnose pica in children younger than two years old. That’s because attempting to eat non-food items is a normal part of childhood development among infants and babies.
Once an expert detects pica symptoms, the next step is diagnosis. However, no laboratory tests for pica currently exist. Therefore, healthcare professionals apply the following criteria listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition.
Behavior lasts for one month: The individual persistently consumes substances that are not food and do not provide nutritional value for a time period of at least one month.
Ingestion of non-food objects is not part of the person’s culture: Some cultures promote the consumption of non-food substances. For example, among Australian aborigines, young women were traditionally encouraged to eat clay to enhance their fertility. Therefore, this practice is considered normal within that society. In fact, geophagia (deliberate consumption of earth, soil or clay) is common pica among many tribe-oriented societies. However, such behaviors have diminished with increased health education and access to medical care.
Pica is developmentally inappropriate: As stated above, young children tend to put non-food items in their mouth as a normal part of development. Such behavior is a way for children to explore their world and their senses. As a result, they may ingest inedible material. However, this does not mean that they have pica.
Why Pica Can Be Deadly
Pica symptoms can have dangerous and even deadly effects. A study from the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project (HCUP) Statistical Briefs found that hospitalizations for pica increased by 93 percent between 1999 and 2009. Hence, this was the highest increase during that time of hospitalizations due to an eating disorder.
Therefore, after making a pica diagnosis, physicians should administer a medical examination and a series of tests. Such tests may include abdominal x-rays, barium exams to view the upper and lower gastrointestinal tracts, blood tests for anemia, and an upper endoscopy to determine whether there is any esophageal or intestinal damage.
Subsequently, doctors may repeat these exams at regular intervals. Hence, physicians can track any changes in the location or effects of ingested materials.
Medical Complications as a Result of Pica
Once an individual receives a pica diagnosis, medical professionals will check for the following conditions:
- Pica anemia—an iron deficiency that can cause pica cravings
- Intestinal blockages or constipation as a result of objects that are difficult to digest, such as pebbles or metal
- Tears in the lining of the esophagus or intestines caused by hard or sharp objects, including paper clips or metal scraps
- Lead poisoning, which can lead to kidney damage and cognitive delays, as a result of eating paint or other lead-containing substances
- Bacteria and parasites from ingested dirt, which can cause infections, subsequently damaging the kidneys or liver
- Gastric pain and bleeding as a result of sand and soil in the digestive system
- Abnormal wear on teeth from chewing ice
- Nutritional deficiencies that may occur when pica interferes with eating healthy food.
What Causes Pica?
Iron-deficiency anemia and malnutrition are two of the most common pica causes. Thus, pica cravings are signs that the body is seeking additional nutrients. In these cases, vitamins, supplements, and a healthy diet can therefore correct pica.
However, when no nutritional deficiency exists, it’s harder to pin down the causes of pica. Often, people with pica also have other mental health disorders, including schizophrenia and obsessive-compulsive disorder. In addition, pica symptoms sometimes increase when an individual is experiencing extreme stress and anxiety.
Many pica eating disorders begin in childhood and relate to childhood experiences. As the person ages, they choose to eat non-food items that are connected to their childhood and their childhood home. Experts theorize that this type of pica may be caused by childhood trauma. Thus, the person strives to find a way back to the childhood that they lost due to their traumatic experiences.
Moreover, experts have found a link between pica and decreased activity of the dopamine system in the brain. Hence, some researchers believe that abnormally low levels of dopamine in the brain can cause pica.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter—a chemical that helps to relay nerve impulses from one cell to another.
Pica in Pregnancy
Pica is also more common in pregnancy. Worldwide, about 28 percent of pregnant women experience pica during and just after pregnancy. Often, pica cravings begin during the first trimester.
According to the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, pica in pregnancy may be the result of an iron deficiency. Therefore, pica cravings are the body’s attempt to obtain missing vitamins and minerals.
The most common non-food substances that women crave during pregnancy are dirt, clay, and laundry starch. However, pregnant women who experience non-food cravings should only be diagnosed with pica if their cravings cause them to actually ingest non-food items.
As a result of pica, pregnant women may be vulnerable to medical risks. Eating non-food substances can be harmful to both expecting women and their fetuses. For example, pica can interfere with the absorption of nutrients in healthy food. Hence, it can cause a nutritional deficiency.
Moreover, pica during pregnancy is dangerous because non-food items may contain toxic or parasitic ingredients that negatively affect both mother and baby.
Pica and Mental Health Disorders
Individuals with pica often have mental health disorders that result in impaired functioning. These disorders include developmental disabilities, brain damage, autism spectrum disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and schizophrenia. Hence, these co-occurring conditions can make treatment for pica more difficult.
In addition, pica is associated with trichotillomania (hair-pulling disorder) and excoriation (skin-picking) disorder. Furthermore, people with epilepsy may be more likely to have pica.
As a result, up to 26 percent of institutionalized individuals may have pica, according to the National Eating Disorders Association. In addition, as many as one in five children who are admitted to mental health clinics in the United States have pica disorder.
Treatment for Pica
First, people diagnosed with pica need medical care to correct any nutritional deficits or other physical issues caused by the condition. Moreover, surgery may be necessary to remove metal objects from a patient’s digestive tract or to repair other injuries.
In the best-case scenario, pica symptoms will disappear after the individual receives nutritional treatment. However, sometimes the pica behaviors are not caused by malnutrition and don’t stop after nutritional treatment. Therefore, behavioral interventions are the next step.
This treatment is especially effective with children. Hence, children with pica are taught which foods are edible and which foods cannot be eaten through the use of positive reinforcement.
Moreover, this approach can work well for those with autism spectrum disorder. For example, treatment would include directing the person’s attention away from the desired object. In addition, they would receive a reward for discarding the non-food item.
Fortunately, pica improves by itself in most young children and pregnant women. However, untreated pica can persist for many years, particularly for individuals with developmental disabilities.
In conclusion, greater awareness is needed around pica eating disorder and its symptoms, causes, and treatment. Hence, more people can be protected from the harmful side effects of this condition, and set off on the path to healing.
Images courtesy of unsplash
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Why are some people addicted to eating substances that are not food? The answer is that they may have an eating disorder known as pica. A common characteristic of the disorder is the consistent consumption of non-nutritive substances for at least one month.
There are several reasons why a person may be demonstrating behaviors associated with pica- it could be a chemical imbalance, a nutritional deficiency such as an iron deficiency or an obsessive compulsive disorder.
Pica-related behaviors should be addressed immediately because of the risk of complications that can occur. Individuals could expose themselves to serious infections and medical conditions such as parasitic infestations, ulcers, intestinal obstructions and tooth abrasions.
Symptoms and complications that are commonly linked with pica can include:
- Eating sand or soil, this potentially leads to gastric pain and bleeding.
- Consuming clay, which may cause constipation.
- Ingesting paint, could put a person at risk for contracting lead poisoning
- Eating metal objects, this could lead to bowel perforation.
Some people are more likely than others to be subject to this eating disorder. These individuals may include:
- Pregnant women (Pica is most common in women with their first pregnancy; they may crave items such as ice or chalk).
- 10 to 32 percent of children between the ages of one to six.
- Adults with OCD or schizophrenia.
- People who are malnourished.
- Individuals who are mentally or developmentally disabled.
There are several approaches that can be exercised in the treatment of pica. Treatment depends on the diagnosis. A physician may run blood tests to determine if the reason for the disorder may be a result of a nutritional deficiency. If this is the case, nutrients that are lacking are supplemented. Another approach may be therapy to address mental health or environmental health issues. It is recommended that a resolution be sought immediately because if left untreated pica can persist for years and may cause irreversible damage.
All content of this newsletter is intended for general information purposes only and is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult a medical professional before adopting any of the suggestions on this page. You must never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking medical treatment based upon any content of this newsletter. PROMPTLY CONSULT YOUR PHYSICIAN OR CALL 911 IF YOU BELIEVE YOU HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY.
Thousands of people are sharing chalk-eating videos on Instagram. Marie C Fields/
- Thousands of people are taking to Instagram to share videos of themselves eating chalk in the latest subgenre of ASMR.
- Those who crave materials that aren’t normally considered food, such as chalk or glue, may be experiencing a medical condition known as pica.
- Pica is an eating disorder that can be triggered by stress, obsessive-compulsive disorder, nutrient deficiency, or even pregnancy.
A new genre of ASMR content has thousands of Instagrammers chewing, and sometimes swallowing, chalk.
Uncovered by Motherboard, the activity is almost exclusively partaken by women. At the time of publishing, the #chalkeating hashtag has racked up over 72,100 Instagram posts, whereas the #chalkasmr tag has garnered more than 34,600 posts.
Read more: Inside the massive internet community that’s obsessed with ‘brain-tingling’ sounds
As you might have imagined, chalk isn’t made for eating. Although the material is not toxic, the US National Library of Medicine warns that ingesting large quantities of the material can result in digestion issues like constipation, abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting, as well as coughing and shortness of breath.
It’s worth noting, though, that not everybody on board with the trend has simply adopted herd mentality; there’s a medical condition that involves a person craving materials that aren’t normally considered “food”— such as glue, clay, and paper — for extended periods of time.
Called pica, it is an eating disorder that can be triggered by stress, obsessive-compulsive disorder, nutrient deficiency, or even pregnancy.
Instagram user, lovepicaasmr, who said they have pica, told Motherboard that their hankering for chalk began at the age of three, but they don’t swallow the material.
Others, like user tasteetastetastik, said that they chew chalk for stress relief, despite being aware of the health risks attached to the activity.
“It does give me some peace while I’m chewing it… I don’t always ‘eat’ , not all of us do. Although it is technically edible, too much of it will mess with your bowels and digestion.”
The activity isn’t healthy, but it’s important to note that not every chalk-eater has picked up the habit simply because thousands of people are doing it. If you or anyone you know has an eating disorder, resources can be found on the National Eating Disorder Association website. Confidential assistance is also available via its toll-free helpline at 1-800-931-2237.
Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more.
Pica: The Eating Disorder That’s Not About Food
Many people have odd food cravings now and again, but imagine wanting to eat soil, vinyl gloves, even burned matches. These are just some of the non-food cravings experienced by those with the eating disorder pica.
Pica got its name from the Latin word for magpie, a bird that eats just about anything. “Pica is an eating disorder that involves the consumption of substances that have little or no nutritional value for a period of at least one month in individuals who are older than 18 to 24 months,” explains Suzanne Lugerner, RN, director of clinical nutrition at Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C.
Pica: Who Is Affected?
This non-food cravings eating disorder can be found in 10 percent to 32 percent of children between the ages of 1 and 6, according to the National Library of Medicine. These youngsters will eat paint, plaster, string, hair, and cloth. Older children consume anything from animal droppings, sand, and insects to leaves, pebbles, and cigarette butts. Teens and adults most commonly eat clay or soil, though people have been found to ingest lead, laundry starch, plastic, pencil erasers, ice, fingernails, paper, coal, chalk, wood, plaster, light bulbs, needles, string, and wire.
Among mentally and developmentally disabled people, especially those ages 10 to 20, pica is the most common eating disorder and is found in 20 percent of children treated at mental health clinics.
Among adults, pica can start during the first trimester of pregnancy, but there are other people who have it as well. “It has been associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder and schizophrenia,” says Lugerner. “And the ingestion of dirt or clay has been reported throughout the world in poor societies, in the tropics and subtropics.”
Strange cravings can sometimes be triggered by not getting enough nutrients, including iron and zinc. Still other people with pica simply desire a specific texture in their mouth.
No one really knows exactly how common it is, as many patients are probably too embarrassed to discuss the behavior.
Pica: The Symptoms
Symptoms of pica are generally related to what’s been ingested. These substances may contain poisons, toxic chemicals, or bacteria.
Once eaten, they can damage the gastrointestinal tract, and that can result in bowel problems, ulcerations, perforations, or obstructions, says Lugerner.
Pica: The Treatment
Certain tests can be a good start toward determining treatment, including hemoglobin to check for anemia, lead levels if paint or objects coated with lead paint have been consumed, and gastrointestinal tests to rule out infection in the case of soil or animal waste being ingested. As a first step, treatment should replace missing nutrients if applicable and address any other health issues.
Looking at the bigger picture, a multi-faceted approach including developmental, behavioral, and environmental therapy along with family education is often recommended. Sometimes treatment can succeed when the individual experiences negative consequences after eating a non-food substance, and then gets positive reinforcement for consuming proper food.
Pica: The Prognosis
Ultimately the prognosis depends on a variety of factors. Pica may stop spontaneously in children and pregnant women, but can go on for years in people with mental and developmental disabilities unless treatment is sought. In the case of those with special needs, sometimes medication can be used to lessen the pica eating. Regardless of the root cause, seeking a doctor’s help is key to starting the road to recovery.
Ask Sam letter
Having thoughts or cravings about eating things that aren’t food is called Pica. It can be hard to understand why you want to eat things that don’t have any nutritional value and aren’t needed by your body. Whatever type of craving you’re having it’s important to see your doctor to work out what’s causing it.
Eating non-food items can be dangerous as they can be toxic to your body or could harm you in other ways like causing an infection or by causing damage your teeth. Food cravings of any type, including craving eating things that aren’t food, can sometimes be caused by a lack of something in your body, like being iron deficient or because of changes in your body like hormone changes. At other times they might be connected with how you’re feeling or can be related to other problems with eating.
If you have a urge to eat something that’s not food you should talk to a trusted adult, like a parent, carer, school nurse or contact a counsellor at Childline for support and help. If you or someone you know is worried about having eaten something that isn’t supposed to be eaten, you should always get medical help by calling NHS 111 or going to the Accident and Emergency department at your local hospital.
Sometimes a person on the autism spectrum might experience pica, and that could be for different reasons – like not understanding which items aren’t edible or wanting to find out about the texture or the taste of something.
I hope this advice has helped and remember that help and support is available from our counsellors if you want to talk.
Pica: Eating Things That Aren’t Food
Dogs and humans often differ on the question of what constitutes food. For canines, half-rotten chicken meat? Check. Horse poop? Check. But even though people think they’re disgusting, horse poop and stinky meat do qualify as edibles for dogs. They may cause indigestion, but eating them isn’t abnormal.
The condition known as pica – habitually eating nonedible items — is another story. Something’s wrong when your dog ingests rocks, dirt, light bulbs, coins, tennis balls, or your underwear. This week, what’s up with pica, and what to do about it.
If your dog has pica, the first thing on your to-do list is a visit to the vet. Possible medical causes for pica include scary things like brain lesions, exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, and portosystemic shunt, an abnormality of the circulatory system that can destroy the liver. And there are more. Even if it’s unlikely that your dog has such a serious condition, best to make sure. If Dogalini is sick, she needs treatment. Besides, behavior modification won’t work very well if her pica arises from a physical illness.
If your dog eats weird things, your first stop is the vet’s office – a serious health condition may be the cause.
Okay, you’ve been to the vet and your dog gets a clean bill of health. Whew! But she’s still trying to swallow rocks and eat the foam stuffing out of her bed. Let’s take a look at 4 possible reasons why:
Reason #1: Anxiety and Boredom
Anxiety leads to plenty of weird behaviors, in animals as well as in people (nail biting, anyone?). Suppose your dog has signs of separation anxiety, and also eats plastic bags, but only when she’s alone. It’s a good bet that the two are connected, and that treating one will treat the other too. (Put the plastic bags out of reach, regardless.)
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