hand-grasping-paper-scrapsPica is an eating disorder characterized by the desire to eat non-food substances such as paper, dirt, or hair. Because temporary periods of eating inappropriate objects are common in childhood, symptoms must be present for more than a month and must not be developmentally appropriate. A one-year-old who occasionally eats dirt, for example, does not qualify for a diagnosis of pica.

Causes of Pica

A number of factors can cause a person to develop pica. Occasionally, the condition is caused by an underlying nutritional deficiency. Iron deficiency in particular can cause people to crave non-nutritive substances that contain iron. Pregnant women occasionally experience pica; hormonal changes and the increased need for certain nutrients can cause women to crave unusual items, including non-foods. Pica can be a symptom of autism, schizophrenia, or obsessive-compulsive disorder. However, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) explains that when pica co-occurs with either autism or schizophrenia, pica should not be a separate diagnosis.

Some cultures also sanction periods of pica. For example, a person might eat a shard of glass as part of a religious issue. The DSM does not consider culturally and religiously-sanctioned eating of non-nutritive items to be symptomatic of pica.

Treatment for Pica

When pica co-occurs with autism or schizophrenia, clinicians typically focus on treating the underlying condition, rather than the pica itself. When a person endangers his or herself with pica by eating dangerous items such as lead, caregivers may need to institute behavioral controls to keep the person safe until the symptom is better-controlled.

Because sudden bouts of pica may indicate a mineral deficiency, physicians may perform blood work to uncover nutritional deficits. They may recommend certain foods or multivitamins. Brief periods of pica in children do not warrant treatment, but may require close supervision to ensure that children remain safe. Persistent pica in childhood, or the desire to eat only non-food items, may warrant a diagnosis.


  1. Audesirk, T., Audesirk, G., & Byers, B. E. (2008). Biology: Life on earth with physiology. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.
  2. Pica. (n.d.). Kids Health. Retrieved from http://kidshealth.org/parent/emotions/behavior/pica.html

Last Updated: 08-17-2015

  • Leave a Comment
  • shammah

    June 20th, 2018 at 6:59 AM

    i eat paper and tissues i need help please

  • The GoodTherapy.org Team

    June 20th, 2018 at 7:52 AM

    Dear shammah,

    If you would like to consult with a mental health professional, please feel free to return to our homepage, http://www.goodtherapy.org/, and enter your zip code into the search field to find therapists in your area.

    Once you enter your information, you’ll be directed to a list of therapists and counselors who meet your criteria. From this list you can click to view our members’ full profiles and contact the therapists themselves for more information. You are also welcome to call us for assistance finding a therapist. We are in the office Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Pacific Time; our phone number is 888-563-2112 ext. 1.

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  • Hafsa

    January 28th, 2021 at 4:32 AM

    I eat clay pots

  • Caila

    April 21st, 2022 at 4:09 PM

    When I was about to start high school I developed a bad habit of chewing on dryer sheets. Do have any behavioral advice On how to stop

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