Geophagy: A Special Kind of Pica Eating Disorder

soil in hand

Pica eating disorder is the habit of eating non-food items that usually have no nutritional value. While a lot of children can try non-food items out of curiosity, the condition can have a medical significance.

People who suffer from Pica can eat chalk, coal, paint, soap or even animal feces. But the most widely spread kind of Pica is eating mud, clay or dirt. This subcategory known as Geophagy pica is very common among children and adults. It is even practiced as a ritual in several parts of the world.

Geophagy in History:

A lot of cultures worldwide have practiced Geophagy. Native Americans and the Ancient Greeks ate clay and dirt as a ritual probably to express their connection to the land or to show that they are a part of their homeland.

In Africa, the habit of eating dirt was mostly practiced by pregnant women. It even became an obvious sign of pregnancy. If a woman starts craving or eating dirt, then she is most likely expecting a baby. In regions that lacked proper medical care and assistance, the natives associated this weird craving with having babies. This means that women would eat dirt even if they didn’t want to, just to make sure that they are having a healthy pregnancy.

Immigrants from Africa to the United States have brought these habits with them. This is why eating dirt is more common in black women as a ritual they inherited from their African ancestors.

Is it All Bad?

Although Geophagy is a subcategory of Pica and is considered an eating disorder, some doctors and nutritionists admit that it can actually be good. First of all, the clay or dirt has bonding traits. This means that clay can absorb the toxins that pregnant women might accidentally consume. Clay is usually very good at binding with plant toxins. As a matter of fact, many African tribes used to and still cook certain types of food like potatoes in clay because it is very good at absorbing tannic acids and toxic alkaloids that can affect pregnancy. Toxic alkaloids cause vomiting, diarrhea and even neurological problems. With the lack of essential medical assistance and proper cooking utensils, cooking food in clay can be a practical solution.

Doctors also admit that clay or dirt is rich in certain minerals that are very useful to pregnant women. African women usually suffer from malnutrition and usually have no access to supplements. Women would start consuming dirt the minute they realize that they are pregnant or even before that. They don’t just eat any type of dirt, but they want to make sure that they are picking the right type of earth to eat. It is more of a nutritional need that could actually help them enjoy a healthy pregnancy.

Earth is rich in almost all the minerals that the body needs to function. Ancient women, as well as modern ones, have resorted to eating clay to protect their unborn babies from harmful substances as well provide them with all the needed nutrients that are needed for the development of the fetus.


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