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Pica Eating Disorder in Teens


teenager with eating disorder

Pica is listed as a mental health disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), and more specifically is included in the cluster of diagnoses known as feeding and eating disorders (e.g. binge eating disorder, anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, etc.). Feeding and eating disorders are characterized by persistent disturbances in eating behaviors. Pica is defined in the DSM-5 as a compulsive eating disorder that includes “eating non-nutritive, non-food substances over a period of at least one month.” Pica is a relatively rare condition that is more common in children than adults. In situations where pica persists into adolescence it could be the secondary manifestation of another psychiatric condition (e.g. autism spectrum disorder, schizophrenia, intellectual disability, avoidant/ restrictive food intake disorder, etc.). The severity of pica can range from mind to severe. 


The primary symptom of pica is the compulsive consumption of nonfood items. Examples of items people with pica may regularly eat could include the following, as provided by Healthline:

  • Dirt
  • Sand
  • Clay
  • Soap
  • Ice
  • Buttons
  • Hair
  • Paint
  • Unused remainder of a cigarette
  • Glue
  • Chalk
  • Feces
  • Rocks 
  • Cigarette ashes
  • Glass 
  • Laundry detergent
  • Other nonfood items

Additional symptoms that present will directly relate to the nonfood items the young person has consumed. The American Academy of Family Physicians include the following symptoms of pica: 

  • Stomach pain
  • Blood in the stool which could be a sign of an ulcer that developed from eating nonfood items
  • Lead poisoning from eating chips of pain that contain lead
  • Bowel problems (e.g. diarrhea, constipation, etc.)
  • Upset stomach
  • Infections from organisms and parasites that get inside the body and cause disease
  • Dental injury
  • An intestinal blockage or tear from eating hard objects (e.g. rocks)

If left untreated, pica could lead to serious medical complications, such as acute weight loss, gastrointestinal injury, malnutrition, and/ or poisoning. 


At Pacific Teen Treatment, we offer a residential treatment program, and create customized treatment plans for each of our residents. In addition to the various therapeutic treatment modalities (cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, talk therapy, expressive arts therapy, relaxation techniques…etc.), young people struggling with eating disorders will receive additional specialized care. The goal is to help the young person find a healthy and sustainable relationship with food. Each teenager is different and will require a nuanced treatment plan. Depending on the teen’s specific needs Pacific Teen Treatment offers regular meetings with a nutritionist, daily meal plans, meal buddies, post meal one-on-one meeting, and more. In some cases disordered eating behaviors present as a physical manifestation of other mental and/ or emotional struggles. Taking advantage of the free consultation that we offer at Pacific Teen Treatment can be very helpful in a parent’s search for obtaining the proper support and guidance for their struggling teenager. 

For Information and Support

Seeking help is never easy, but you are not alone! If you or someone you know is in need of mental health treatment, we strongly encourage you to reach out for help as quickly as possible. It is not uncommon for many mental health difficulties to impact a person for the long term. The earlier you seek support, the sooner you and your loved ones can return to happy, healthy and fulfilling lives.

Our admissions team is available to answer any general questions regarding mental health issues, treatment, and/or specific questions about the program at Pacific Teen Treatment and how we might be able to help your family. We can be reached by phone 24/7 at 800-531-5769. You can also contact us via email at

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