When you Google the word, “Acuphagia,” the first link you get is a Psychology Today blog post describing acuphagia as a subtype of pica. Pica is a condition, seen mostly in children with iron or zinc deficiencies or in the autistic population. It also occurs in pregnancy. The blog concludes that adults with acuphagia tend to have some sort of learning disability.
The second link is a Wikipedia entry for pica. Acuphagia is then listed as one of its subtypes. To quote: “Pica is a psychological disorder characterized by an appetite for substances that are largely non-nutritive, such as ice (pagophagia); hair (trichophagia); paper (xylophagia); drywall or paint; sharp objects (acuphagia); metal (metallophagia); stones (lithophagia) or soil (geophagia); glass (hyalophagia); feces (coprophagia); and chalk”.
Following this, Google spits out a list of case histories that
make acuphagia look like a veritable circus act, with little
attempt to understand why. A woman in New Delhi had 1.5kg
of metal items removed from her stomach. A young
died with 3.7kg of metal in his intestines. A woman in Pakistan
had surgery to remove 40 shaving blades and 508 sewing
machine needles from her digestive tract, which she said she
consumed “after a fight with her husband.”
In the US, a 54 year old woman required gastric surgery to
remove over 70 foreign bodies (weighing 5lbs), including
teaspoon handles, laundry clips, rubber seals, coins, nails,
necklace, earrings, chandelier crystals, and an iPhone cable.
Rarely was an explanation provided as to why these people
behaved in this way, though two of the above mentioned
articles, did propose that “…a combination of factors like
poverty, isolation, neglect and loneliness may have triggered
such a bizarre behavior”.
Indeed, what if swallowing sharp objects or harmful substances
were not caused by nutritional deficiencies, learning disabilities
or pregnancy? What if it were a psychiatric / emotional
condition? Like an eating disorder or self-harm?
One side effect listed in these cases of eating non-food objects was weigh loss. The ED population certainly contains individuals who might go to extremes to suppress appetite and prevent weight gain. And what about self-harm? Can it be expanded to include harming inside the body? After all, if the individuals engaging in this behavior have no learning disability, then they know that the action is harmful and dangerous.
Furthermore, these few reported cases of acuphagia are extreme and sensationalist. It would be like relating self-harm only to the few who hacked off a body part, while ignoring the millions who cut. What if there are masses of people with acuphagia and no reasonable information to turn to?
Right now there isn’t enough data on acuphagia, which is why we are building this community. We want people to tell us their stories and to share their motivations. Were you depressed, anxious, self-harming, suffering from PTSD, suicidal or emotionally hurting in some way? What did eating harmful things do for you? Did it help to alleviate your mental anguish?
Together we can increase awareness of a very private experience that is often shrouded in shame and secrecy. The more we learn about acuphagia, and the more we normalize it, the more support we can hopefully find.
If you'd like to share your story, you can either: