Pica is a disorder defined as an abnormal appetite or craving for substances that are not fit to eat, as chalk or clay. The disorder is fairly common in young children, with rates from 10% to 32% in children from one to six years old. Pica that lasts into adulthood, however, is far less common.
For 23-year-old Emma Thompson, the desire to eat strange things is as strong as ever. Her inedible snack of choice is sponges. To make matters even stranger, she soaks the sponges in apple-flavored Fairy liquid (an English brand of dish soap) and removes the rough scouring pad side before ingesting them.
The Daily Mail reported that Thompson spends £6 (about $9.26 in U.S. dollars) on sponges and eats up to 20 a day. She defended her strange pleasure, likening it to a number of other habits people would consider “common.”
She said, “I enjoy the taste of [sponges], I enjoy it more than food. Some people go out for a steak, I would rather go out for a sponge. It’s a guilty pleasure, some people smoke – I eat sponges. It’s not a dirty habit, it’s a clean [one]. My friends takes the mick out of me and say: ‘Are we going to have sponge and chips for tea?.’ I chew it and sometimes I swallow it. I like the smell and taste of the washing up liquid on the sponge. It tastes like apples, it’s quite foamy. My mouth gets full of foam.”
Thompson explains how her fixation with sponges started at three years of age and slowly grew into the full-blown obsession that it is today. According to Thompson, it wasn’t until two years ago that she finally broke down and decided to try eating sponges.
She explains how eating sponges is linked to her stress level. When stressed, she says she can eat well over 20. This highlights the fact that pica is technically classified as a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder. The compulsion of eating sponges fulfills her obsession to, thus making her feel calm and in control, just like it would for someone who is obsessed with washing their hands. (See video below)
Luckily for Thompson, she has had relatively few health problems from her pica, unlike many who experience the disorder. One minor case of tonsillitis is all the young woman has suffered so far due to her addiction.She has been warned, however, of the possibly deleterious effects that eating sponges could have. Her habit could potentially seriously damage her digestive system and the chemicals contained in the dish soap may have negative effects on her in the long run.Still, for now, it seems Thompson is safe to keep indulging in her daily vice. And if you feel tempted to judge her for it, just remember that no one is perfect, and that we all have our strange habits. Some are just more comfortable with themselves and their daily rituals than others.