Thank you for your question! One potential reason behind the chronic eating of sand is pica, an eating disorder in which people compulsively eat substances that are not food and do not have nutritional value. “Pica” is the medieval Latin word for “magpie,” a bird known for its unusual eating habits. The disorder is fairly common, treatable, and nothing to be embarrassed about.
People with pica may eat sand, soil, coffee grounds, paper, hair, ice, soap, and/or many more non-food items. Anyone can be diagnosed with pica, but it’s most commonly found in people with anemia or iron deficiencies, people who are pregnant, and people with developmental disorders such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or schizophrenia. For people with pica, eating the non-food item(s) is a compulsive behavior – they feel like they need to do it, and may have a hard time stopping themselves from doing it.
To receive a diagnosis, a person must have a history of at least 1 month of chronic, compulsive eating of the non-food item. In addition, there must be no cultural or social norms around eating the non-food item, and the person eating the non-food item must be developmentally aware that what they’re eating isn’t food (it’s common for children under the age of 2 to put different things in their mouths, but most people stop doing this behavior as they grow).
If you are concerned or feel that you match the criteria listed, you should definitely talk to your health care provider (HCP). Pica can have a range of negative effects on your body depending on what items you are eating, and your provider will be able to help you find treatment!