Meet the woman who's addicted to eating chalk and cigarette butts
When you really think about it, people have all kinds of weird habits that we find socially acceptable. Some people bite their nails, or chew their hair, or shred tissue paper, and most of the time's it's pretty weird (maybe even irritating) but ultimately harmless. However, some people take this too far and develop pica - a disorder in which they are compelled to ingest substances which aren't food. For example, a woman who hails from Barnsley in England has recently opened up about her addiction to eating chalk and cigarette butts in a new interview.
Karen Kaheni, who has been blind since the age of 12, now eats around 250g of chalk each week, and first developed the craving in 1997 during her second pregnancy. Ashamed of her habit, Karen kept it from her partner Andrew and her daughters; spending her nights chewing in secret when she was alone. This terrible diet had ended up giving her digestive problems, and when this became overwhelming, she was forced to come clean to her family about her bad habit.
Commenting on her obsessive cravings, Karen stated: "It’s really embarrassing and I have no idea what triggered it. It isn’t so much the taste of the cigarette butts or the chalk that I like – it’s more the texture and the crunch. Now though, my cravings are so strong that when I run out of chalk or don’t have a cigarette at hand, I get quite agitated and my mouth begins to water ... I had quite a late pregnancy and towards the last few weeks, I remember getting this massive urge to grind my teeth on something hard and chalky. I’d find myself fantasising about the old blackboard chalk that we had at school."
She added: "Because of my blindness I have to be very careful where I put my fag ends, so I don’t burn the house down. I usually put them in a little tin filled with water, so that they immediately extinguish. But, one night while I was watching telly, I just thought, ‘Why not give eating one a try?' Again, it was the texture more than anything I was after. The taste was pretty disgusting – very bitter and salty – but I liked the crunch of them in my mouth."
"I don’t really want to tell people about it, especially not doctors, so now only my close family and a few friends know. I did recently discover a Facebook page for people with Pica and that has been really useful for me ... It’s nice to know that it isn’t just me and there are other people out there with the same problem. It makes me feel like less of a weirdo – less like I’m going mad."
Karen has managed to cut down on the amount of cigarette butts she consumes thanks to her family's health, and has now found a website selling edible natural chalk imported from Russia which she can eat to her heart’s content. However, she's still worried about the toll her addiction is taking on her personal health. If you're worried that you or someone you know might have developed pica, then please visit the official website of the National Eating Disorders Association.