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The Woman Who Ate 4,000 Washing-Up Sponges

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Due to a rare disorder, Kerry Trebilock, 21, has eaten her way through 4,000 washing-up sponges and more than 100 bars of soap.

The dental nurse from Cornwall suffers from pica, a condition that drives people to eat inedible objects.

Trebilock spices up her tasteless snacks with sauces and dips such as mustard, BBQ sauce and ketchup - or jam and honey for a sweet fix.

She told The Sun: "I have been very particular about the type of sponges and soaps I'd eat and how I'd prepare them.

"If I went out for the day I'd carry a small plastic bag of cut-up pieces of sponge with some tomato and BBQ sauce in Tupperware. I was never without a 'snack'."

She added: "The sauces and dipping the sponges in drinks softened them -- and I'd chew them until the flavour was gone. Then I would swallow the sponge."

At one point the 21-year-old was eating up to five sponges a day. As a result she has endured painful stomach cramps, constipation and diarrhea.

She has since cut down to one square-inch of sponge and three teaspoons of organic soap with every meal and is battling the condition through counselling.

"One day I will beat this and be able to have a shower or do the washing-up without feeling hungry."

Trebilock's condition was triggered after a holiday to Morroco in 2008 where she was infected by hookworm, an intestinal parasite.

What is pica?
Pica sufferers feel compelled to eat inedible object such as stones, clothing, cigarette butts and even faeces.

What causes the condition?
The specific causes of pica are unknown due to extremely limited research, although the condition has been linked with mental health problems and deficiencies including iron and zinc.

Who is at risk?
  • People with learning disabilities*
  • Those with autism
  • People nutritional deficiencies
  • Pregnant women

*It is estimated that 4-26% of individuals with learning disability display pica traits and it is thought the more severe the individual's learning disability the greater their risk of pica.

What are the health risks?
Although some objects may pass harmlessly through the body, pica can be potentially life threatening. Surgery may be needed if an object needs to be removed from the digestive system.

Risks include:
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Infections
  • Blockages in the gut and intestine
  • Choking
  • Poisoning
  • Intestinal tissue damage

How to treat Pica
If you or someone you know is displaying the symptoms of Pica, The Challenging Behaviour Foundation suggests the following steps:

  • Request a general health check from your GP to eliminate medical problems as the cause of the condition.
  • Request a blood test from your GP to screen for deficiencies in iron and zinc.
  • Request a mental health assessment from your GP.
  • Ask your GP for a referral to a clinical psychologist or behavioural specialist for an assessment of pica behaviour and an intervention plan to help reduce or eliminate pica behaviour.
  • In the meantime, manage the sufferer's environment by keeping the desired non-edible foods out of reach.
  • Keep a record of the person's attempts to eat inedible objects: What do they try to eat? Under what circumstances?
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