Mum's craving for a cup of dirt a day causes her to lose four teeth

Every day, mum-of-six Elizabeth Smith Leath, 31, eats a cup of dirt.

This is not due to some diet fad or a need to taste the dirt to check its quality for gardening.

Instead, Elizabeth sees this as a compulsion.

When the mum was 17, she was diagnosed with pica, an eating disorder characterised by eating non-food items, such as paint, plastic, and tissues.

She began eating dirt as a way to cope with stress, and found that her cravings were so intense she would down five cups of soil a day.

While she has cut back on her dirt consumption, satisfying those desires has come at a cost – Elizabeth has lost four of her teeth.

‘There’s no taste like it,’ said Elizabeth. ‘I went to a therapist who told me to grind up wheat thins and eat those because it’s a similar texture.

‘Sometimes it works until I get super stressed out.

‘I’m on medication to help manage it but I still get the cravings. I will go outside, get a cup full of dirt and just sit and chew on it.

‘If I can’t get dirt, I’ll eat sand because it’s the closest thing to it.

‘It’s messed up my teeth, they’ve really deteriorated, and I’ve lost four.

‘When I was really bad, I was on five cups a day.’

The stay-at-home mum, from Iowa Park, Texas, US, collects the dirt from her garden and eats it outside to keep the habit secret from her children, Dama and Jacob, 17, Sonia, 12, Solee, 11, Rosetta, 10, and Bella, four.

Although her children have never seen her eating dirt, Elizabeth fears that they’ll pick up on her habit as her youngest child, Bella, has started to eat ash.

Elizabeth said: ‘She’s got ADHD and it’s not uncommon for kids with ADHD to have pica.

‘I’m just thinking: here we go again.

‘I eat dirt to cope with stress but Bella isn’t in a stressful situation.

‘She’ll eat the ash out of an ashtray.

‘She’s the only one of my kids to eat non-food items.’

Elizabeth confessed her strange habit to husband Russel, 31, when they met at school.

Since then he has tried to help her quit eating dirt out of fears for her health – but the mum simply can’t stop.

‘I was diagnosed with bipolar first and when I was stressed, my coping mechanism was to go outside and eat dirt,’ she said.

‘I just couldn’t stop.

‘I didn’t tell anyone until I was 17 and my foster mum caught me and took me to a doctor.

‘I told my husband when we were at school and he caught me sat in dirt.

‘He wants me to stop because he’s worried I’ll have internal bleeding or something.

‘My youngest children don’t know but the oldest have figured it out.’

Eating disorder charity Beat says: ‘The reasons that people develop pica are not yet clear, although several scientists have linked it to the nervous system, and have understood it as a learned behaviour or coping mechanism.

‘In some cases, people with pica have been found to be deficient in certain minerals or vitamins, but this is often not the case.

‘The percentage of people who have it is not yet known, as different researchers may use different definitions of pica, leading to some confusion.’

If you are struggling with a compulsion to eat non-food items, talk to your GP or a psychologist for support.

The first line of treatment will generally involve testing for mineral or nutrient deficiencies and correcting those, before looking at the mental side of this eating disorder.

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