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An Under-Discussed Eating Disorder and What to Do if You Have It

Ivonne Scaglione

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Have you ever watched a video of someone eating dirt on Instagram? Or, have you watched a video on YouTube of someone swallowing chunks of clay? If you encountered these bizarre videos, there is more than pure nonsense. It’s an eating disorder called ”pica.” This illness causes an urge to eat nonfood substances such as dirt, clay, mud, chalk, cement, and bricks.

A person carrying a handful of  brown dirt.
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The term to describe the habit of eating earth matter is called ”geophagy.” About two million years ago, this practice began for cultural and medicinal purposes. Somehow humans figured out that clay stops diarrhea. The Greek island of Lemnos and a grotto in Bethlehem were both popular sites of medicinal clay in the 20th century. 

The origins of pica are also found in animal behavior. There is the possibility that humans could have imitated certain species that ate dirt. The Amazonian parrot is known for eating clay. A toxin called quinidine sulfate is found in some of the plants that these parrots eat. When the parrots consume the clay, it prevents them from absorbing this harmful substance. Baboons also eat dirt.

Dr. Young, author of the book ”Craving Earth: Understanding Pica: The Urge to Eat Clay, Starch, Ice, and Chalk,” states that baboons eat dirt to protect themselves from bacteria and parasites found in their bodies. 

Pica occurs all over the world, but it affects mostly women and children in developing countries. Especially, some pregnant women tend to crave earthy flavors which may place them at risk. When I was pregnant, I’ve experienced this unusual craving. I was recommended to eat edible red clay sold at the online store, Etsy.

I navigated the website clicking on my options: from Mississippi brown dirt to Georgia’s white dirt. None of these vendors guaranteed me that it was safe to ingest them. I ignored my strange craving with multivitamins until my daughter was born. But, women in the developing world find clay by their own means. 

In Kyrgyzstan, women seek their favorite clay in the Tien Shan Mountains. They firmly believe that this clay has medicinal purposes to cure anemia, and it works as a multivitamin for pregnant women. Could these women be diagnosed with pica? According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), they can’t.  

The DSM-5 indicates that a person should be diagnosed with pica if the two following criteria apply: a persistent need to eat nonfood substances for at least a month and the eating behavior is not part of cultural practices.

The latter one tells us that the women in Kyrgyzstan, due to cultural norms, shouldn’t be diagnosed with pica because they believe in the medicinal properties of clay. Nevertheless, doctors in this country don’t support this practice.

A giant orange mountain with some large pointy orange rocks on a sunny day.
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The most prominent cause of pica is iron deficiency. The National Eating Disorder Association asserts that people with this eating disorder lack essential vitamins and minerals, like iron and zinc. These minerals can be found in certain types of clay. But this pica is not limited to eating earthy substances.

The DSM-5 includes paper, soap, cloth, hair, string, wool, talcum powder, paint, and even metal as nonfood items ingested by people with this eating disorder.

When YouTube blogger Marta Riva was asked about the ingredients in the shortbread “cookies” she eats in her videos, she answered, “I made these cookies myself. They are porous and dry with the smell of rain and dust.” Marta added a drooling happy face and a thumbs up to her answer.

The shortbread “cookies” she referred to are made of halva clay. She has about 20.6k subscribers for her blog featuring videos of herself eating different types of clay. Her most viewed video has 70,000 views.

If you have pica, you can get any type of clay or any type of dirt through Instagram. You may choose among rose clay, white Turkestan, copper nakumatt, mini clay pots, magmitti, ruby red, Christmas clay, almond clay, ural clay, and several others. The price is about $16 for one pound. “I’m shipping on Wednesday, to New York, it will take three to five days,” said the Instagram user from California under the name of “ms.lovelycrunch.”

“You may order here,” answered another Instagram seller under the name of “new_yummyindianclays.” “It will take four to five days,” she added. Her profile bio says, “No refunds, No collect on delivery!”

Among the different types of dirt available on Instagram are Sedona red dirt, OG tan, grey dirt, Utah mountain dirt, red brick dirt, sunny white dirt, and even something called, “construction dirt.” Only a few of these videos specify that the earthy substances are not being swallowed. But the majority of these users seem to be swallowing the nonfood substances, including big pieces of chalk dipped in clay “paste.”

A person carrying blue, yellow, and red chalk in his or her hand.
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These aficionados describe their favorite earthy dishes as, “shortbread cookies with cream, dirt cupcakes, chocolate dirt popsicle, biscuits, clay muffin, clay cereal, and chalk bars.” Instagram user, “picaapeople_2019” provides instructions on her post: “bake the dirt for about eight hours at 200 degrees.” Unless it is a fallacy, I am assuming she does this for sterilization purposes. 

Other users with a more meticulous palate like to describe the taste. “Perfect crispy, earthy cement and dusty basement with great taste and smell of hot dry land splashed with water or shower rain,” says the user “limestone_cay” referring to her favorite clay, silver rose.

In another post, this same user describes the taste of Blackhall clay, “love the burnt wood and gas infused flavor. Earthy cement and metallic taste and it doesn’t stick! “As mentioned, if you ingest nonfood substances for at least a month and it’s not related to cultural practices, most likely, you’ll be diagnosed with pica. But this strange addiction doesn’t stop here.

Unfortunately, as you could’ve imagined, there are serious risk factors with the consumption of these substances. The DSM states that people with pica are usually diagnosed after they are hospitalized for bowel problems, intestinal obstruction, intestinal perforation, lead poisoning, and infections due to ingesting feces found in the dirt (toxoplasmosis and toxocariasis).

NEDA advises the public that people with pica can ingest hazardous chemicals. A challenge that professionals face is that people with pica often have a dual diagnosis. They usually have other mental disorders such as autism, schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and intellectual disabilities.

The good news is that there is treatment. “Treating this deficiency with medication or vitamins often resolves the problems,” NEDA indicates on its website.

Lots of small chunks of brown clay on the ground, along with lots of random pebbles next to it.
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Even though videos about people eating nonfood substances are widely available on Instagram and YouTube, it is important to be aware that there are serious health risks involving this illness. If you or someone you know are experiencing cravings of nonfood substances, you may seek help by calling a professional, either a doctor or a therapist.

The Recovery Village is an institution that has a 24-hour intake line for people with eating disorders. It has several centers around the United States, and besides outpatient treatment, it also offers teletherapy and online counseling.

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A Holiday Like No Other: 6 Ways to Have a Safe Thanksgiving in 2020

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Group of about 7 people celebrating Thanksgiving

Autumn has arrived, midterms are over, and Thanksgiving is right around the corner. It’s a well-deserved break, especially for college students, and a chance to travel back to your homes to spend time with loved ones. Only, there’s a catch. It’s Thanksgiving 2020. It’s Thanksgiving in the middle of a global pandemic.

With that said, it is important to be aware of the consequences of large gatherings as the holiday season quickly approaches. Here are a few tips on how you can plan a safer Thanksgiving. 

Follow the Usual Protocol

Wear your mask and limit social contact. Avoid unnecessary outings, such as dining in restaurants or going to the store when you don’t need to. Quarantine yourself and get tested if you’re experiencing symptoms, or were within close contact with someone with the virus.

Turn on your notifications

Depending on where you live, your phone can now alert you if you are exposed to the virus. Apple and Google have built software into the latest versions of iPhones and Android devices to detect people through Bluetooth. If you have an iPhone, go to Settings and turn on Exposure Notifications to use this feature, which will alert you to any potential contact with a person who has the virus. However, this only works when the people around you have their notifications on.

Spread of many apples and leaves out of the cornucopia basket
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Consider a Virtual Celebration

Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate and spend time with loved ones in a festive way. The CDC is discouraging Thanksgiving travel as cases continue to rise. Students who need to travel back home from campus can risk exposure in any type of public transport, be it airports, bus stations, or train stations. In addition, there’s no guarantee that all your guests follow COVID-safety guidelines, such as wearing masks and maintaining social distance.

One person can jeopardize everyone’s health. So why not ditch the risks and go virtual? It’s obviously not the same, but it’s Thanksgiving 2020.

The advancement of technology is at its peak and Zoom works well enough to do the trick. Drastic situations call for drastic measures.

Thanksgiving with Housemates

Again, ditch the risks of exposure in public transport, and host your own Thanksgiving with the people you are quarantining with. If you live off-campus with a couple of friends, this is a perfect time to host a Friendsgiving. However, it’s crucial that your housemates are following the COVID-guidelines for safety. Make sure that the gathering only consists of you and your housemates to limit your exposure to the virus.

Stay Outside and Limit the Gathering

As the weather becomes cooler, the United States is experiencing a spike in coronavirus cases. COVID-19 is making headlines once more as new cases soar above the thousands on the daily. Similar to influenza, COVID-19 survives longer in cold, dry air. People tend to stay inside during the cooler months, making themselves more vulnerable to the virus due to the restriction of air ventilation. If you insist on hosting or attending a gathering, make sure it’s small and held outside. 

A set dinner table, 5 plates set with dinner cloths wrapped on top, a variety of red and orange flowers in a vase on top the of the table
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Bring Your Own Food

Food is not a direct way to spread the virus, but it is still very much possible. Limit this possibility by encouraging your guests to bring their own food and drinks. This takes away from the traditional potluck Thanksgiving dinner, but at least you don’t have to eat the bland potato salad your aunt brings every year. It’s also wise to have a dry, ventilated bag to store the masks in while eating. Remember to also maintain social distancing as you dine. 

Everyone understands. Pandemic fatigue is real and the festive holiday season seems like a perfect way to unwind and get a little bit of a breather.

But before leaving the door without a mask on, take a moment and think: should you really gamble with the possibility of jeopardizing your health, and the health of your loved ones, for one gathering? Remember, Thanksgiving 2020 is a Thanksgiving like no other. It’s important to be cautious during these unprecedented times.

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How To Make A Smaller Thanksgiving Feast For Less Than 3 People

Mariah Olmstead

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A large Turkey float during the a parade in New York.
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On Thanksgiving, families across the U.S. gather in large numbers and eat a feast of delicious food. Family gatherings are a time to remember the old times, to have a laugh about a funny family member, and to reconnect. However, due to Covid-19 numbers rapidly growing, many families might have to consider cancelling large gatherings for the sake of everyone’s health and this can not only make everyone upset, but also means that many are going to have to spend Thanksgiving alone, or even with just their housemates.

Here is a list of ways that people can still enjoy the feast, but on a smaller scale and with more healthy options. 

Serve cornish hen instead of turkey

Turkeys usually sell from anywhere between $10 to $15 in some stores. They can also be heavy and big, taking most of the day to cook. Cornish hens not only look like turkeys, but they’re small enough for 1 to 2 people and take little time to cook. You can also stuff them! 

Dish out smaller portions

Delicious pies, perfect casseroles that pair with the turkey, and big portions make for great leftovers, but with a small gathering of 1-3 people, it can be difficult to cook them for so few people. Downsizing your portions of potatoes, green bean casserole, mac and cheese can still be just as good, but instead of having a ton of leftovers, everyone can enjoy the meal and not have to waste time trying to find those pesky containers to fit everything in. 

Three thanksgiving pies in a small table.
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Include healthier side dishes

While some people may be in quarantine, exercising and staying healthy can be a bit more difficult. Making healthy side dishes instead can still be just as delicious, but without all the guilt. Making quinoa salad instead of mashed potatoes, yogurt with fresh fruit instead of pies, and steamed broccoli instead of green bean casserole are all healthier options. 

Use cupcake tins for smaller pies

Pies are a wonderful dessert option for any Thanksgiving dinner, but they typically serve 5 or more people. Cupcake tins are a better option if you wish to make pies but in mini portions. To make them, get all the ingredients that you would as if you were making a regular pie, however, roll out the dough and make circles using a glass or other round objects slightly bigger than that of the cupcake tins. Smaller pies are not only cuter, but they’re perfect for 1 to 3 people. 

Thanksgiving can still be fun with fewer people. It can be healthy, and safe for all. These three tips are great for anyone who wishes to have a safe, Covid free holiday for all. 

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The Future of American Health Care

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Under the Biden administration, the  Future of the American Health Care system still not clear
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With President-elect Joe Biden taking office in January, what will the future of American health care look like?

On November 6, AP called the election for Joe Biden, after passing the 270 electoral votes needed, with a win in Pennsylvania. What will the future of American health care look like under the Biden administration? 

Even under Biden’s administration, the Senate is so divided that it is unlikely that anything significant will change in the American health care system for at least two years. The debates over Medicare for All, public insurance, and federal control of drug prices, will likely lead to a standstill in the near future. Biden endorsed lowering the Medicare eligibility age and expanding Affordable Care Act grants, which is projected as unlikely to pass in the Republican-controlled Senate. 

Nonetheless, the Biden administration is planning ambitious actions to improve the future of American health care. Beyond expanding the ACA, Biden plans to help public health agencies as they deal with the continuous spread of COVID-19 and pass a stimulus bill to help support hospitals, doctors, and nursing homes. 

The most significant facet of Biden’s policy is the public option he intends to implement. This will be sold on Obamacare’s marketplaces—where nearly 12 million Americans buy their insurance—adding more competition in places where only a limited number of health care plans are available. The public option will also cover low-income Americans that cannot get insurance because their states are opposed to Obamacare. Biden’s plan will immediately enroll nearly 4 million citizens that have not been able to get health insurance because their states will not expand Medicaid. However, this plan may be too controversial to pass through Congress without a Democrat majority. 

Two arrows increasing with a bar graph in the background.
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For the majority of the 150 million people with employer-sponsored coverage, it may not make sense to join the program. They will not be able to use the money their employer pays for insurance premiums, nor can their employers choose to put their employees on the government plan. This will most likely make most people—from both large group coverage and the public option—still reliant on their job for health insurance benefits. Health insurance today is very unaffordable for middle-income citizens. However, under Biden’s plan, a family making $150,000 would pay no more than $12,750 in annual premiums

Biden will likely implement regulations to combat COVID-19. He rolled out his COVID-19 task force on November 19. The task force members include David Kessler, former Food and Drug Administration commissioner; Vivek Murthy, the former surgeon general; and Yale physician-researcher Marcella Nunez-Smith. Biden has said he wishes to implement a national mask mandate, but this will need to go through the local government. Aside from mask mandates Biden plans to work with Congress to implement several more components in his coronavirus action plan. Such as, providing free testing for all Americans, getting rid of out-of-pocket expenses for coronavirus treatment, and getting personal protective equipment (PPE) for essential workers. 

It is likely that Biden’s administration will review the regulations put forward by Trump to prevent birth control. Biden can reverse the Trump administration’s changes to the Title X program that institutes access to birth control and other reproductive health care. 

Politically, there are going to be many hoops the Biden administration will need to jump through to secure his plan for the future of American health care. The ACA—that narrowly passed eight years ago—will be brought back to court with Republicans looking to dismember it. This could mean that millions may lose their health insurance, including millions more with preexisting conditions. If the Supreme Court strikes down the ACA, Biden will put his “Bidencare” plan forward. This policy is estimated to provide health insurance to every person that resides in the U.S. legally. It will also, however, leave nearly 6.5 million undocumented immigrants without health insurance.

Stock market numbers next to green and red arrows.
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Yet, if Biden’s plan is put forward it would mean that much of the current health care system will remain in place. Workers will be able to get their health insurance through their employers, but also Medicare and Medicaid will remain. In order to do this, Democrats will need to win two Georgia Senate seats in a January runoff to reach a 50-50 tie in the Senate. Also Vice President-elect, Kamala Harris, will give the chamber to the Democrats as the president of the Senate. 

On January 20, the Biden administration is set to take office at the White House. Thus, marking a new presidency and beginning the new future of American health care.

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