‘I’m addicted to eating soap’: The 19-year-old girl with a dangerous compulsion doctors say could kill her
It’s the toxic compulsion that doctors claim could kill her.
But this 19-year-old girl claims she is hopelessly addicted… to eating soap.
A rare medical condition has left Tempestt Henderson, from Florida, eating up to five bars of soap a week – and washing powder too.
My bizarre compulsion: Tempestt Henderson, 19, says she is addicted to eating soap – and can go through five bars a week
‘It tasted so sweet, and salty’: Tempestt claims that the first time she ate washing powder, it just felt right
‘I remember the first time I dipped my fingers into the washing powder,’ she said.
‘I dabbed the powder onto my tongue and it tasted so sweet, and salty…it just felt so right. I was hooked straight away.’
The nursing student says she knew eating soap was dangerous, but ignored the warning labels on the box in favour of licking the deadly powder daily, from the minute she woke up in the morning.
Soon she had moved onto licking the bubbles of soap in the shower, too, a habit that was getting her through up to five bars of soap a week.
‘In the shower, I like to lather up a green bar of soap, and lick the bubbles. And as the soap disintegrates, I pop a tiny amount of the soap into my mouth and suck it. It’s heavenly.
When you can’t stop: Doctors have diagnosed Tempestt with a rare disorder called PICA, characterised by an appetite for substances that are non-nutritive
‘I love the clean feeling it gives me. Eating soap feels so much cleaner than just washing with it.’
After six months of eating soap, unhappy Tempestt decided to be brave and seek medical advice. She was diagnosed with a rare disorder called PICA, which doctors told her is characterised by an appetite for substances that are largely non-nutritive.
Sufferers have been known to compulsively eat metal, coins, chalk, batteries and even toothbrushes. It can often be caused by a mineral deficiency, which explains why pregnant women often crave eating coal when needing iron.
But in Tempestt’s case doctors believed the condition was bought on by stress.
‘Things got really stressful for me when my boyfriend, Jason, split up with me and left for college,’ she admitted.
‘He told me he was going to college in Kansas to study business. I begged him to give the long distance relationship a go, but he told me it was over. I was devastated.’
NOT a balanced meal: Doctors say if Tempestt doesn’t kick her habit – which they blame on PICA, caused by stress – it could kill her
When Tempestt herself had to leave for college, hundreds of miles away from her family home in Florida, things took a turn for the worse.
‘College was five hours away from my family, and the stress got bigger. With no boyfriend and my family miles away, I got lonely, sad and depressed. I turned to bath soap and laundry detergent and my problem got increasingly worse.’
Dr Barton Blinder, the world’s authority on PICA, says that eating soap in these quantities could seriously affect Tempestt’s health:.
‘With soap, the worry is the problems associated with ingesting toxic chemicals, which are typically alkaline but there are other toxic substances in soap.
‘These can damage someone’s metabolism and cause digestive problems. With soap, you’re also concerned about the acid-base balance of the blood.’
But for Tempestt, therapy got to the bottom of her addiction to soap, and the cause of her PICA.
‘I always knew I loved the smell of washing detergent,’ she explained.
At least it’s not drugs: Tempestt poses with her mother, who was so worried about her habit that she pulled her out of college
‘I remember the brand my Mum always used to use – I remember the smell vividly, it was the smell of her cardigan when she hugged me, and the smell of my bed sheets as a child.
‘I used to love smelling the powder, but when life got so stressful I found only eating the soap would help.
‘It is an addiction, I can’t stop, and I have sought the help of a doctor who specialises in addiction. The doctor told me I must empty my house of all washing detergent and soap, anything that triggers my addiction.’
Psychologists have said that Tempestt most likely turned to soap eating as a comforting coping mechanism when she found herself away from her family.
‘We use liquid at home now,’ she said, ‘and for some reason I’ve got no need to eat that.’
Before it all began: Tempestt as a young girl in an undated family photo
The doctor gave Tempestt intensive Cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT, to give her replacement thoughts that will prevent her from compulsively reaching for soap.
‘I’m learning to think about positive things when I feel I need to eat soap,’ she said.
She has also been encouraged to go for long walks, avoiding places where soap is present, like bathrooms and laundrettes.
She added: ‘Doctors have encouraged me to talk about my issues, because they think my addiction is caused by me bottling things up.’
And for the teenager who used to take not one, not two, but three bottles of soap into the shower, she hasn’t eaten soap since September 2010.
When her mother found out about her daughter’s addiction, she ordered Tempestt to return home from college. It may have been a smart move as Tempette admitted: ‘I just couldn’t face being back there, alone, with a campus full of soap.’
Today, she faces a long road of recovery, but says she hopes she’ll never have to eat soap ever again.
‘I suppose my Mum is secretly relieved that I was addicted to soap,’ she admited, ‘and not dangerous drugs or something.’