Kerry is suffering from an eating disorder called Pica; Pica is known as having appetite and craving for non-nutritive materials such as clay or chalk. In kerry’s case it is soap and sponge.
Kerry is a dental nurse who went public about his condition two days ago and revealed that as the result of this disorder she has eaten 4,000 washing-up sponges and 100 bars of soap.
She eats her strange food with hot sauce or mustard; sometimes she dips them in tea or hot chocolate. She said: “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.”
However, she is hoping to beat this so that when she has a shower or do the washing up she doesn’t feel hungry. Kerry’s bizarre habit has given her a lot troubles as she has endured shocking stomach cramps, constipation and diarrhoea.
As we might be picky with our foods Kerry too does not just eat any sponge or soap: “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’.”
But how and when did it happen?
Kerry’s eating habits changed after a holiday to Morocco in 2008, during which she picked up an infection of hookworm, a parasite that lives in the small intestine.
At first, she began craving junk food. But then something strange happened.
She said: “After one dinner where I ate a double helping of lasagne and a tub of ice cream, I still felt hungry.
“To distract myself, I decided to wash the dishes. I took out a new sponge from a packet and had an overwhelming desire to eat it.
“I sat down with a glass of water and chewed the sponge until it was gone.
“It tasted of nothing but I found eating it enjoyable.
“Finally my hunger was gone and my stomach felt satisfied.”
Afterwards, though, she felt embarrassed and scared — and cried herself to sleep.
But the next morning, as she washed herself with lemon and lime soap, she had an urge to eat some and swallowed a chunk.
She said: “I knew something was very wrong with me but I didn’t want to tell anyone as I felt like a freak. But after a week I’d eaten nine sponges and over a pound of organic soap.”
Her hookworm infection was diagnosed by her GP but she kept quiet about her cravings in case he thought she was mad.
She said: “I would go to the supermarket and buy over 40 sponges and different types of organic soap.
“It made me hungry just smelling all the different soap products in the cleaning aisle. The cashiers joked that I must love cleaning!”
Kerry, who also eats normal food, finally confided to a friend in 2009.
And after seeing the doctor again, she was told she had pica and could seriously damage her digestive system.
A programme of counselling and vitamins has set her on the road to recovery. And she is determined to succeed. But it is a slow and arduous process.
Kerry said: “I still have a one-inch square of sponge and three teaspoons of organic soap with each meal.
“But I am making progress and speak to other sufferers of pica on internet forums, which helps.
“There are some out there far worse than me who eat car tyres, spoons and even sofas.”
Kerry is trying to curb her pangs with Floral Gum sweets.
She said: “They taste like soap so they help me get the flavour I desire without doing any damage. I know one day I will beat this.”
Kerry’s student sister Jody, 20, told how the family initially found her sponge munching hard to understand.
She said: “Watching her eat a sponge or soap was extremely weird. But Kerry has educated us all about pica.
“I’m so proud she has worked hard to fight this condition and is recovering through counselling.
“She is really brave to talk about it so openly.”