A mother-of-one who developed cravings for sponge during her pregnancy has spoken out about her unusual addiction to foam.
Vicky Cullen, 28, not only eats the padding in her own armchair but buys washing-up sponges to snack on and likes to add foam to her recipes when cooking. Read More after the cut…
The single mother from Wakefield, South Yorkshire, estimated she has eaten her way through 2000 sponges since she developed the obsession when she was five-months pregnant with her daughter Olivia, now five.
Vicky, who has been diagnosed with pica, an eating disorder which means adults ingest non-nutritive substances, said: ‘It’s weird to tell people I have eaten a sofa chair and to hide their foam cushions when I visit. ‘I’ve only just started revealing the extent of my cravings to friends and family because of a commitment to help make people more aware of the problem.’ Vicky’s mainly snacks on a large armchair in her living room: ‘It’s a single yellow and white-coloured chair and I particularly like jam or Nutella on the foam pieces. In the morning I like to dip them in orange juice.’ She said: I have tried the foam in shoulder pads and bras but it doesn’t beat the foam in my particular chair.
Vicky’s cravings began in May 2011, when she was five months pregnant.
She said: ‘Most women experience weird food cravings during pregnancy and often well after giving birth. ‘My friends have told me how they craved pickles and honey or tuna and ice-cream. But not me, I have been shoving foam and sponge into my mouth for the past five years since the cravings started midway through my pregnancy.
‘I was sitting watching TV one night and was picking a hole the sofa – before I knew it I was chewing on a piece of foam I’d pulled from the main cushion – chewing it like chewing gum and enjoying the sensation before swallowing. ‘It satisfied the craving I’d been feeling all day.’
This started a routine for Vicky, and the next day she ‘felt the same urge and I pulled another small piece about the size of a 20 pence coin.
‘I was drinking juice at the time and dipped it in and chewed away. I swallowed it and felt a wave of contentment the same contentment other women who have cravings for odd foods feel. Days later, while washing up, the urge to eat a sponge reappeared while washing up. She said: ‘I ripped off a piece of sponge and chewed and swallowed.’
When Vicky Googled weird cravings she was relieved to discover that weird eating, even of objects not associated with food, sometimes occurred during pregnancy.
‘When I read the word pica I felt a sigh of relief. I read up avidly about women who ate pebbles or stones or chalk and felt this would remain a phase. ‘I wasn’t experiencing any discomfort. I didn’t get any tummy pains or constipation and I found it relaxing. ‘As any pregnant woman knows, when you satisfy that craving even for the weirdest food combination it feels amazing but as it turns out mine were even more extreme than most.
Vicky started buying extra sponges at the supermarket and hid them in the airing cupboard and soon realised she was actively eating her sofa chair.
She said: ‘I started trying different toppings on my foam pieces Nutella, jam, honey, and peanut butter and when it came to savoury toppings, soya sauce, chilli sauce and even gravy from roast. All delicious and relaxing to eat.’
Once her daughter was born in September 2011, Vicky had hoped the cravings would go away but they didn’t.
She said: ‘Caring for my baby I’d find myself pulling at my sofa chair and chewing pieces of foam and even the cotton insides that surround the bottom of the chair. I was careful to pull it out from places people visiting wouldn’t notice.’ Now Vicky is rarely without a supply of foam, sofa stuffing and sponge sacks hidden in her car, her bags and her house for snacks. She said: ‘I have tried foam on airline seats and in hotels when on holiday and at friends’ houses, and sometimes I like it and sometimes I don’t.’
And there hasn’t been a day since her pica began when she hasn’t eaten part of a sponge.
She said: ‘I take a supply even on holidays. I love relaxing with a platter of foam covered in different toppings sitting in the chair – I call them my sofa h’or d’oeuvres. I also enjoy dipping pieces in wine or champagne. ‘I do it quickly so as not hide it from family and friends. I just considered it a leave over from pregnancy as wacky as it seems and it is oddly comforting and delicious.’
Vicky has almost destroyed her entire sofa chair eating the foam she so badly craves.
She said: ‘I have to keep the chair either covered with a blanket or in the airing cupboard so people don’t see the extreme damage I have done ripping it apart and chewing it bit by bit.’
In 2013, Vicky experienced a bout of constipation and finally came clean to a GP.
She said: ‘I was so embarrassed I explained about my bizarre eating habit and my addicting to my sofa foam. I explained it was pica and the GP was extremely understanding. He did however explain that if I ate too much I could hurt my digestive system.’
Vicky tried to go cold turkey but she couldn’t control her cravings.
She said: ‘I went for four days without eating my chair and gave in, binging on a plate of pieces covered in a selection of toppings washed down with hot chocolate. ‘I have cooked with foam as well, putting it into a casserole or a sausage and sauce mix – a bit like dumplings. It’s only for me and I don’t expect anyone to understand my craving and I’d never serve them the food. ‘I have on occasion visited friends and secretly snack on a piece of sofa foam I have pulled from a sofa cushion.’
Vicky returned to her GP for a check up and they did a range of blood tests but she had no deficiencies. They suggested taking vitamins to ensure her body was healthy and she also eats three meals a day of normal healthy food and exercises. Vicky tried cognitive behavioural therapy with two courses each over six weeks
Vicky said: ‘The CBT is talking therapy and it’s designed to help me deal with anxiety and stress and crack negative cycles. ‘I am mildly OCD which is another cause of some pica diagnosis and as I have incorporated the foam and sponge eating into my routine for so long we tried to break that pattern. It worked for a couple of weeks and then the cravings began again.’
‘It’s part of my daily ritual I eat normal foods but also eat the sponges and my chair. I carry pieces of foam in my handbag and small takeaway sauce containers and dip it in when I get a craving. ‘I’ll often chew on a piece of sponge or foam for hours throughout the day, or break of pieces and dip them into tea, coffee or soup like toast. I don’t chew it but swallow bite-size pieces whole.’
Vicky has also seen a counsellor and a nutritionist who changed her eating plan. They challenged her to use a cloth to clean not a sponge, but she ended up relapsing.
She said: ‘I am not a freak but I am a freaky eater and there are thousands of people around the world suffering like me. ‘I find my body craves the foam and sponge and no matter how many vitamin supplements I take I can’t stop although I am trying to cut down. If I get the urge too much, I try and clean or go for a walk.’
Vicky admits her passion for sofa chair snacks and foam food has meant a couple of visits to casualty because of severe stomach pains.
She said: ‘They gave me laxatives as I was bunged up. I now incorporate a natural laxative like olive oil or prune juice in my diet dipping the foam into it.’
The friends who do know are supportive and otherwise I am a fit and healthy person. ‘If I’ve had a bad day or am stressed I will eat more of my sofa chair and on good days it might just be a bite. The thing is I want people to realise they are not alone. Extreme cravings have a name, they can be treated and controlled and you are not weird. Vicky admits her weird eating has meant her chair is almost gone. ‘My main concern is what happens when I finish this sofa chair so I plan to freeze some pieces so they’re always there, frozen. I’d freeze them because it would take time to defrost them and make me less likely to eat on them until then I will continue enjoying my arm chair with all the toppings.