Blind mum-of-two, 42, is addicted to munching on CHALK and CIGARETTES
13th December 2018

Mother of two reveals how she snacks on CIGARETTES due to bizarre cravings caused by a rare condition – and munches through £17 worth of CHALK every week

  • Karen Kaheni, 42, from Barnsley, South Yorkshire, craves non-food substances  
  • The mum-of-two has been blind since the age of 12 as a result of meningitis 
  • She munches up to eight nub ends each evening and 250g of chalk every week  

While many of us are guilty of gorging on a bar of chocolate or two, a blind mum-of-two has revealed her rather unusual addiction – eating chalk and cigarette butts. 

Karen Kaheni, 42, from Barnsley, South Yorkshire, suffers from a rare eating disorder which causes her to crave non-food substances.

The heavy smoker developed an overwhelming desire to munch on the ends of her JPS Blue cigarettes last year – and soon after started yearning for blackboard chalk.

Now munching up to eight nub ends each evening, as she listens to the TV, she also eats 250g of chalk every week, costing £17 online – attributing her weird cravings to Pica, a condition that involves eating items like dirt and paint chips, with no real nutritional value. 

The heavy smoker from Barnsley, South Yorkshire, developed the desire to munch on her cigarette butts last year. Now, she smokes between 60 and 80 cigarettes each day – along with gorging on chalk

Karen, who describes her addiction as ’embarrassing,’ believes she has PICA – a rare eating disorder which causes a craving for non-nutritional food substances

While Karen, whose partner, Andrew Simon, 42, is unemployed, recalls craving chalk during her second pregnancy in 1997, she has no idea what prompted her full-blown addiction, which began 20 years later.

‘It’s really embarrassing and I have no idea what triggered it,’ she explained. 

‘It isn’t so much the taste of the cigarette butts or the chalk that I like – it’s more the texture and the crunch.

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‘Now though, my cravings are so strong that when I run out of chalk or don’t have a cigarette at hand, I get quite agitated and my mouth begins to water. 

It’s a real addiction.’

Karen, who has two daughters Danielle, 23, and Sara, 21, from a previous relationship, remembers wanting to eat chalk while she was carrying her youngest girl. 

The 42-year-old eats 250g of chalk each week while watching TV – which costs her £17 online

‘I had quite a late pregnancy and towards the last few weeks, I remember getting this massive urge to grind my teeth on something hard and chalky,’ said the heavy smoker.

‘I’d find myself fantasising about the old blackboard chalk that we had at school.’

But Karen – who cannot work because of her disability – never acted out on her weird impulses and, after Sara’s birth, the urge to eat chalk disappeared until 2017 when, from nowhere, she was overwhelmed with a desire to munch on cigarette butts. 

‘Because of my blindness I have to be very careful where I put my fag ends, so I don’t burn the house down,’ she said, recalling the first time she tried one. 

Karen, who has been blind since the age of 12 as a result of meningitis, loved the texture more than anything. She described the ‘bitter and salty’ taste as ‘disgusting’ 

‘I usually put them in a little tin filled with water, so that they immediately extinguish. But, one night while I was watching telly, I just thought, “Why not give eating one a try?”

‘Again, it was the texture more than anything I was after. The taste was pretty disgusting – very bitter and salty – but I liked the crunch of them in my mouth.’

Very quickly, what Karen – who smokes between 60 and 80 cigarettes a day – had thought was a one-off craving spiralled into a full-blown addiction.

Ashamed of her disgusting habit, Karen, who has been blind since the age of 12 as a result of meningitis, hid it from Andrew and her daughters, chewing each night in secret, when she was alone.

In 2017, Karen developed an insatiable appetite for eating cigarette butts

Karen was so embarrassed about her addiction she hid it from her partner Andrew and her daughters Danielle and Sara, above, and instead chewed the nub ends each night in secret, when she was alone

But the nicotine-heavy diet began to take its toll on her digestive system, giving her constant diarrhoea.

Despairing when she could not cut down, despite the discomfort, she came clean and told Andrew.

‘He looked at me and thought I was a complete weirdo,’ explained Karen. 

‘And I don’t really blame him. But he couldn’t help me and I was too embarrassed to go to a doctor about it, so I just kept suffering. ‘

Rather than improving, her eating disorder gathered momentum until, in April 2018, during a visit to her courier sister, Zohreh, 33, in London, her longing to eat chalk also returned. 

‘I was outside in my sister’s garden one night smoking, when a desire to have a nibble on the brick wall just struck me,’ said the embarrassed mother. 

‘I scraped a bit off with my nail and ate it. It was so satisfying – just the texture and feeling that I had been longing for.’

When her unusual addiction started to take its toll on her digestive system, Karen plucked up the courage to confess all to her partner, Andrew. She said he thought she was a ‘complete weirdo’ 

After suffering with a dodgy tummy, Karen found a website selling edible natural chalk imported from Russia, for £17 for 250g, which is free from the chemical elements arsenic and nickel. Her chalk habit has now helped her to cut back on eating nub ends 

But struggling already with a dodgy tummy from her cigarette butt habit, Karen knew that eating chalk – which contains the chemical elements arsenic and nickel – would be foolish.

So, she found a website selling edible natural chalk imported from Russia, for £17 for 250g, which she could eat to her heart’s content.

Luckily, her chalk habit has helped her to cut back on eating nub ends – with her now consuming just two or three a day – but, already conscious of being a heavy smoker, she is concerned about the side effects of all elements of her strange diet on her health.

‘I don’t really want to tell people about it, especially not doctors, so now only my close family and a few friends know,’ Karen confessed.

‘I did recently discover a Facebook page for people with Pica and that has been really useful for me.

‘It’s nice to know that it isn’t just me and there are other people out there with the same problem.

‘It makes me feel like less of a weirdo – less like I’m going mad.’ 

What is PICA? 

Pica is an eating disorder that is characterised by the desire to eat items with little or no nutritional value.

These can include anything from stones, sand, paint and dirt to talcum powder.

It is most common in people with learning disabilities and during pregnancy.

It can cause a range of serious complications if the person is eating something that is poisonous or indigestible.

These include being poisoned by toxic ingredients and having a part of the body obstructed (which is often seen in people who eat hair).

It can also lead to excessive calorie intake, but also nutritional deprivation if the person eats a substance with no nutritional value instead of nutritious foods.

The person can also damage their teeth and be infected with parasites

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