Corn starch is a silky, powdery substance often used as a thickener in gravies and sauces. For some people, the corn starch itself is simply irresistible--they can't stop eating it by the spoonful. Although corn starch is used in cooking, it has little nutritional value in and of itself. If you have been compulsively eating it for over a month then you will likely be diagnosed with an eating disorder called pica, or compulsive eating of nonfood items. Pica can be harmful to your health.
Compulsive Corn Starch Eating
Identify any risk factors you may have for pica. Pica is most common among children, but is occasionally seen in adults as well. If you have been diagnosed with a disorder like obsessive-compulsive disorder or schizophrenia or suffering from malnutrition, you could be at risk for pica. Pregnancy can also trigger pica.
Visit your healthcare provider. Since nutrient deficiencies can trigger pica in some people, your healthcare provider will probably test you for anemia (iron deficiency) and zinc deficiency. Both of these tests require blood work, so your provider will need to do a blood draw. If you have been eating any nonfood items other than corn starch, especially soil or paint chips, your provider may also wish to test your lead levels.
Treat any nutrient deficiencies your healthcare provider may have found through blood work immediately. If you have a deficiency such as anemia, your overwhelming desire to eat corn starch may resolve itself very quickly once treatment has begun. In fact, you may even feel disgusted by the idea of eating corn starch.
Consider working with a behavioral therapist who can help you overcome your desire to eat corn starch.
Chew gum or crunch a crispy vegetable like raw carrots or celery whenever you have the urge to eat corn starch. You can also opt to suck on a peppermint or brush your teeth if you find that minty flavors help diminish the corn starch craving.
Enlist the help of a friend or family member. Let this person know that you are experiencing problems with pica, and ask if you can give him or her a call whenever the urge to eat corn starch occurs.
If you are simply trying to reduce or replace corn starch in your diet, there are several alternative thickening agents you can use:
Arrowroot is a thickening agent that can be purchased at most health food stores. Two teaspoons of arrowroot equal one tablespoon of corn starch.
Potato or rice flour can be found at most health food stores as well as at some larger grocers. One tablespoon of potato or rice flour is equal to a tablespoon of corn starch.
Quick-cooking tapioca is available at most grocers. Four teaspoons of quick-cooking tapioca should be used to substitute for one tablespoon of corn starch.