How to Identify and Treat a Food Phobia
Fear of food
Cibophobia is defined as a fear of food. People with cibophobia often avoid food and drinks because they’re afraid of the food itself. The fear may be specific to one type of food, such as perishable foods, or it may include many foods.
A phobia is a deep, irrational fear about a specific thing or situation. It can cause a number of symptoms, including panic, shortness of breath, and dry mouth.
Phobias aren’t uncommon. In fact, about 19 million Americans experience phobias so severe they impact their lives in a significant way.
Individuals with eating disorders such as anorexia may avoid food because they worry about the effect it can have on their bodies. For example, they’re fearful eating food will lead to weight gain.
Some people with an eating disorder may ultimately develop cibophobia, but it’s important to note these are two separate conditions.
Cibophobia, like most phobias, can be treated successfully. In most cases, people with a fear of food can overcome it and develop a healthy relationship with food and drinks.
Food phobia symptoms
People who have a food phobia may experience the following symptoms:
- elevated blood pressure
- trembling or shaking
- pounding or racing heartbeat
- shortness of breath
- chest pain
- chest tightness
- dry mouth
- upset stomach
- rapid speech or a sudden inability to talk
- sweating heavily
People with a food phobia may have a fear of almost all food and beverages, or their fear may be more specific. The following foods commonly generate a phobia:
- Perishable foods. People fearful of foods like mayonnaise, milk, fresh fruits and vegetables, and meats may believe they’re already spoiled. They fear they may become ill after eating them.
- Undercooked foods. A fear of foodborne illness may drive some people to avoid foods that can be dangerous if undercooked. People may also overcook these foods to the point that they’re burnt or incredibly dry.
- Expiration dates. People with cibophobia may be fearful of foods that are near or past their expiration dates. They may also believe foods expire more quickly once they’re opened.
- Leftovers. Some individuals with cibophobia won’t eat leftovers, believing they may make them ill.
- Prepared food. When people with a food phobia aren’t in control of preparing their own food, they may be fearful about what’s served to them. They may avoid eating at a restaurant, a friend’s house, or anywhere they can’t see or control the food preparations.
Phobias that are left untreated can lead to significant impairment. One that isn’t managed may begin to interfere with school, work, personal relationships, and social life. These complications can occur with almost any phobia, not just cibophobia.
There’s limited research on the side effects and complications of phobias. However, it’s clear that untreated phobias can become very problematic.
Existing research suggests complications of untreated food phobias include:
Some people with phobias create detailed routines in an attempt to reduce anxiety. These routines may include how they clean their kitchen or store their food. However, that doesn’t always help them stop the physical and mental symptoms that happen when they encounter foods.
In the case of cibophobia, not eating many foods can greatly reduce the amount of nutrients that are absorbed. Over time, this can lead to malnutrition and other health problems.
It’s difficult for people with a food phobia to hide it from friends, family, and co-workers. It can lead to awkward questions, and people with cibophobia may avoid social engagements to prevent these interactions.
Other food phobias
Cibophobia is the most common type of food phobia, but it isn’t the only one. People with a fear of food may have one of these more specific types:
Food neophobia is the fear of new foods. For some people, encountering new foods may cause intense anxiety and panic. It’s especially common in children.
Mageirocophobia is the fear of cooking food. The most common type of mageirocophobia is the fear of cooking or eating undercooked food, which could result in illness or food that’s inedible.
Emetophobia is the fear of vomiting. For example, if you’re afraid of becoming ill and needing to vomit, you might become fearful of food because it could make you ill.
This phobia may develop spontaneously. It could also develop after a person has become sick and vomited because of food.
Treating the fear of food
Food phobias can be treated successfully. Treatments may include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This treatment involves talking with a mental health professional about your emotions and experiences with food. You can work together to find a way to reduce negative thoughts and fear.
- Exposure. This monitored practice brings you in contact with the foods that generate fear. With this treatment, you can learn to cope with your emotions and reactions toward food in a supportive setting.
- Medication. Antidepressants, and in rare cases anti-anxiety medication, may be used to treat people with a food phobia. However, these medications aren’t generally used due to their high addiction liability. Beta-blockers may also be used to help reduce emotional responses and anxiety on a short-term basis.
- Hypnosis. In this deeply relaxed state, your brain may be open to retraining. A hypnotherapist may make suggestions or offer verbal cues that can help to reduce the negative reactions you have toward food.
Many people have foods they don’t like. However, when the fear of food interferes with your daily life and prevents you from enjoying meals, you may have a food phobia.
If left untreated, a food phobia can have a significant impact on your health and life. Treatment can help you overcome those fears and embrace a healthy relationship with food.
If you believe you have a food phobia or food-related fears, talk to a doctor. This is an important first step in helping you find a diagnosis and a successful treatment.