What are Food Phobias?
A phobia is an irrational and excessive fear of an object or situation, according to the American Psychiatric Association. We usually associate phobias with things or situations, such as the fear of flying or a fear of dogs. These types of fears, while inconvenient, are not normally life-threatening. But food phobia, called cibophobia, can severely limit everyday activities and cause health problems.
Young children can sometimes have a fear of trying new foods. Most parents remember when their toddler refused to try something new, gagging or vomiting when they insisted their child eat just a bite. But for some, this fear never goes away and those with this type of phobia continue through life with a highly restricted diet. They may limit their diet, eating the same few foods day after day.
The fear of cooking, called megeircophobia, may be the fear of cooking for others - afraid the presentation is not good enough - or could be a fear of overcooking or undercooking meats. It could include the fear of actually cooking, with excessive worry over cutting yourself or burning yourself while cooking.
Some individuals worry that they will gag or vomit when eating certain foods. This fear may come from worry about foods not being cooked properly, being too spicy or foods that may upset your stomach. Some people with this type of fear refuse to eat in public or when other people are present. This fear can sometimes lead to the inability to swallow or the feeling of having a lump in your throat.
For sufferers of food phobia, when faced with the prospect of having to eat certain foods or cook a meal, symptoms are similar to those of any anxiety disorder: Dizziness, Excessive Sweating, Nausea, Feeling as if you can't breath, Heart Palpitations, Shaking. Some may have panic attacks, including feeling as if they are going crazy or going to die.
For those who avoid eating certain foods, essential nutrients can be eliminated from their diet, causing symptoms of malnutrition - fatigue, dizziness and weight loss. Long term effects of malnutrition can include loss of hair, anemia, low blood pressure, fragile bones, kidney failure and many other medical conditions. In children, malnutrition can result in the lack of proper growth.
Recent research has shown that desensitization or exposure therapy is helpful in treating food phobia. A study at Tulane University placed certain foods in front of the participants and discussed their fear. After that, participants worked with a dietician to try the foods in private, then at home and finally in public. Follow-up one year after the study showed that participants were eating a more balanced diet.
Eating disorders, such as anorexia, can look similar to a food phobia. Both can involve food avoidance and restrictive diets, but for very different reasons. Individuals with eating disorders are usually preoccupied with body image and avoid foods because of the fear of gaining weight. But those with food phobia have a fear of the food itself, not the impact of the food on their body weight.